Many Hmong Americans can trace their families back to refugee camps and farming villages. They remember and were told stories about a time when walking to the nearest school took hours, and only a few boys had the privilege of receiving basic education in Laos and Thailand. They understood the importance of hard work and community, tilling the fields and working for your own dinner every single night, but even then, they knew that education led to respect, affirmation, and freedom. Ideas and education open the way.
Our Hmong parents, elders, and ancestors have walked a long and difficult journey. They escaped from the secret war, struggled against the harsh currents of the Mekong River, and endured the difficult and cramped conditions of refugee camps to give their children the greatest gift of all, A NEW JOURNEY, in the new world, possible through education. And yet for many of the respondents in this book, that journey is not often a straightforward path.
Many of the college students in this collective are the first generation of college students in their families, or even the first student themselves. Their paths had never been walked before, and many found themselves lost. From the college application process to financial aid form and maintaining good grades, they couldn’t turn to their parents or elders for advice. They had to take the initiative to find trusted advisors, mentors, professors, and role models to offer advice and consolation. For many, this would be the first time they would be independent, and they would have to fend, feed, and work for themselves. Students who commuted or resided on campus were given a newfound experience due to class schedules and demanding exams. This experience was especially refreshing and conflicting for many of the female Hmong students who responded.
In past generations, many girls were denied formal education and instead stayed home to learn about domestic responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. Their paths were often pre-determined: get married, bear children, teach them well, and continue the clan’s lineage. Today, that path has branched. Currently, Hmong women tend to achieve degrees in secondary education at a rate slightly higher than Hmong men. One common theme expressed in the stories submitted by Hmong female college students is the tension between their discovery of themselves and traditional, cultural expectations of what being a good Hmong girl entails.
In the Hmong kinship culture, when an individual succeeded it was a reflection and celebration of the parents. When an individual succeeded, the clan succeeded. While Hmong parents and elders instilled their hopes and dreams to the younger generation, those dreams often look like a career path as a doctor or a lawyer. Many Hmong students entering higher education have succeeded and met these expectations, but for many others, following their dreams may mean straying from their parents’ dreams. It’s here that many Hmong American college students feel the greatest pull of the intersections in their lives, the pull between Hmong and American, the pull between their dreams and their parents’ dreams, and the pull between themselves and their families. This push and pull is a critical reason we worked passionately to collect the stories of Hmong students navigating these forces and hope that in turn, it will assist other prospective and current students navigate the intersections in their lives as well.
We hope to open this journey by sharing our own stories and why we continue the work that we do. To the prospective college students reading these stories, we don’t intend to provide a roadmap for how to step into the next chapter of your educational journey, but we hope to clear the brush, so you may more easily find your footing.
AUTHORS: Mai Xee Vang & Dr. Brian V. Xiong
CONTRIBUTORS: Pagnia Xiong, Kabo Yang, Bla Yang, Sabrina Yang, John Yang, Ming Lee, Yer Lee, Crystal Yang, Carol Kiab Vaj, Ka Vue, Angel Vang, James Vang, Doua Kha, Andrew C. Her, Hue Ye A Thill Lee, Kou Yang, Jenny Yang, Song Lee Moua, Bert Lee, Eric Yang, Pang Yang, Tou Yang, Tsua Xiong, and Kabao Yang.
To get a copy of this book, please visit HER Publisher at www.herpublisher.com