Brian Vangtou Xiong, A Hmong American Success Story
Dr. Brian Vangtou Xiong is the first Hmong professor and the first Hmong doctoral student to graduate from Minnesota State University, Mankato in Counselor Education and Supervision with an emphasis on College Student Affairs.
Born in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, Dr. Xiong came to the United States with his family of 10 to Minnesota in 1993 when he was 10 years old and became a fifth grade student in English as a second language class. From a low-income family that waited 30 days each month for food stamps, he knew at a young age that education was the key for him to open the door to a better chapter in America. He worked hard to catch up with his Hmong-American born peers. By the age of 15, Brian began his college courses at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities as a postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO) student while maintained his roles as a full-time student at school and a “parent” to his Hmong parents at home where he translated for the family at hospitals, clinics, social services, or whenever his younger siblings got into trouble with the police.
Two months before Brian’s high school graduation from Edison Senior High School, his younger sister passed, which inspired Brian to appreciate every single moment of his life and motivated him to pursue higher education at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, MN, with full scholarships from the Page Education Foundation and Wallin Education Partners. In 2006, Brian graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Justice Administration and Sociology. He then continued onto graduate school at Minnesota State University, Mankato where he obtained a Master of Science in Multicultural and Ethnic Studies and became the first Hmong professor at the University at the age of 26 in 2009. After teaching many years in higher education at both two year and four year institutions, he then became the first Hmong Chief Diversity Officer for the college-wide at Minnesota State Community and Technical College with Minnesota State System.
As Brian described in his academic journey, “During my 23 years in the education world, I have realized that the more I know, the more I knew that I do not know. My life has been filled with love, joy, and happiness in this academic journey of mine, and in due course, also struggle, sacrifice, and sadness because I lost my younger sister and both parents along the way. Many times I wanted to give up on my education in order to help my family back home in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Deep down inside my heart, I knew that I could not give up something I love. Instead of returning home to earn money for my family, I stayed in higher education and used some of my college student loans and financial aid to help them and myself along the way. As an oldest Hmong son and a student, it was a sacrifice that I made in order to balance two worlds.”
In honor of his beloved parents, after celebrating with family and friends at the University’s commencement, he paid a visit to his parents with his cap and gown at Oakland Cemetery in St. Paul where a large of population of Hmong are buried. Like many Asian American parents, Brian’s father wanted him to become a medical doctor, but Brian’s passion is about higher education. As Dr. Brian V. Xiong indicated in his dissertation research for his parents, “To my beloved father, Koua Xiong, I am sorry that I cannot be the perfect son and the medical doctor that you wanted me to become. I know that your heart was completely crushed when you heard I changed my major from Biology to Sociology and Justice Administration in undergraduate school. I am really sorry that I have failed your wish because I feel Hmong society needs not only medical doctors to understand the health issues in our community, but also is in need of counselors and researchers to understand the well-being of our people.”
“To my beloved mother, Porche Yang, you sacrificed so much for us. You are the person who was with us in every pain and lost everything just to help us all win. You and I were like two best buddies in the family; I always asked for your advice and you always asked me for guidance for my siblings. You left this world without saying a word to me. Looking at you in the hospital bed at North Memorial on your last breath, tears fell from my eyes because I knew that I could no longer ask for your advice and had just lost the very best person in my life. I miss you so much, Mom, and I hope you are looking down on me and my siblings, and from time to time, please advise me in my dreams. I love you, Mom.”