Hmong story quilts
will sometimes display
political messages,
or scenes of war.

RaceBridges highlights a group of Asian American people who are rarely heard about but have much to say : The Hmong.

The Hmong people are an immigrant group to America. They came to the U.S. in the 1970s . The Hmong are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. The brief ideas and activities below will promote further study, not only of the Hmong American community but of the arrival of the very many and varied groups of immigrants that have made up America.

What is it like to be an immigrant in America? Often, it is a confusing place to live. Laws and beliefs are different in a new country. Language becomes a significant barrier, and customs are critiqued by all. Below are some basic beliefs and behaviors of the Hmong culture. See if you can identify potential problems when not familiar with American laws and customs. 

Hmong culture, in general, believes:

  • Girls are ready for marriage by the age of 13 or 14 years old, usually to an older man. American law considers this child abuse.
    .
  • Marriages are often done through Hmong culture and not through U.S. legal channels. This makes life difficult for Hmong women if there is a divorce or abandonment because it was not recognized as a legal marriage in the U.S. to begin with. There is also belief in polygamy in the culture – problematic all the way around.
    .
  • Girls who marry young will usually have children young, preventing them from finishing high school. This perpetuates the Hmong struggle for education.
    .
  • Hmong people value the family greatly, and desire for everyone to be together. Ten to twelve people may live in housing intended for 3-4. Rental housing in America usually has limitations on how many people can live in a specific space.
    .
  • Older generations of Hmong have the understanding that wilderness belongs to everyone, and is available for hunting or anything else. The concept that open land might be privately owned is a foreign concept to them. This can bring about great problems, due to simple misunderstanding and cultural differences.
    .

How do students feel about the Hmong population in America? How can schools and teachers learn about the cultural differences, and foster positive attitudes among students? Below are a few bits of information about attitudes toward the Hmong people, and a few tips for developing a culturally sensitive classroom.

Attitude toward the Hmong:

Americans find it difficult to distinguish Hmong from Vietnamese or other Asian groups.

Culturally Sensitive Classroom Tip:

  • Invite all students to talk about their cultural heritages. Encourage activities that blend the cultures and offer understanding.

Attitude:

Americans are perplexed by the rituals and music of the Hmong culture.

Tip:

  • Set aside a cultural appreciation day, encouraging students to bring in physical objects and music of their culture. Share an instrument or a song in the classroom.
  • Allow students to share information about traditions of their culture or explain the meaning behind the ritual or music. Celebrate the uniqueness of culture!

Attitude:

Americans do not understand why or how the Hmong came to be in U.S.

Tip:

  • Offer lessons that supply historical information about the Hmong contribution during the Vietnam War. Explain what happened during that time. Simply make the information available to students, as most probably have no idea of the historical background of the Hmong people or how they came to America.
  • Invite an elder of the Hmong community to share his/her experiences with the class.
  • Provide printed materials, photos or articles that give additional facts for students to absorb. Students thrive on “hands-on” activities.

Attitude:

Americans have little knowledge of the history or background of the Hmong culture.

Tip:

  • Talk about the Hmong culture! Implement a lesson about the Vietnam War that includes the Hmong involvement in it.
  • Ask an elder of the Hmong community to share knowledge, rituals, traditions, beliefs, experiences, etc. with the class.

Attitude:

Americans view the Hmong people as hard-working and polite, but uneducated.

Tip:

  • Stress the importance and value of being a hard-worker in the American society.
  • Being polite is equally valued, but is sometimes seen as a lack of assertiveness. With a large population of Hmong in Minnesota (the state where politeness is referred to as “Minnesota Nice” because the people are overwhelmingly polite), this quality is genuinely appreciated and valued.
  • Be open with students about the background of the Hmong people – that they came from Laos where there was simply no need for education. The people lived in the lovely countryside with family enmeshed all around. Great academic strides have been made for the Hmong. Celebrate their achievements.

_____

Sources:

http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Hmong-Americans.html. (2012). Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from Every Culture: http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Hmong-Americans.html

(2008, 9 13). Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from Asian Week: http://www.asianweek.com/2008/09/13/persistent-invisibility-hmong-americans-are-silenced/

Lindsay, J. (2012). http://www.jefflindsay.com/hmong-clash.html. Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from http://www.jefflindsay.com/hmong-clash.html