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Although a large population of Hmong is centralized in the mid-west and California, the background of this culture is often a mystery or is misunderstood by many Americans. So, who are the Hmong people? How did they arrive on American shores? What are their hardships?
Below is a brief bit of history of these courageous people, highlighting some struggles of both their past and present circumstances. Included also are some tips for teachers when working with Hmong students and families.
Who are they?
- The Hmong are often mistaken as being Chinese or Vietnamese..
- Mainly from Laos, the Hmong in the U.S. came as refugees after the Vietnam War..
- They have religious beliefs in animism (the use of shamans for guidance, healing, and ceremonies)..
- Asian Hmong have backgrounds in agriculture..
- They are relatively new to the U.S., as Hmong arrival to the U.S. was only around 30 years ago..
How and why did they come to America?
- Much of the older Hmong generation fought for America in what is known as a secret war, recruited by the CIA to battle powerful communist forces..
- When America left Vietnam (after the Vietnam War), the Hmong people were left behind. Trusting the U.S. promise that they would be taken care of because of their service to the U.S., the Hmong felt abandoned when America left. The North Vietnamese marked them for extinction. What followed were torture, murder, and desperation..
- Many simply fled for survival, and many perished in the harrowing escape. Others were trapped in the hillsides and mountains of the country..
- Arrival to America meant safety for the Hmong, but new challenges immediately emerged..
What are their struggles – past and present?
- The older generation of Hmong carries with them chilling tales of survival and horror of life before coming to America..
- Upon arrival, many Hmong endured neglect in refugee camps and separation from family members..
- Culture shock only added to the scarred and tragic background of the new arrivals, as Hmong culture is vastly different from that of American culture..
- Language is a significant obstacle for the Hmong people in America..
- The older generation fears the loss of Hmong heritage as they try to fit into American culture..
- Most Americans do not know the story of how/why the Hmong people arrived to the U.S., and many are insensitive to the culture..
For Teachers and Leaders working with Hmong students and families:
- The language of the Hmong people is very different from that of English. The language itself is a tonal language, and it is not known if there was ever a written language of the Hmong. Because of this, words and sentences are formed unlike that of English. Plurals, articles, and others nuances will be noticeably misplaced in writing samples. It is a language issue, not an inability issue..
- Have translators available for school functions: phone calls home, conferences, meetings, etc..
- Understand that family is vitally important to the Hmong, even at the cost of education. Older generation members often have had little to no schooling prior to coming to America..
- Many of the older Hmong feel that their heritage has been (or is being) lost as a result of fleeing to America. Try to bridge this gap by welcoming families to the school/classroom. Have a cultural day, and invite families to school for the day..
- Encourage the sharing of stories, as this is an essential aspect of Hmong culture..
- Recognize that English will likely be a second language to students, and that it will likely not be spoken at home. Homework will be difficult to complete at home, as parents will probably not speak that language or be familiar with the work..
Check out these websites for further information about the Hmong people:
Lindsay, J. (2009). http://www.jefflindsay.com/Hmong_tragedy.html#class. Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from http://www.jefflindsay.com/Hmong_tragedy.html#class