The Bittersweet 40 Years  

It has been 40 years since the Hmong community came across the oceans and called United States home. In the name of celebrating the progress Hmong community has made throughout the bitter sweet 40 years, Hmong Minnesota Student Association (HMSA), Hmong Men Circle (HMC) and Viivncaus came together and hosted Hmong centered events for the Hmong week.

Keep reading and let these lovely Hmong students tell you their stories.

Interviewer: Selena
Interviewees: Pang from HMSA, Keej from HMC


unnamedBackground information: The Hmong are an ethnic group from mountainous regions in Southeast Asia. Hmong people were recruited by United States to fight the Secret War, after which Hmong people were forced to seek political asylum in Western Countries, mostly United States.

Selena: How do you think the Hmong people were affected by the Secret War and how was the transition of coming to U.S.?

Keej: Personally, I don’t think it affected me because even though my dad is a veteran, he doesn’t really talk about it. A lot of the older generations had the sense that they hadn’t lost the war and they were against coming to U.S. I would call that phenomenon White Fear. Americans were a lot bigger compared to our ancestors. The ancestors thought that the Americans would eat their kids, take away their wives, etc. (Laughs). Also a lot of people still had relatives in refugee camps back in Southeast Asia. Over the years, there has been news about the disappearance of some of the refugee camps. It’s hard to imagine what the older generations went through.

My family came as the forth wave of immigrants. When we came here, there were already organizations to help Hmong people integrate into American society. My dad was frustrated with the fact that the established Hmong organizations didn’t fully inform immigrants their options, e.g. education. A lot of people went straight into labor force to support their families when they could have gotten their GEDs and supported their families better later on.


Selena: How do you feel about being an American under the influence of both Hmong culture and American culture?

Keej: As the oldest kid in the house, I do experience the blunt of my parents’ different ideologies. I take on the role to help my parents see the changes in societal ideologies. My mom is pretty open to new ideas; my dad is not so much. Traditional values such as integrity and shame are still sometimes way too important for my dad. He would ask me to go to funerals almost every weekend, and set strict curfews for my sisters out of fear of shame. On the other hand, I had mentors from a program called Big Sister Big Brother, who still came to visit me each week after the program ended. My mentors gave me a lot of guidance and taught me new ideas like feminism, etc. That was a unique experience.


Selena: Something I feel by being with the Hmong students is that the sense of community is really strong. Why is that?

Pang: We don’t have a nation state; we don’t have a flag; we don’t have an anthem; we don’t have a place to call home. This is our home and it’s up to us to build it. If we don’t cherish it, build it, we are just living. We are just living and we’re not alive. There are many bad aspects of the Hmong community, just like any other community, but the Hmong community has a very strong support system for each other, because we know that we’re here sort of alone.

Selena: How is being on board of HMSA?unnamed-1

Pang: At first it was really hard because I came from a background of toxic friendships. I didn’t want to make friends, because I was scared that after people saw my flaws they would leave me. I became strictly a board member. I finished my jobs and that was it. After a while, I asked myself “do I want to say that I made friends or do I want to say that I was a good broad member. Why can’t I be both?” Also at that point my board members all saw my flaws and they didn’t leave me. That was the turning point of what made us really close. I finally decided to make an effort to be a good friend instead of just a good board member. To this day I love all my board members, I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Being on board of HMSA forced me to use strength that I never thought I had. It showed me how unique I am, how strong I am. I am not the same Pang as I walked in HMSA. I’m a thousand times stronger. I know my strength now and I realized how good it is to build personal connections. I put in 150 percent into HMSA and I got 200 percent back. It’s a personal journey for me and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Selena: Tell us more about HMC and where do you think HMC is going.

Keej: Back in 09, a lot of Hmong males came into college and there wasn’t a student group that supported Hmong male roles. A bunch of guys got together and started HMC. The ideology behind HMC is to create a support group for Hmong males to pursue higher education, to educate them about Hmong culture, heritage and to reach out to people who are having a hard time in college. We want to create an environment where people are free to talk about how the roles of Hmong males are integrating and changing. We had workshops on cultural knowledge, e.g. traditional funeral procedures, and domestic violence, etc.

I think HMC has to sooner or later develop a new approach to attract Hmong males into our community. Our ideology is kind of outdated in the sense that new Hmong generations have done a great job integrating into a mixed society. Our group was originally built to help isolated Hmong males to make connections. Now we need to integrate a more diverse approach to attract the new generations.

Selena: I know the Spring Retreat is coming up, is there anything you’re looking forward to?

Pang: My favorite thing about the retreat is not the Odyssey (Odyssey is a reenactment of the Secret War), even though a lot of people like the Odyssey. My favorite part is the Secrete Note. Every morning there will be secret notes written to people anonymously. It could be things that people have done and touched others’ hearts, or just random admiration notes. I got notes that said “thank you for walking me to the bathroom last night; thank you for the heart-to-heart we had last night; nice to meet you, I hope we get to know each other better”. The best feeling is to wake up in the morning and see that you have a pile of notes and know that someone notices you. I don’t think there has been anyone who didn’t get one note by the end of the retreat. Even though it is 84 people, you still get to know a lot of people by talking to others during free time or making meals together.