Thai Vang is a 17-year-old Hmong teenager that came to Madison from Laos. When he came to America he was just 12 so it was hard for him. Back in Laos he didn’t have any food, money, maybe clothes. When Thai came here he first had to learn the ABCs, 123s, in the language they mostly speak here, which would be English. When he was 12 or 13 he had to sit in a first grade class and learn English while other kids did other work.
Thai Vang was born in Banvani, a refugee camp in Thailand. When he came into our class he said, “Banvani brings back horrible memories.” Thai’s family came to the U.S. in 1997 to escape hunger among other things. His family was one of the later Hmong families to move to America because his father didn’t want to lose their culture. But finally they decided to move. “We had no choice,” said Thai. “We couldn’t go back to Laos and we couldn’t stay in the refugee camp, they didn’t want us there.” Now Thai is a junior at East High School in Madison. He plays the qeej, is a shaman and knows 5 different languages. Thai believes in being friends with everybody no matter what their culture is. Many of his friends are very interested in his culture and they love his mom’s eggrolls.
Being a shaman, and playing the qeej and such doesn’t mean he cannot also be American. Thai said that he has the privilege of going between two worlds (American culture and Hmong culture) and speaks many languages (English, Hmong, Spanish, Thai, Laos) and hopes to learn French! His reasoning: he thinks that to know many languages is a great gift, so you can talk with all ethnicities. “If everyone can speak all languages we all will be relatives and share the world,” Thai says. In his American culture he has many American friends, one wants to learn Hmong. He likes the Backstreet Boys, and rock music, he likes to watch football, baseball, and basketball.
He doesn’t just like Hmong music, he also likes American music like the Backstreet Boys. He plays sports like football. He lives in two different worlds, he has to change his home and schools. A lot of Hmong people are afraid of Americans because they think we are going to hurt them. A rumor is if you dig a deep hole you will go to America, and there is a giant here and people shouldn’t come. He speaks 5 languages, he is working on Spanish and next year French. He has been in plays and talent shows. For the Hmong, when you are 14 you are considered an adult. A lot of kids argue with parents about wanting to be American. He teaches a class for young Hmong people on culture and language.
Most Hmong teenagers want to be American but their parents want them to be Hmong. Thai is different, he wants to be both. It is harder to be a Hmong teenager than a Hmong kid, Thai says.
In America, Thai quickly made lots of friends by simply going up to someone and saying “Hi!” Thai doesn’t understand why Hmong people stick together and don’t try to make friends with other Americans. He wants both nations to think of each other as equals. Why can’t we be buddies? is his question.
Thai aims to have friends of all different kinds from all different cultures and places. He feels that he has a special gift that many people don’t have, a special way of connecting and communicating with different people, and that includes different spirits, and others. Thai doesn’t believe in lying. He knows that it doesn’t do any good, especially specifically if you’re in a bad position and you’re trying to weave your way out of it. It’ll only make things worse for you and won’t help at all. Thai wants to be American but he also wants to stay forever Hmong, always loyal to his culture, religion, and traditions. His goal in life is to get good grades in high school and college, and teach young Hmong children about how to be a better Hmong person, and what it’s like to be a true Hmong person.
Mr. Wagler asked, “Aren’t all Hmong traditional?” Thai: “Not necessarily.” He said that of the Hmong in Wisconsin, about half were Christian and half were traditional Hmong.
Thai doesn’t speak good English but his friends correct him and he likes that.