Mark | Nate
| Emma | Izzy S. | Sarah
M. | Gabby | Pao
| Pakou | Cristina
| Sara K. | Dylan |
Jeremy | Benjamin
| Emma | Mariah
| Emily | Abigail
| Maggie | Thomas
When people call me Chinese I look at
them in a strange way. Because I’m Hmong. I was upset
when people called me Chinese in first and second grade. Some
people always called me a Chinese boy. Even today people still
call me Chinese. I never told anybody that I was Hmong. They
thought my culture didn’t exist. I felt embarrassed
when people said my culture didn’t exist. I felt that
they needed to study, research, and do some science on my
My class went on a Hmong culture tour for a long time. When
I was on my Hmong culture tour, they figured out that I was
Hmong because I spoke Hmong. When people started to get my
culture, they finally called me Hmong. I like the way they
call me Hmong. Sometimes I let them know I’m Hmong.
That’s my real ethnic culture.
The first encounter I ever had with Hmong
culture was when I met my friend Mark. He was in my first
and second grade classes. I didn’t think of him as being
Hmong or being different—I thought of him as a friend.
I only thought about the similarities and not the differences,
with one exception. I noticed his skin wasn’t black
or white but a mixture of the two... It was a tannish color.
I hadn’t even heard of the Hmong yet, so I thought that
he was Chinese or Japanese because I thought that if you were
Asian that meant you were either Chinese or Japanese. Another
of my early stereotypes was that the Hmong just sat around
all day knitting and playing the qeej. I knew very close to
I have to admit that this project has been long and hard,
sometimes even tiring, but it was worth the work and effort,
because now I know a lot more about Mark’s culture.
Hmong culture is much more complex than I had originally thought.
It’s not just qeej music and story cloths. The cultural
boundaries are almost limitless. Now I know I was totally
wrong about Hmong culture and I’m sorry for what I thought
about the Hmong and I hope that no feelings were hurt from
When we started I thought Hmong was just
a culture like Japanese or Asian. But I was wrong. The Hmong
are as far away from the Japanese as, well, me!
It all started last year when my
teacher Mr. Wagler told us about the trip we would be taking
in the fall to see the Hmong. There was a lot of confusion.
“There will be performers playing the qeej,” said
Mr. Wagler. “The what?” asked Delia. (She got
her name put on the board and shut up.)
“The qeej is a Hmong musical instrument,” Mr.
Wagler went on. “We will help Pao’s mother make
egg rolls.” Egg rolls! Finally something I recognized!
Now we’re at least 3/4 of the way through the year and
I’ve learned a ton about the Hmong. I felt welcome everywhere
we went. Sometimes (sounds silly) I actually felt Hmong!?!
Wow, it sounds really strange, but I actually felt Hmong and
the people who we visited on our tour accepted the fact that
we wanted to know about them and we weren’t just there
because our teacher made us. We were there because we were
interested in Hmong culture and we were ready to learn as
much as we could.
The first time I ever heard about Hmong
culture was last year when we talked about our individual
cultures. Three of my classmates were Hmong. Even then, I
didn’t know much. “Okay,” I thought. “Hmong
is Asian, a bunch of Hmong live at Bayview, they play the
qeej, and tell folk tales.” (My classmate Pakou had
told us a folk tale.) Now, as I think back and compare my
thoughts then to what I know now, it’s amazing how much
For most of my classmates, photos and videos were just about
as close as they could get to Asia, but I got lucky and was
able to see the real thing. In December, my family set out
to Vietnam to adopt my baby sister, and while we were there
we went up to the mountains, the home of many ethnic minorities
including the Hmong. I met and interviewed many Hmong people,
and learned about the way many of the Hmong in America used
to live, and how many of the Hmong in Laos still do. “They
have no electricity or water systems! It’s really cool
how they invent ways to deal with that, like bamboo pipes
for water and water-powered rice grinders,” I wrote
in my travel journal. When I came back, I put together a big
report and movie about the Hmong.
Before we studied the Hmong, I had made many stereotypes.
Those stereotypes weren’t bad, it’s just that
I really didn’t know the culture. When I went deep into
the culture, I learned so much I started to become part of
the culture. To become a part of a culture, you must not only
watch, see and hear people of that culture, you must think
and feel the traditions, rituals and feelings of the culture
Before these trips I didn’t even
know there was such a thing as Hmong culture... I’ve
changed a lot. It’s like I’m a new person. Some
people who I know who are Hmong don’t know as much as
I do. I know so much I feel like I am Hmong inside.
When I heard the word Hmong, I thought
Hmong is just Hmong. They can blow a qeej and just do needlework.
But now that we went on our trip, I learned a lot more about
I told my family about how it’s
like studying your own culture and where we visit on our tour...
I learned something different each day when we took our trips...
Everytime when I learn something from new peoples I notice
that I’m becoming more Hmong like more traditional Hmong.
At the Hmong America Friendship Center it made me feel like
getting to know a lot of people, especially Hmong elders from
other places... I felt like being [a part of] a big community
of Hmong and American people... If I have a question would
I pick being Hmong or American, I will pick being Hmong American,
because I am Hmong American.
I know it’s hard to be in two
cultures because when people in my class start talking about
my culture I get mixed up on which culture they mean, my Mexican
culture or American culture. At school, I’m American.
Well, at least most of the time. And at home only Mexican
because my parents don’t understand much how to speak
or understand English. I sometimes have to translate for them
when they are signing slips for jobs and school. I’m,
like, their tiny little teacher.
That’s all I’m going to write because I feel I
said a little too much of my life at school and at home. And
because I don’t know what else to write about in this
Here’s another exciting page of my thinking of Hmong
culture. Talking and watching about two different cultures
was neat because I go through some of the things that they
are going through too. It feels so good to speak of something
in common with other people as I’m doing right now.
Except I’m writing it not talking about it...
At the beginning of the year, I thought why
Hmong? Why not study many cultures so we can have an understanding
of many cultures, not just one? I thought Mr. Wagler was stereotyping,
not against, but with the Hmong... Well, after a while I figured
out that learning very deeply about one culture can help me
understand a lot about that culture, other cultures, and,
more importantly, my own culture. Hmong seems like one noodle
in a pot full of spaghetti. One culture with a world full
of others surrounding it...
When I started learning about Hmong culture I thought it had
nothing to do with mine, but as I learned and went to places
like the blacksmith shop and the shoe factory I noticed it
was a lot like mine. When we talked about the Hmong going
and getting rice I began to recognize that Hmong people need
to eat, drink, and sleep just like us...
Something simple can tell me about beliefs and traditions.
Like at the Hmong funeral, someone told us about putting food,
drinks, and clothes in the coffin for the person’s next
life. When they said that, I told myself they believe in reincarnation!
The funeral was another example of something that proved Hmong
culture was more like my culture, because they have funerals
where dead bodies go in coffins and they celebrate that someone
is dead. It’s kind of like they do the same things we
do, just in a different way.
I came out of the Shaman’s house
as a different person in a way. I had a whole different vision
of Hmong shamans. I started wanting to believe in the spirit
world, and the idea of being able to spiritually heal someone...
This year I have experienced a lot of Hmong culture. [Now]
I look at other cultures closely and look for details and
At the end of this trip, I was loaded
down with about 110 pounds of culture waiting to be taken
off [and put] into discussions and reports about the trip.
The butcher shop was the most powerful
experience for me. I felt that I was going as deep into Hmong
culture as any Caucasian kid had gone before.