Izzy and Erika at the gardens Waiting for vegetables to fill eggrolls A knife used to cut ingredients for eggrolls Loading the bus in Madison Knitting on the bus The inside of Hmong violin A candid shot of Pao on the bus A candid shot of Pao on the bus Mariah at the gardens Chrissy Lee dressed in traditional Hmong clothing Eating lunch on the tour Jeremy takes a photo of himself Maggie with baby bananas at the Union Oriental grocery store A candid shot of an excited child Mariah celebrates her birthday while on the tour Mr. Wagler lectures a wayward teddy bear

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Personal Story:
Exploring Hmong Culture

Write at least a four-page story about your experiences in learning about Hmong culture. Include:
• your first awareness of Hmong people
• early stereotypes & questions
• notes from your HCT Notebook
• many details!
• definitely dialogue!
• use quotation marks for direct statements you've heard or read by Hmong people, conversations you've had about learning Hmong culture, things you've written before, or thoughts from a particular moment
• moments with strong feelings
• important people, places, and activities
• questions answered and unanswered
• problems resolved or unresolved
• friendships
• experiences with recording observations: notes, photos, etc.
• what you've told parents and friends about this experience
• ways you have changed, grown, or developed
• ideas for learning more about Hmong culture, your own culture, or other new cultures

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 culture.

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 nothing...

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 my insolence.

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. “Hmong what?”

“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.
–Izzy S.

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 I’ve learned...

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 within yourself.
–Sarah M.

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 Hmong culture.

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.
–PakouDrawings of various stops on the Hmong Cultural Tour by Pakou. Click for larger image

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 essay...

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.
–Sara K.

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 am curious.

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.

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