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Pao's parent | MacKenzie's parent | Tim’s parent | Emily’s parent | Alex’s parent | Nate’s parent | Benjamin’s parent | Martha’s parent | Abigail and Maggie‘s parent | Sarah’s parent | Nico’s parent | Dylan’s parent | Emma’s parent
What have you as a parent learned about Hmong culture this year? (For Hmong parents: What are the most important things for Americans to learn about the Hmong?)
The Hmong people want to be recognized for helping the U.S. during the Vietnam war. There are many different groups of Asians, just not Chinese, just because they consider us to look a like. They promise to take us to the U.S. after the war, because we can no longer stay in our homeland. If we stayed in our homeland, they would have died.
The biggest revelation is that the Hmong families that have come to America are not that different from my ancestors and the reasons they came to America. My great grandfather came to America to escape being drafted by Bismarck in Germany. They came with little money and did not speak English. They understood farming and settled with other German immigrants in Iowa. They grew their own food on the farm: canning, butchering, etc. My other great grandparents came from Denmark. My great grandpa was a blacksmith in a small Iowa town. The family grew their own food. They have very decorative ceremonial clothes for special occasions. Needlecraft was a very important part of their traditions. Except for the religious differences, I don’t see a lot of difference – in a general sense – between the Hmong culture and my family’s Danish-Germanic culture. The Hmong families just immigrated a little later than my family. Otherwise, we’re more alike than different.
As a parent, I’ve learned a lot about Hmong culture this year, I really didn’t know very much about it before. I knew that there were a lot of Hmong refugees in Wisconsin, and the they’d come here because they had worked for the CIA in the Vietnam war and so were hated by the Laotians. I didn’t know that Wisconsin has the 3rd largest Hmong population in the country, or that the Hmong had a history of being independent and persecuted even before they reached Southeast Asia. I learned some from information Tim brought home but more from the video shown at the Bayview dinner. I enjoyed it tremendously and felt I had more in common with what Tim was learning because of it. I also liked the Bayview visit because I’d never been there and had no idea about the community center and the activities there.
Learned that the Hmong originally came from China, learned that they practiced herbal medicines, some of their funeral traditions, and the games they played in the refugee camps.
My mom said that they have a very rich tradition of folktales, very imaginative and complex. My study of Hmong culture has [introduced to] my mom why the Hmong language is not [phonetic]. An impression that she got is that the Hmong are very proud of their culture and want to preserve it.
I have been enormously impressed by the vitality of the Hmong community and by the way that individuals, families and friends stay connected even though often separated by significant distances. I have also become more aware of the continued, complex influence of the Vietnam war on multiple generations among the Hmong, ranging from considerations of cultural pride to nationalism to patriotism in an adopted country.
Before our son embarked on the Hmong Cultural Tour, I was generally familiar with the story of the Hmong in Wisconsin. I once worked in the Dept. of Health and Social Services for the state of Wisconsin, where I encountered refugee resettlement services and became aware of their role in bringing the Hmong to the Midwest. I was also familiar with a video made by a young woman from Green Bay or Appleton, about her family’s experience in the Midwest, and her father’s experience as a shaman. Since the tour began, I’ve learned about aspects of Hmong life that are new to me, and have gained a deeper appreciation for other aspects that were not new.
I was unaware of the ritual slaughter of animals about which the children learned at the butcher shop. It is impressive that even in an area as highly regulated in this country as food safety, the Hmong have found a way to maintain their connection with food animals and their sprits. It certainly is a closer connection to food than most of us have.
I was aware of the primacy of animism in Hmong culture, but did not have an understanding of the rituals used to invoke the spirits. This was particularly true with respect to funerals, since Fue Chou Thao talked to the children about funerals and the children attended one, and wrote with a great deal of understanding of the role of spirituality in daily life. Another thing that impressed me was the Hmong willingness to participate in this project, and to share so many aspects of their lives with our children. They were not only willing to participate, but they were eager to do so, to promote understanding and acceptance.
The little bit I have learned about Hmong culture was provided by Martha’s accounts of the class field trips. I heard bits and pieces about the music (what a Qeej or Keng looks and sounds like), religion (the long journey back to the site of their buried placenta for the newly departed), and food (one memorable description of a Hmong butcher shop). But for me, the most memorable part of the Hmong cultural unit was the video tape showing at Bayview community center. The tape documented the difficult and sometimes excruciating process that the Hmong have endured after entering the U.S. I was especially moved by the stories of Hmong men who mysteriously die during the night after coming to believe that they could no longer provide for their families.
The girls have shared information about Hmong history, particularly the stories of life in Laos, dangerous journeys out of Laos across the Mekong, life in refugee camps in Thailand, and the persistence of Hmong culture in life in the United States. They have shared particulars of Hmong cultural practices: medicinal herbs, shamanic rituals, qeej playing, butchering, funerals, blacksmithing, dress and cooking. We used the recipe they brought home form the first Hmong Cultural Tour trip to make egg rolls, which we all enjoyed. Even my 5-year-old has been informed that if she were Hmong she would eat rice two to three times every day!
I was able to accompany the field trip to the Hmong American Friendship Association in Milwaukee, where I learned about that organization and visited its displays of Hmong artifacts and photos from Laos and the U.S. Helping to edit student reports for the website has also given me more information about how the children as a class responded to their field trip visits.
–Abigail and Maggie‘s parent
First, of course, we learned about the Hmong culture in two-ways – 1) from our visit to Vietnam and weekend trip to N.W. Vietnam, including hikes in and among Hmong villages; 2) from the various class activities throughout the year, including the tour.
In both we learned about the importance of traditions and family – from dress to how elders pass on their wisdom and experience. In Vietnam we were fortunate to see how Hmong people live in something that was at least partially akin to their homes in Laos, Thailand and throughout the region. We heard about and occasionally observed first-hand the problems that led to so many Hmong journeying to the United States. The contrast in standard of living was pretty severe.
Despite the income disparity, though, we felt that the Hmong are a welcoming people – not afraid of outsiders – and keep a positive outlook despite their many travails. We found that to be true in both Vietnam and Wisconsin.
In addition, we saw Hmong medicine in both places; Hmong crafts in both places; Hmong music in both places; Hmong art; Hmong dress and Hmong families. It is a rich and interesting culture that hasn’t seemed to lose much of its vibrancy here in the U.S.
As a parent, I have learned that culture is a complicated amalgamation of various overlapping pieces, history, gender roles, art, music, chores, beliefs, traditions, clothing, preferences, food, leadership and family systems. I find the Hmong culture to be still quite a mystery because although we can give things labels, we can’t really understand what all the Hmong beliefs were surrounding the event. I think the words mean different things to them, therefore we can not really understand.
As a parent volunteer, I was exposed to Hmong culture when Dylan was in the fourth grade. Prior to that I had read the book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” so I was excited to learn that Hmong culture would be the focus of cultural inquiry in the fifth grade.
This year I gained a better understanding of Hmong history, traditions, and beliefs and a greater appreciation of my own cultural heritage and the immigrant experience in general. I shared Dylan’s interest in Shamanism and Animism which is the basis of traditional Hmong belief and I think this helped both of us experience Hmong culture on a deeper level. The Hmong are survivors and I was deeply touched by personal accounts of the CIA war in Laos, the slaughter of Hmong who supported the U.S., and the heartbreaking stories of those who escaped to camps in Thailand and eventual resettlement in the U.S. I was impressed by the strength and support of Hmong clans and families and the progress made by their community in the short time they have been in the U.S.
I have learned that about the resilience and strong spiritual beliefs of the Hmong people. I learned that Hmong have been a people who have struggled within many countries, China, Laos, Thailand and the United States, to remain independent and yet united as a people. The Hmong have adapted to the cultures of the country where they live or have lived, but have retained their history, traditions and identities within that culture and country. Hmong have strong family ties. Within the family, elders are valued for their wisdom and guidance; children are valued for their spirits and promise for the future. The importance of the individual’s spirit within Hmong culture is intriguing to me. I can see that it provides guidance for treating others with honor, respect, generosity and kindness. To do otherwise would have harmful effects on the person’s spirit. Spiritual beliefs provide structure and guidance in matters of traditions (such as births and deaths) and in health care (the reliance on shamans and Western medicine at the same time).
What do you consider the most important things your child has learned about Hmong culture this year?
My mom thinks that I learned the values of our traditional beliefs.
That there are cultures with people discriminated against. That life is not easy or fair and that the Hmong are able to preserve their culture despite not having large amounts of financial resources.
My child did not know until this year that the Hmong people were involved in the Vietnam war. And they felt that the American government did not treat them well. It was by what we did that they are here in the first place. It’s good that we let them come to America, but it’s also sad how we got them involved in something that didn’t have anything to do with them.
It has been hard to learn what Tim has learned about Hmong culture this year because he’s so reluctant to talk about it. He has really not enjoyed this project at all. Nevertheless, it turns out he’s learned a lot. The history of the Hmong has moved him and interested him deeply. He enjoyed learning about the qeej (I thought it was pretty cool too), and teaching me how to pronounce this word. I think he learned a lot about shamanism, too. When he was having trouble writing an essay about what he’d learned this past year, we went over his notes together and I asked him about what a shaman was. Without prompting, he said that a shaman was like a doctor but different because also a spiritual healer. A little more probing got him to articulate that in our culture doctors and priests are separate roles that are together in Hmong culture, and that that affects much in how both cultures live. (He never wrote this in his essay, but I thought it was an important insight). So he has a sense for a really important aspect of culture: how people treat the spirit and the body. I don’t think he really knows that he knows this yet, or that it’s important.
My child says that he learned about that lots of people are converted by Christians. He did not know some Hmong are converted by Christians and became Catholic.
A very important thing she thinks I’ve learned is about shamanism and how the Hmong see the mind and body as more one then we see them. Another thing is I learned they had to endure many hardships.
My child’s most important discoveries about Hmong culture include a sense of the many dimensions in which history can envelope a people, establish a thread of continuity that is both global and local in character. I also find that he has an enriched appreciation for cultural pride and tradition, and for the many stresses that accompany effort to “be oneself” as a minority.
I think the most important thing that my child has learned this year is that while they have a distinct culture, the Hmong are not more or less human than any other cultural group, and that those who do have distinct cultures should still be treated with the respect due to all humans. It is also important that my son learned that the United States had a great deal to do with the internment of the Hmong in the camps in Thailand and made their lives far harsher than was necessary.
First and foremost, I appreciate the depth of the research done by the class into Hmong culture. Visiting Hmong families, eating their food, and attending various cultural activities (including a funeral) all add up to an understanding of culture that is, I believe, unique for most kids of this age.
I think learning the history of the Hmong and the strength they have as a people has been the most important thing. They have learned to admire the strengths rather than to think of Hmong as disadvantaged.
–Abigail and Maggie’s parent
For Sarah – again given the dual nature of her exposure to Hmong culture and the significance of gaining an adopted sister from Vietnam, though not Hmong – I think the biggest lesson is a continuation of what we have tried to instill in her – that cultural diversity is a good thing. That people should not be judged simply by their material wealth, or their majority status, or their conformity to the typical cultural ideals. And since she saw a lot of Hmong people in both locales she now has a very full resource of examples to think and remember for her whole life.
I believe that the year long study of the Hmong has given the kids a lens to see other cultures and this is probably the most valuable piece they have gotten from their study. They have had so many experiences with Hmong culture that I think they have a better understanding of all the aspects than most Westerners will ever have. I think for Nico, it was fun to know so much about a culture that many do not know well. He went to the science museum in St. Paul with his grandfather. There was an exhibit on the Hmong. Nico enjoyed pontificating about all that he knew. Nico feels that the Blacksmith was the most important experience because it showed how some people have a much closer relationship to their food than we generally do as Americans.
I think the most important thing Dylan learned from this study is that we have more similarities than differences. He was very interested in Shamanism and Animism and how this related to Hmong culture and the challenge of assimilating into American society. He was impressed by how successful some Hmong have become in the U.S. It was gratifying for me to see Dylan confidently conduct interviews for his paper on Shamanism and form his own opinions on the information he had collected. When Dylan started the fourth grade one of the early assignments was to, “Describe your family culture” his response was, “We don’t have a unique culture we are just like everybody else.” Studying Hmong culture has given him a greater appreciation of his own. I think he has been given the tools he needs to appreciate the uniqueness and validity of other cultures and a good foundation to more fully understand Asian cultures.
My daughter has learned that Hmong children prefer to play with other Hmong children because they share the same culture – and that is comforting to them. She has learned about the strength of the Hmong culture. She has also learned about the traditions that are kept by each family. She thought that Hmong culture would be a small culture that not many people were involved with. It turned out to be totally different because the Hmong culture exists in many geographic areas in the United States and the world. Also there are many Hmong, but only 42 last names!
She has seen my knowledge grow as the year has gone by. She is happy that I learned how to play the k’eng.
I valued my child’s understanding about stereotypes and his concerned about Hmong being subjected to stereotypes.
I think MacKenzie is generally an inclusive kid. I think understanding the origin of the Hmong exodus to America was the most valuable information that she discovered during this year.
I have valued the growth he has experienced in writing and overcoming his reluctance to write about things he doesn’t find especially interesting. He is much better at both note-taking and writing than he was last year. But more important, he learned that he could find aspects of interest (such as history and exhibit design) within a topic that he was reluctant to participate in. Finally, I do think he has a better sense for what culture is in general, as he put it, “everything connected with what people do.”
We look at them and tell them what they should do and we tell them to blow the qeej and write in Hmong and read in Hmong. I think we like our own children knowing their own culture.
Having Erika see the opportunity to see a wide variety of cultures within a culture (green Hmong, blue Hmong, white Hmong, etc.)
I have most valued the honesty of the Hmong culture study, allowing kids to see difficult things and to ask probing questions about people and ways of life that were previously unfamiliar.
I appreciate that my son has been exposed to so much information about Hmong culture in such a caring and sensitive way. The approach of visiting people from all walks of life in the Hmong community, regardless of age and integration into the larger community, and of acknowledging that cultures, even when they are different from ours, are deserving of respect and appreciation, has required him to keep an open mind about people who are “different.” While I believe that my son knew this already in some sense, the HCT experience has brought the need for respect to the fore, which I trust will inform his attitudes for the rest of his life.
Of most value is Martha’s excitement in learning about Hmong culture. On several occasions she told me about cultural events that intrigued and interested her. I’m hoping that this excitement about the Hmong will lead to a life long interest in other cultures.
The most valuable thing to me is not any particular thing about Hmong culture, but that they’ve learned that you can learn about culture by observing and asking questions, and that it’s okay and healthy to acknowledge cultural differences. They’ve learned that culture is something many people are proud of and strive to preserve.
–Abigail and Maggie’s parent
We value two things – 1) is the exploration that both journeys allowed Sarah to experience. Observing and learning are very useful in their own rights – for their outcomes – but the process of doing them is at least equally valuable. Sarah learned a lot about how to observe and report what she saw in the Hmong culture; 2) that she was able to see a very unique part of our new home – Wisconsin – in the same year that she saw that culture closer to its roots. She was practically able to travel back and forth in time and then compare the two. While certainly she, or any of us, for that matter, may not be able to reach some profound conclusion about that contrast, again she possesses it in her mind’s eye, and for that we are very thankful for both opportunities.
It has been fun for me to watch how excited Nico has been to learn about the Hmong.
Involvement with the Hmong Cultural Tour has been a peak experience for Dylan and me. We have discussed religion, life and death, and examined out own family values. We have experienced another culture on a level that would normally require travel to another country, at great expense, and I doubt we would have achieved the same benefit.
My mom said that it’s difficult for students like us because my mom said when she was a little girl she had never done that before and my brothers and sisters had never done that before either. My mom said that she is glad that I’m learning another culture but she said that I’m still Cambodian and I will always be. She said that it is difficult for kids like us because then when we go some where else, we always have to take notes while we go to some place and my mom said it’s hard for us because we get tired and exhausted and she also said that’s a good thing because when you take more notes you listen better and learn better and pay attention much more better.
By learning about the traditions and cultures of others, we have learned to appreciate and value our own traditions and culture. We also learned that we are lacking some features of the Hmong culture. By becoming a homogeneous group of Caucasians, we have lost the traditions of our heritage (however many cultures hat entails). With each generation, the family is left to make its own culture or traditions. Because cultural customs are no longer passed from generation to generation – or the customs are not valued by the newer generations, the traditions are lost or diluted or the reasons for traditions lose their meaning.
Studying Hmong culture has made us more interested in our own beliefs or traditions. At the same time, it has made us more open to other cultures. It has also helped us to better understand why people would wish to retain their cultural independence within another culture.
Finally, I have been touched by the generosity and patience of the Hmong people who have shared their stories, their skills, their talents, their food, their time and their homes with me and my daughter so that we may learn.
How have you, your child, and/or other members of your family been changed by our year-long Hmong Cultural Tour?
Makes my family and I happy to know that the Hmong people are being learned about and that they are getting more exciting.
I’m appreciative of many Hmong communities around our state, and of MCM, efforts of teachers in the Randall community (especially Mr. Wagler). I’ve been changed by the HCT because I now know more about another culture causing me to know more about my culture, and helping me learn about another culture other than my own.
I think, again, understanding why the Hmong people came to America, and that there are many families left in Thailand, has made us more interested in the plight of the Hmong families and other refugees as well. There is still a lot of suffering in the world, and we can only help those within our sphere of influence. Part of helping those refugees is understanding their cultural differences and accepting them.
I think we all know something more about Hmong culture and its importance for our community. It still feels foreign, but not alien. When I had a university student as an honors student and found out (belatedly) that she was Hmong (and not Vietnamese- or Chinese-American, as I’d assumed), I suddenly felt like I had a better sense for the challenges she and her family faced, and I was even more impressed by her successes. –Tim’s parent
We changed a lot by doing lots of ceremonies because Tria Thao just passed away and our sister Annie got married at a very young age. Our family has been changed by losing other family members.
Focusing in on one culture for a long period of time has allowed a greater understanding for Erika and our family. She also has exposed a further understanding of the ramifications of the Vietnam war (partly from her father who was in the draft in the later years of what was the war. He did not serve though).
I echo Nate’s dad’s responses about the Hmong learning experience. At times, Nate seemed like it was too much – that he wanted to move on to learn about another culture. It’s a good lesson, I think, to have the children learn that culture is deep and thick – and can’t be learned in just an hour or a day. Thank you for providing this opportunity.
Units like the Hmong cultural tour seem to ask, even if not directly, that the children think more deeply about their own cultural background. How do we celebrate significant events in our lives and shy? How do these rituals give meaning to our experience? It is my hope that in observing the role of culture in the lives of her classmates and neighbors that my daughter will begin to think about her own cultural heritage.
I think the lesson that culture can be inquired about, discussed, and studied has been an eye-opener and will have further meaning for our family as the children have the opportunity to meet and learn from people of various ethnic backgrounds and other countries. My husband does field work overseas, and respect for and understanding of local culture is important to us as we look forward to the opportunity to travel there with our children in the future. Their understanding of Hmong culture and the specific practices they’ve learned about give us a helpful model for talking about any culture – its foods, clothing, medicines, religious beliefs, etc.
I did feel that some modifications could have made it easier and more inviting for families to make the connection to the Hmong Cultural Tour experiences. More notice in scheduling events would have made it easier for busy families to attend. The two- and three-day field trips went such great distances that I found it very challenging to participate in any portion of the trips, although I generally put a very high priority on such participation. For instance, my daughters were quite interested in the possibility of a homestay, but as hard as we tried to make that happen, there was no way my husband or I could drive to Wausau on the evening indicated, sleep there in a Hmong home, and return the next day in time to meet work and other commitments.
I would have been willing to see some of the length and distance of these trips curtailed in favor of events which would allow greater parent involvement and more parent assistance. I felt these trips were longer than ideal for the age of the children and much time was spent on the bus.
–Abigail and Maggie’s parent
I think it’s almost too soon for us to say precisely how we’ve been changed by this year and Hmong culture, since it is part of an extraordinary event for us involving our family. Except that the changes have been exciting and profound. Each “tour” is now an indelible part of an entire thrilling year for Sarah – her first full year in Madison, our trip to Vietnam, the adoption of a Vietnamese sister – and we can’t say for sure how it has changed her, except to know that it has. As for us, I think the simplest thing to say – for each context – is that it has made us newly conscious of both the wonder and variation that is life. Hmong people have it hard – in both places (the accounts of the teenagers in La Crosse were striking) – and we won’t and shouldn’t forget that. But nor will we forget their spirit, determination, and embrace of life.
Nico reports that the Hmong experience has changed him because now he wants to be a blacksmith, he likes their candy and eggrolls. I have an increased respect for the difficulty that people have in trying to maintain a different culture in the United States or any Western culture.
I feel so lucky and honored to have been allowed to experience this unique educational opportunity with Dylan. I have received more than I have given and will always be grateful for how my family has benefited.