Textbook Update Could Give Hmong Youth Cultural Pride

New America Media, Commentary, Connie Vang Posted: Aug 28, 2008

Editors Note: A new California bill that would require that the refugee history of Southeast Asians be included in the next textbook curriculum update may have the side-effect of instilling cultural pride in young Hmong Americans. A vote for California Assembly Bill 2064 is a vote to help all children take pride in their cultural identity, writes NAM contributor Connie Vang. She is a freshman at California State University in Fresno, Calif.

FRESNO, Calif.One day, while slipping through a crowd of students at a bus stop, I overheard someone say: I dont think Hmong people have a country. They decided to come to America to use up its resources; they arent even contributing to society. Its so embarrassing.

To hear this from a Hmong student around my age shocked me. It made me realize that the majority of people in this country, both Hmong and non-Hmong, especially youth, have no clue as to why Hmong people are here.

But, if Governor Schwarzenegger signs Assembly Bill 2064 into law this month, it could change that and increase the cultural knowledge of many high school students in California. A.B. 2064 would require that the war and refugee history of Southeast Asians be included in the next textbook curriculum update.

I was once in that situation, feeling like I didnt care about my Hmong culture. As students, many of us believe that if we dont learn something in school, it's not important enough to know or care about in the first place. We are taught that education is the key to success, so why would we question the school system? And if we do question what were learning, were given the quick answer: Its California standards.

In school, I did not learn anything about my Hmong culture, so it made me think that being Hmong was not important. I tried my best to separate myself from Hmong people.

I didn't go to cultural events. I refused to speak Hmong. I even said I would never date or marry a Hmong person. I succeeded in separating myself from Hmong culture, but from sixth through ninth grade, my self-esteem lowered drastically.

It grew worse each year, along with my grades. I started fighting with my parents, about my grades and social life.

Then, before my sophomore year, my mother dragged me to volunteer for Hmong Voices, a youth video program with a goal to document stories of Hmong leaders and veterans. At first I didn't want to be there, but a friend encouraged me to stay and give my culture a chance.

After working with others and learning why Hmong people came here, I was changed forever. Hanging out at the movies, gossiping, and buying clothes was no longer important.

I wanted a fresh start. I started to try harder in school. One night, my parents caught me doing homework and stared at me in confusion. When, for the first time, I hung out with another Hmong girl, my mom took pictures. People laugh about it, but it was a huge step.

Now, it pains me to know I hurt my parents in the past. After hearing the tragic stories of how the Hmong arrived to America, I developed more respect for my parents.

Many young Hmong do not know about the Secret War. They do not know how their parents and elders ran through treacherous jungles and escaped Laos by crossing the Mekong River. They do not know that in Laos today, some Hmong are still hunted and tortured by the government.

A.B. 2064 could change that. It would require that all high school history textbooks in California include teaching what Southeast Asians provided to the Americans during the Vietnam War. In 2003, A.B. 78 was signed into law. It was similar to A.B. 2064, but it only encouraged history teachers to teach it, rather than requiring it.

When people dont know their cultural history, they don't know a part of themselves. As a result, they may react negatively, even resenting their culture. After discovering my cultural history, I started educating others. Often, in my classes I ended up educating my teachers and classmates about the Hmong and how they helped in the Vietnam War. Afterwards, some non-Hmong students even came up to me and asked more questions.

No one seemed to know how the Hmong helped during the Vietnam War. It wasn't just in my American and world history classes, but also in my American government and Spanish classes. It came up during discussions on the Vietnam War, the economy, terrorism, and genocide.

Some students saw me as a terrorist after General Vang Pao was arrested in June 2007 on charges that he was trying to overthrow the Lao government. Other students assumed that Hmong people had no hardships and came to America from China or Mongolia, strictly for economic reasons. Most teachers didn't have a clue either as to why Hmong people were in America. But they were open to learning from me and having the class learn along.

Some Hmong students tell me A.B. 2064 wont pass because Hmong people are a small percentage of the population and America does not care enough. I think they react this way because the Hmong have received little recognition.

There is more to the bill beyond Hmong people. A.B. 2064 will also include other Southeast Asians that allied with the Americans, such as the Lao, Mien, Cambodian and Vietnamese. I didn't even know that other ethnicities were recruited for the Secret Army, but I learned that through A.B. 2064. These other groups are just as important, and should also be recognized for their contribution and sacrifice during the Vietnam War.

I hope people will contact Governor Schwarzenegger's office and urge him to support A.B. 2064. I know it will help many students who are struggling to understand who they are. Not just Southeast Asian students, but anyone with that same resentment of their cultural history.

When we know our cultural history, we can feel proud about who we are. When we know the war and atrocities that happened to our cultures in the past, we can prevent it from happening in the future.

Mai Der Vang contributed to this article.

To learn more about Hmong culture, visit www.hmongnet.org

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User Comments

Elvis "Elfy" Thao on Sep 22, 2008 at 21:00:21 said:

Bless the Heavens. Thanks for the courage and acknowlegdement to make this happen. Please keep it going and also pass us the strategies and procedures used to make this isssue possible so we down here in the Midwest can make this a possibility in our areas as well. I want to see this happen across the nation for generations to come. Keep in touch. Take care

Shaolin Entertainment

Bleed the Dream>

Sarah Jones on Sep 01, 2008 at 15:45:35 said:

No problem, Nini Lor. Welcome to freedom of speech. We are all American. We must progress as American. Thank you New America Media. May God bless.

Nini Lor on Aug 31, 2008 at 23:37:55 said:

Oops, you're right.
I was responding to JENNY.

Sorry Sarah.

hmongguy on Aug 31, 2008 at 16:12:42 said:

Amen to that, Nini Lor. Good contribution. I believe you were replying to Jenny's comment on Aug 31, 2008 at 09:24:44 and everyone elses who thinks like she does.

I wonder why the Native American Idians never write anything about their side of the story when the pilgrims invaded their property during those days instead learning about Thanksgiving of how proud they did for those immigrants. Why not teaching about their pains and troubles about the discriminations to harrassments? I can say that here in the West, we turn blind eyes to see other people's cries rather to embrace and acknowldge their sorrows. We never learn to adjust and accept but always have greeds and hate to make the world number 1 hated people.

Nini Lor on Aug 31, 2008 at 12:33:51 said:

Sarah Jones (Quotes from her ignorant bigot mind)

(Individuals, and community groups can focus on cultural heritage, but not our public schools. There can be courses that deal with the Hmong at the college level, but there isnt the money or the time in the school year to divert our students from the important coursework they already arent learning.)

Let me tell you something Mrs. Jones. Our public need to teach diversity to our students which will open and increase their understanding of why we American are here. We as American are nothing but immigrants ourselves. Growing up, we learned about African Slaves and their cultural heritage and etc... so you\'re telling me that we should not need to learn about it? Hypocrite? Learning about diversity and cultures will allow our student to expand their appreciation for multiculturalism, broaden their understanding of the different ethnic groups here in America.

(If you come to America, it means you are committing to this country, not to your own former country. If you are incapable of that, go back to the country your loyalty is devoted to.)

The Hmong are not economic migrants like most ethnic groups. The Hmong are not committing to their former country. They are proud of being American and they are also proud of their cultural heritage. Its people like you that have no cultural background which love to disagree on such. Is this all you can do? saying people need to go back to where they came from? I tell you want, why dont you go back to where you came from you ignorant bigoted moron. You are selfish and racist mrs. Jones. All your quotes offended me as well as the many southeast asian groups that participated in the Vietnam War with the American. Remember, this site is called, NEW AMERICA MEDIA.

Nini Lor on Aug 31, 2008 at 12:17:32 said:

It's hilarious to see these vile people posting such comments stating: "I don't want to see this, I don't suppor this, I am paying my tax money and etc..." Oh please shut up. The Hmong plays a big role in the Vietnam War as Vietnam War is part of the American History. Nanking Raping is part of World History - hence, you can learn it there.

Sarah Jones,
You can complain all you want. As a woman of color? People like you Sarah Jones, who only want other immigrants to learn about your African American History. You believe that by learning about other ethnic history then other people will forget your people history. Guess what Sarah Jones, we pay taxes yet college teaches our students things that they do not need to learn. For the Hmong, they were the American allies during Vietnam War. Why not give them recognition? They truly deserve it.

Then I ask you, Why would I need to learn about MLK and African American History? When all I gain from it is more racism from African students and White students? I chose to learn because I wanted to embrace and understand other immigrants.

VOICE on Aug 31, 2008 at 10:11:21 said:

It's great to see some understandable and supportive individual like Sarah Jones. I totally understands the cost that may take to have these corrections made on our history text book however shouldn't we think it is time to update our text book by now? It's only been about 5 years since the invasion of Iraq and I'm pretty sure we needed to update our text & added this chapter into our text in the next few years w/ the 9/11. Shouldn't we think history is important? If it wasn't then we wouldn't be who we are. We wouldn't have our freedom. Talking about additional monies, what about our tax paying monies? How do we really know that they are going toward what's really important or not. That is up to our legislatures to determine. I do know for a fact that this additional appreciation & recognition to our forgotten brave allies in the so-called Secret War during the Viet War will help improve our effort and build a solid fellowship to the world & our future allies to see that we do honor & stands for what we say we commited and promised. If we do fight for freedom & democracy as we stated than we should keep our commitment. We do NOT have to eliminate any thing else for just this little recognition. It's only an additional topic to bring up when teacher teaches about the Vietnam War to remember their allies and yes, this definitely will help those individuals who loves history such as the journalist, archaeologist, even the governments to learn from the past good or bad to avoid future mistakes or gain more allies and friendships w/ other countries so we can do a little bit better business here in the US. Common sense! If we build great fellowship then we build great economy to our industry and our land we resides. Then we would NOT pay $4/gal of gas. Do you now see the benefit if this? Think? Think 50 yrs from now. We don't want to loose in this monopoly world right? We should learn to love & forgive then we will prosper and be blessed w/ all humankind. Anyways, take this to consideration and may God bless America still. PEACE!

Sarah Jones on Aug 31, 2008 at 10:05:22 said:

I don't understand why some people think it would cost more money to teach history? It will cost more in the future when history is not taught, especially past mistakes. All it takes is to incorporate this part of the American history in the Viet Nam War section that is already part of the curriculum. I totally agree with CRA5Y. What people should oppose is the testing climate that NCLB Act is imposing on public schools. It takes away the true meaning of learning. Accountability is good, but it has to be fair and supports learning.

Voice on Aug 31, 2008 at 10:03:04 said:

I agree with you Jimbo. There has always been history that we created but being denied by most. The ones who usually brings it up are the ones who's facing discrimination, hatred, and racism when they ARE part of the history. Look what happen to our dear Native Americans who threw us a large feast and land to share. Look at the African Americans who's being used as slaves who endured and hold the gosple of dreams. The WW1 & 2 to the Viet War. Now Iraq & Afghanistan. I support our troops but I believe war is not neccesary to resolve comflicts. What will the others look at us now? Tibets, Taiwans, & of course Hmong/Miao motherland, China? Is war what makes us big & bad? NO! Stop using propaganda about the Tibet problems in China or negotiating N. Korea on nukes bcuz we were the ones that abused it. Let's learn to love and forgive. Let's learn from the past to prevent it again in the future. This is a topic that is our American history. May God continue to bless America so we can live peacefully and prosper together with the rest of the world.

John on Aug 31, 2008 at 10:00:21 said:

I just finished watching a documentary on the Japanese military's "Rape of Nanking", China in 1937 - 1938. Over 200,000 innocent Chinese citizens raped and/or tortured before being murdered. Men, women children.

Our children won't hear anything about this, but they will be brainwashed that the big, bad USA had no reason to use nuclear weapons to end WWII, even though it's estimated that the two bombs killed far less than would've perished had we needed to invade Japan.

VOICE on Aug 31, 2008 at 09:57:36 said:

You are correct. It sure is disappointing to see what our politician demands for our kids to learn in schools these days. I wonder if the Iraq War will ever be part of our history in the next 20 yrs and so does the secret little war in Afghanistan. I wonder what will happen to our Iraqi refugees who we may help immigrate them here if we ever pull out our troops when we looses as we did to our Hmong & S. Viet allies during the Vietnam War. Is history going to repeat itself? RIGHT!? This is the reason why we demand our kids to learn from the past of our mistakes & hope not repeat our history again. Dr. MLK had a dream. We all should have the same dream. Peace and freedom all across America. I understand that no one wants to learn about history especially someone elses history but remember this IS our American history that we created and should have it to be part of our history to be addressed and learned from.

Jenny on Aug 31, 2008 at 09:24:44 said:

As a woman of color, I am offended, given the fact that the US economy is in the toilet because of the outsourcing of jobs, and the displacement of American citizen worker, including American citizens of color, and with our state and local taxes rising the way they are, we're expected to waste even more of our already over burdened resources to provide ego strokes to those who asked to come here.

Increasing cultural pride, is not the responsibility of the government, nor of your fellow Americans. It will not improve the lot in life of Hmong immigrants, any more than ESL has done for illegal immigrants (ESL has been proven to do nothing more than increase the dropout rate, and as such has wasted billions of tax dollars that should have gone instead to teaching our young people important subjects like math and science).

Individuals, and community groups can focus on cultural heritage, but not our public schools. There can be courses that deal with the Hmong at the college level, but there isn't the money or the time in the school year to divert our students from the important coursework they already aren't learning.

If you come to America, it means you are committing to this country, not to your own former country. If you are incapable of that, go back to the country your loyalty is devoted to.

Any politician who supports this nonsense should be voted out of office or recalled. If it's forced upon us, I will support putting something by force the ballot to overturn it. My taxes aren't going to be wasted on more of the same garbage that will regress our nation to the third world status of the small minds who promote this sort of wasteful spending.

Nini Lor on Aug 31, 2008 at 00:33:05 said:

Dana Garcia,
I pay tax to school to teach my fellow Americans the truth. American history is composed of many ethnic groups and their contribution to the development of the America - european, african, asian, native american and etc. Propaganda is when you spread lies and false information - the work of the government and religious groups. Are you a college graduate or are you just someone who has little understanding of what American is about? propaganda advocate? advocate the truth? seem too much for you to handle? honey, you really need to go back to school and try opening up. Do you really think American history only refers to White American and their contribution to America? silly you.

Nini Lor on Aug 31, 2008 at 00:26:54 said:

Dana Garcia,
people like you are the reason why we can't embrace one another. you think everyone came to united states because they wanted to. the hmong on the other hand are not economic migrants but political refugees who have contributed to the United States during the Vietnam War. either you dislike the hmong or either that, you hold envy against the hmong. American history? check again darling, the Hmong is part of American history. What do you refer to as AMERICAN HISTORY? European immigrants? Mexican immigrants? African immigrants? you really need to educated yourself. By the way, it's called TEACHING, not propaganda.

VOICE on Aug 30, 2008 at 22:48:32 said:

Dana Garcia, I wonder what the other American would say when the author promotes the topic as it would say, "Textbook Update Could Give Mexican Youth Cultural Pride." If that's also not what you so-called propaganda then what else can it be, prejudice or discrimination? I now see why the world is so corrupted with the morals you have. Your kind of history are brainwashed and propaganda to the world. You don't like to accept others but wants to distract others. The Indo-China would've been a better place to live and opportunities to rise for these people; however, the so-called super hero wants to invade and persuade. Look at it now, after 30 plus years, you still doesn't want to recoginze or acknowledge it supports and allies to you and still call it the Secret War of the Vietnam War. What kind of BS is that? You think! I wonder what the Iraqis and Afghanistans to the Iranians, North Koreans, USSR and China would think of you if this is how you play your game. I bet, after the capture of GVP, the Hmong did felt betrayed for the nonsense reaction. Shouldn't you appreciate your ancestors for bringing you here to this fine country to have the freedom you have? Why not understand about our dear neighbors, the Hmong or any other nationalities around our communities instead of your closed minded propaganda of yours?

Tsucheng Vang on Aug 30, 2008 at 15:01:45 said:

I believe the Hmong students, because people said that we are American's slaves. Now, no one know the truth about Vietnam War. I woke up in my nightmare and here I am in this empty land where there is nothing but called the United States of America and get slap on the face every directions I turn.

Dana Garcia on Aug 30, 2008 at 11:32:29 said:

The author promotes the idea that a view of SouthEast Asia "cultural knowledge" should be taught in California schools so the Hmong students can achieve self-esteem. That's propaganda, not history.

VOICE on Aug 30, 2008 at 01:41:18 said:

Thank you Connie Vang and Mai Der for their time, contribution and dedication. I support it and hope it pass. America needs a change! God Bless American.

VOICE on Aug 30, 2008 at 01:37:05 said:

In response to the first two comments, I would like to say several things. First, the Hmong are not a "special interest group" they are an ethnic and cultural group of people. They are not interested in promoting "propaganda" but rather embracing their identity as Hmong-Americans and having their contributions to our Nation both past and present recognized. Labeling them "others" is blatant racism that has no place in our public schools or community at large. Secondly, the Hmong are here legally. The American government made a promise to welcome them into our country in exchange for their support during the Vietnam War. As a result of their aid in rescuing soldiers who would have otherwise been tortured and killed by the Vietcong, thousands of Hmong men women and children were killed and are still being killed by their own government. It took years before the American government would openly acknowledge the role the Hmong people played in the Vietnam War and years more before they would follow through on their promise. (And it is important to note that thousands of Hmong people still live in refugee camps and in hiding in the jungle as a result of their aid to the American military forces, which has made them enemies to the government of country in which they live, still waiting for what the American government promised them 40 years ago.) Lastly, can you imagine a history book that did not teach students about the role Chinese immigrants played in building the transcontinental railroad? Can you imagine a textbook that did not discuss the European immigrant experience during the early part of the twentieth century? Can you imagine a history book that did not discuss the European allies during World War II? Of course not! This is because we as a country recognize these as important aspects of American history, and understand that our history would not be the same without these people. America is not made up of only Caucasians coming from European decent. We live in a culturally and ethnically diverse nation and our history must reflect this. If we fail to recognize all parts of American History, even those somewhat unpleasant parts we are doing ourselves and our future generations an enormous disservice and our country will continually fail to live up to the ideals of freedom and equality that we so proudly herald.

Xiong Yang on Aug 29, 2008 at 15:29:01 said:

Propaganda? You know, alot of Americans were draft dodgers, we hmong fought where the American public didn't want to go. We were Americans more than those draftdodgers and because of those hippies, we lost our home. World Peace my ass, because of the so-called world peace-American history of not interfering, our culture is under genocide at Laos.

Dana Garcia on Aug 28, 2008 at 18:41:28 said:

It's not the public school's job to teach kiddies about their ethic history -- if that knowledge is so important then the parents should be passing it on. Taxpayer-funded schools should teach American history and government, not the multiculti propaganda advocated here.




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