On Monday, Hmong students came to our classroom to talk about their experiences being born in the refugee camp. They talked about what kind of experiences that they had growing up in the camps. They also discussed what it was like to move to America while they were still very young. The topic that they talked the most passionately about was the difficulty in trying to be a traditional Hmong person and live in America. Some of the other topics that they talked about were transitioning from school back to home and what that was like for them, dating and traditional weddings, and how they would try to raise their kids if and when they have them.
One of the kids talked about Ban Vani refugee camp. This was the place where she was born. It was also one of the main places in Kalia's book and one of the places that Dr. Hillmer talked about in his presentation. The kids also talked about difficulty that their parents had adjusting to the American lifestyle, just like the adults told us when they came. Another cross between experiences that I had was when the kids talked about how supportive their parents were. I saw this in Kalia's book too.
The biggest thing that I took out of this experience is that these kids are just like us. They feel like us they work like us, and have very similar lives in terms of friends and family. I only saw a few differences and those were differences that could easily be overcome.
Today, during our noon hour the Honors Class and I went to an art convocation. At this convocation were displayed pieces by artists that were immigrants, refugees, sons of refugees, daughters of refugees, sons of immigrants, or daughters of immigrants. At the beginning of the convocation, we looked at the pieces and tried to discern the meaning of each. Some of the pieces where easy to find meaning for but most were extremely difficult. One of the pieces that sticks out in my mind was also what seemed the center piece of the display, It was a lilac bush that had been dug out of the ground. The roots were exposed, and as your eyes moved up the bush you noticed that the bark was being removed, Finally, after all the bark had been removed the branches were becoming more and more geometric. This piece showed what immigrants and refugees went through when they moved from one country to another.
From that one piece, I realized what kind struggles refugees and immigrants had to go through to make it in America. They like the piece had been uprooted, and now were put on display in a place where there roots were easily visible and could not be hidden. The piece also showed what happened as their time in America got longer. They like the piece became more and more American and lose parts of their own cultures, this is shown in the removing of the bark. Then as generations, pass the culture is lost and the descendants become more and more American. This idea is shown in the branches becoming more and more geometric.
This convocation has really shown me how difficult it is for refugees and immigrants to hold on to their culture. When they get here, they don't know the systems and timetables that we run on and that most of us have grown up with. They must adjust and in doing so must discard and lose some of their culture and who they are. They must, in a sense, reinvent themselves and change at a very critical juncture in their lives. Even with this being true, if these people can come through this gauntlet of tests and trials alive and vigorous, then they have the ability to become very important and influential people in this country.
On Monday night, two Hmong refugees came to our classroom. Doctor Schuler had invited them to tell their stories. The reasoning was that we had heard from Hmong people who had been moved to the United States as children, so we should hear from the Hmong that had come as adults and refugees. Both of them, told stories about what jobs they did while in Laos during the war. They also told us how they were able to get through the tough times while in Laos and in Thailand.
While I sat there and listened to each of the speakers, I was amazed by the lengths that they went to to secure not only their own safety but the safety of their families. It was nice to be able to see the difference in experiences between these two and Kao Kalia Yang, who had come to America as a child. Both of these speakers talked of what they did to help the community and also what kind of will it took to make such a drastic change as fleeing your home country and moving to a country where everything was different.
One thing that I clearly noticed about both of the speakers was the amount of courage each of them had. They both talked simply about things that in my mind were extrodinary. The way each of them talked about the things they did made those things seem normal, eventhough some of the things they did were extraordinary.
As I look back on the experience, I realize more that I am blessed to have grown up in this country. I think that this experience has shown me that no matter how difficult times get and no matter how hard people try to put us down there is always a way to get through it.
On Monday February 9, the Honors Class, of which I am a part, visited the Center for Hmong Studies on our campus. There we learned about what the Center does and is planing to do. We also learned about the Hmong culture from Professor Lee Pao Xiong. This professor was born in Long Cheng, Lao. Long Cheng was the center of CIA activities in Laos. Professor Xiong told us about growing up in Long Cheng and what it was like to Hmong in America. The professor also talked about coming to America and the journey that his family took to get here. He and his family escaped to Laos on planes that were evacuating other people from Long Cheng. He then spent a number of years in Refugee camps in Thailand. Then his family moved to the United States of Amercia. Two things that I thought were important, that Professor Xiong mentioned multiple times, were the facts that very few of the Hmong actually wanted to come to America and that most of the Hmong are hoping that they will one day be able to return to Laos. After presenting this information in a power point, Professor Xiong gave us a tour of the Center. We viewed tools, weapons, clothes, and other objects on this tour.
I have taken tours of multiple historical sites and museums and have seen some very interesting things in those places, but the Center was very intriguing. After having read The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang it was very nice to see pictures of the places that she had described in her book. Two of the places were Long Cheng, and Ban Vanai Refugee Camp.
This experience didn't change much about me but it did serve to reinforce some of the ideals that I believe in. I learned many new things about the Hmong culture, and this is an important aspect of becoming a conscientious person living in this world.
On Saturday January 31, I went to view the movie Gran Torino. The movie, staring Clint Eastwood, is about a elderly man whose wife has just passed away and into his neighborhood Hmong immigrants are settling down. In most cases this probably would not bother the average elderly person in America, but Mr. Eastwood's character, Walter, is a veteran of the Korean War. In the beginning of the movie Walter, or Walt as most of the characters refer to him, is indifferent to the point of being hostile to his neighbors. Then after his car is nearly stolen by the boy who lives next door, Walt begins to warm to his neighbors. By the end of the movie, Walt is closer and happier being around his Hmong neighbors than he is being around his own children and grandchildren. Walt eventually makes the greatest sacrafice that a friend can make, when he lays down his life to make sure that his neighbors, and now friends, can have peace.
While watching this movie, I was struck by how calm and reserved the Hmong people were. I thoroughly believe that most Hmong people are like the Hmong from the movie. This insight that I received I caught a glimpse of while reading The Latehomecomer. While watching the movie I also noticed how strong the Hmong community was. The Hmong in the movie just as in the book, The Latehomecomer, the community always did things together and helped each other out. The community also showed its gratitude to people who were not even of the same culture. The most important thing that I noticed was the fact that the Hmong people were ready to learn if they could find someone to teach them. The boy from next door, eventhough he had tried to steal Walt's car, wanted to stay with Walt and continue to learn from him even though Walt didn't want him around.
This movie has opened up so many new ideas and thoughts that it is impossible to list all of them. First, I learned that with most immigrant if I take the time to get to know them and put myself out there are as a resource and friend I will make a lifelong friend who will stick next to me forever. Second, I learned that not all immigrants are stupid or looking for a handout, though some are. Most are looking for help and a teacher but don't know were to look. The most important thing that I learned from this movie is that there are still people in this world, more specifically America, who have a sense of honor and dignity to do what is right.