May is National Asian/Pacific Islander American (APIA) Heritage Month. In recognition of the month, members of Asian American Student Union (AASU) have contributed articles to spotlight important issues within the APIA community. Tshiabdua Yang recaps Hmong Culture Night and talks about the relevance of language to the Hmong community and her own cultural identity.
Hmong Culture Night (April 14, 2012), hosted by the Hmong American Student Association (HASA), celebrated the Hmong culture and its presence on this university through language. The event features skits performed by students in different language course levels. While it’s not easy to immerse oneself in culture via language, language builds understanding across differences by helping people focus on other similarities.
The night began with remarks from the Language and Cultures of Asia’s department, which highlighted the precious opportunity of having such a language course and the positive impact it has in the campus’ Hmong community. By proudly recognizing the Hmong language as well as the people and culture, the LCA department kick off was like a sweet embrace for the performers and audience members. The skits were performed in order of course levels 2 through 6. Each class presented at least three skits, and the sixth semester class presented a video. Skits included plots around traditional stories comparable to western fairytales as well as everyday stories that focused courting customs. While most of the skits were performed exclusively in Hmong, audience members who did not speak the language were still able to understand the skits’ characters and themes. Following the various skits, came the delectable feast featuring food catered by local Hmong/Thai restaurants and dishes provided by students and teachers. There were eggrolls, spring rolls, crab ragoons, fried noodles, stir fries, papaya salad, stuffed chicken wings, and a combination of other original, tasty dishes.
There can be no other word for the event other than successful. Attending Hmong Culture Night and seeing the talents of my people come to manifest via my first language is something that has never happened before. It was a privilege and opportunity. Growing up in America as a child of first-generation immigrants was and probably will always be a challenge on so many different levels. Naturally, this includes language, because English was not my parents’ first language. Growing up and speaking exclusively in Hmong up until grade school was not a pleasant change. English engulfed my thought process, actions, conversations, and an endless amount of things that revolved my everyday life. Before I realized it, the only words I knew how to say in my native language were “not home” and “working” for the occasions when elders called or came over when my parents weren’t home. There have been many obstacles along the way of reclaiming language for myself. I eventually did learn most of the Hmong language again, but since starting college, keeping in touch with my language has been difficult. After experiencing Hmong culture night, I went to enroll in next fall’s Hmong semester one course.
I want to learn my language in the fullest way possible. I want to be able to stand next to my people and not have to resort to English because I lack of knowledge in the language I call my first. One of the most prevalent barriers in the Hmong community exists between the first and second generations of immigrant families. Fighting to keep the culture and language alive continues today and thankfully this is possible through university language courses, allies, community, and events such as Hmong Culture Night.