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home : community : community Friday, April 29, 2016

12/19/2007 12:40:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Dr. Lee Discusses Hmong in America at Concordia University

Amy Doeun

On Thursday December 6 Dr. Gary Yia Lee lectured at Concordia University for the final time. After over a year in America Dr. Lee will return to Australia on December 24. Dr. Holst, President of Concordia University greeted those gathered by saying that "It is a sweet night because I know the topic, but bittersweet because we will soon say good bye to Dr. Lee." Dr. Holst compared the Center for Hmong Studies to a tree, "It starts out small but the tree will grow. Dr. Lee has helped us root it."

The evening's topic was "The Diasporic Whirl, Reflections on the Spirit and Enterprise of the Hmong in America." Dr. Holst said of Dr. Lee that he brings, "insights into not only the Hmong community but the changing communities in the United States and around the world." However Dr. Lee was interested in hearing from the audience, "It was a trick to get you here, it's not really a lecture it's about us, about our people, the Hmong people and American people and the way they interconnect."

Dr. Lee said that he took the title from a poem by Bryan Thao Worra. While there are many definitions for whirl, Dr. Lee felt "a state of confusion; tumult" best describes the way that many Hmong families have had to live, but he hopes that we "will settle into a more stable, productive future." This is important because for any group of people their "base is culture and identity of people. You go too fast and you tear yourself away from the base ... for young people that assimilate too quickly, they find themselves lost."

Some things in particular make it easier for the Hmong people to succeed and move forward, "a strong work ethic; strong desire to recover; large families and extended kinship network; and learning from the success of other people." Areas of success include in no particular order: 1. education; 2. Housing; 3. Mutual Assistance; 4. Business; 5. Homeland activities; 6. Political engagement; and 7. Cultural Development.

There are some things that Dr. Lee feels should be addressed as the Hmong community moves on:

1. We are tied to the clan system. This can be particularly hard in business where you may have segregation along clan lines such as "the Her grocery store and the Xiong grocery store." Dr. Lee wanted to make it clear that there were some elements of the clan system that were good, like on going support, but that we needed to be careful it didn't harm development.

2. Lack of Capital

3. Lack of training,

4. Glass ceiling.

5. English, Dr. Lee added that even some Hmong born here have difficulty reading and writing English effectively.

6. Nostalgia and Homeland politics, this is an area that has really hurt the Hmong people lately.

7. Generation Gap

8. Gender inequality. Even if in public the sexes do not help each other, he encourages individual families to help each other more around the house. "This is crucial, we need to change that in the Hmong community."

9. Networking with the broader community. This can be done primarily through friendships with non-Hmong people. This is one of my biggest concerns-networking with the broader community. Make friends with other people ... so you can live together with other people ... the ability to live in a multi ethnic society is how well we are able to mix with other nationalities."

10. Assimilation versus integration.

11. Health. Much care needs to be taken in this area according to Dr. Lee. He said that in Laos a party would consist of more vegetables and not as much fried food. In the U.S., however, Hmong love meat and fried food. My sister brings me fried chicken and sausage everyday and "I tell her I need vegetables." This is a problem throughout the world.

Dr. Lee only wanted to share briefly what he had observed in his travels and then open up for a discussion with the audience. A lot of questions centered on education, both to share Hmong culture with the next generation and to prepare them for the western world. Dr. Lee shared that parents are the best teachers and it starts with them. The home should observe Hmong culture and traditions and speak Hmong, but it should also have books. "How can you teach your children to like studying when you don't even have a book in the house?" By forming a close relationship and nurturing the children while they are young you will form a bond which will help the children survive many hardships.

Dr. Lee closed saying, "We have done very well for ourselves in America and I think we should be proud of that."

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