Hmong culture is celebrated for the first time on campus

State Hornet Staff

Growing up was not easy for international relations major Neng Lee, as other kids often bullied him for being Hmong.

Lee said he never really interacted with Hmong culture back then and resented it as a result of his years of being bullied.

Years laters, his perspective about himself and his culture changed entirely when he was away in the military.

“One of the things I realized most when I was away in the military was that I missed being around Hmong people, even though I was never really around them,” Lee said. “When I came to Sacramento State, one of the first clubs I joined was the Hmong University Student Association because I wanted to reconnect with the Hmong culture and people.”

The result was the celebration and recognition of the first Hmong Heritage Week, held April 21-26, and organized by doctoral student and researcher Chao Vang and The Hmong University Student Association.

According to Vang, a heritage week devoted to Hmong culture has never been attempted at any CSU or UC campus.

Hmong Heritage Week consisted of lectures and documentary screenings of Hmong history, panels discussing Hmong women empowerment, a cultural exhibit for Hmong arts and performances of Hmong tradition in a cultural show.

“Being here for almost 10 years, I feel that the time was now to showcase our beautiful culture to the campus and community,” Vang said. “We want to celebrate who we are, to give Hmong students a sense of connection to their history and preserve our heritage as well.”

The Hmong culture has influences from mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

With the main religion being Animism, a belief in the spirit world and respect for their ancestors, Hmong tradition is structured upon respect, family kinship and most importantly a clan system based on family last names.

As first-generation Hmong college students, Vang and Hmong feel humbly grateful to the Sac State campus and community to provide the space and environment to celebrate Hmong Heritage Week.

Chemistry major Lyah Yang said she views Hmong Heritage Week as an opportunity to learn more about herself and the Hmong culture.

“I don’t know much of my own culture,” Yang said. “Heritage week is a chance to learn what it is that I am a part of, to relate to other Hmong people and keep the culture alive.”

According to Sacramento State’s Office of Institutional Research, more than 26,000 Hmong families reside within Sacramento and more than 900 Hmong students attend Sac State.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings of who the Hmong people are,” Vang said. “We are lumped into larger Asian groups due to the absence of a designated homeland. Because we do not have a homeland of our own, it has created a strong bond and a unique identity of who we are.”

After recruitment of the Hmong people to participate in the Secret War in Laos by the United States C.I.A. from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, most Hmong people were forced into refugee camps in Thailand,and there the Hmong diaspora began.

Ethnic studies Professor James Sobredo said he sees the utmost importance in celebrating and recognizing Hmong culture and tradition for a heritage week.

“The most important thing is that the Hmong population in the Sacramento area has increased tremendously,” Sobredo said. “Here in Sac State, Hmong is the second largest Asian population on campus.”

Hmong heritage week was consistent with the theme of ethnic studies, connecting the university and ethnic communities.

“Ethnic studies is about making our education relevant to people of color,” Sobredo said. ““The Hmong community is an important part of the Sac State community and greater Sacramento metropolitan area. I have noticed that there are many Hmong students at Sac State and they are a large part of that non-white population.”