Conference on Hmong Studies

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April 13, 2008—The Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University-St. Paul hosted its Second International Conference that draws scholars from different corners of the globe.

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“We welcome all you to the State of Minnesota,” announces Dr. Chia Youyee Vang of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wis. Chia is also a presenter and author of the recent book entitled Hmong in Minnesota.

“I am happy to be here,” says Professor of Ethic Studies Zhang Chongzhi, from Qiongzhou University in Hainan Island, China. “I am always delightful to see our Hmong brothers and sisters in the United States.”

Chongzhi was among a handful of Hmong-Chinese scholars who attended the conference.

This conference reflects how the Hmong have come a long way that has impacted this community positively, says Dr. Robert Holst, president of the university.

What many attendees hoped to take from the conference is to learn more about the diverse topics and issues that affect the Hmong worldwide. The conference offered more than 20 workshops that were presented by researchers and scholars.

Our academic role is to preserve cultures such as the Hmong’s, says Sally Baas, director of Southeast Asian Teacher Program at the university.

More than 200 people attended the conference.

“It’s great to see new and legendary Hmong scholars at the conference,” says Lee Pao Xiong, who is the executive director at the center. “We had some of the top people in the field at this event this year.”

“The magnitude of this conference is just the beginning of connecting to our people,” says Neng S. Yang, of Cottage Grove, Minn. “It is important that we start building the bridge with our counterparts in other parts of the earth.”

Neng reiterates: “Hmong Americans is becoming the light to the rest of the Hmong in the world.”

Dr. Songwit Chuamsakul, of Thailand, who works in the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, stated that there are still many challenges for the Hmong in Thailand.

“Economically, our people in Thailand are at a disadvantage, still very poor,” Chuamsakul adds. “I am only one of two Hmong who have a doctorial degree.”

Chuamsakul reasoned that the integration of resources between the two countries would bring more opportunities to help more Hmong students in Thailand reach higher educations. Chuamsakul is a Hmong Hang residing in Bangkok.

In his presentation’s abstract, Chuamsakul writes: “Modern Thai education, which began in the 1960s, has been provided to integrate the Hmong, an ethnic minority, into the Thai majority society.

“The Thai education has had both positive and negative effects upon Hmong culture and identity. Issues such as kinship, beliefs, spiritual ritual ceremonies, language, and traditional clothing have all been affected and changed by the formal education system.”

Also present at the conference was Dr. Yang Dao, the first Hmong scholar from Laos. He felt flattered when a group of students praised him for his role model in the academic field.

“Thank you for showing us the way,” says a student to Dao.

For first-timer to the conference, Professor Peide Yang of the Guizhou Province Association of Miao/Hmong Research in China, he regarded the conference as a step towards the Hmong working on a global scale.

Hmong are now in the process to understanding each other more because more and more researches are being done, states Peide.

Chongzhi and Peide said the Hmong in China know and admire Hmong leader Gen. Vang Pao.

“We want to know more about him, learn about him,” Chongzhi says. “He is very well known to us.”

The recipient of the 2008 Center for Hmong Studies’ Eagle Award went to Anthropologist Dr. Jacques Lemoine, who has been studying the Hmong for more than 50 years in Southeast Asia.

Lemione also shared his research on the Hmong’s past, present and what the future holds for them during his workshop. He planned to release a CD out about his experience working with the Hmong soon.

Another attendant, Yenviset Xiong, of Minneapolis, pointed out that this conference was necessary to all Hmong.

“This is how we connect with Hmong scholars and leaders around the world,” says Yenviset. “I like to see this happening in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam or China sometimes in the near future.”

Lee Pao responded: “We plan to have the conference being held in China by 2010.”

Dr. Kou Yang of the California State University, Stanislaus, presented the emergence of Hmong women’s role in the community.

“The number of Hmong American women who hold leadership positions in private organizations, and in local and state governments, has slowly increased during the past decade,” writes Kou. “Further, many Hmong American women have emerged to act as Hmong American community leaders and activists.”

What Lee Pao hopes to see in the future is the ongoing research on the Hmong. He says: “[I want] to see this field grow.”

“The field of Hmong studies is new,” Lee Pao adds. “I hope that through conference such as ours, we will give new scholars the permission to declare themselves as Hmong scholars and pursue the field of Hmong studies by taking their history, culture and language into their own hands.”

An attendee stated that the conference on Hmong Studies had always been a blast.

“It is like the Oscars of Cinema for Hmong scholars throughout the world,” claims Mong Vang. “It is a time to network, to learn, to ask questions, and most importantly to give thanks to those keeping the Hmong spirit and history alive.”

When asked Tzianeng Vang, a former staff to the center, what did he take from the conference as a learning experience, he replied that he has gained a lot of valuable information about Hmong.

“Hmong is Miao, but not all Miao are Hmong,” says Tzianeng. In China, Hmong is classified as a part of the larger ethic group Miao.

Adds Mong: “It is growing and believe one day it’ll become something the whole world can look forward to.”

Lee Pao remarked that one of the successes of the conference goes to the volunteers.

For more information on The Center for Hmong Studies, please visit: http://www.csp.edu/hmongcenter/.

Noah Vang can be reached at vangminnesota@gmail.com.

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