Letter to the Editor 10/25/12
As is sometimes the case in journalism, the facts and the stories can be lost somewhere between primary source, interviewee, writer, editor and publisher. Nonetheless, these facts and stories remain important, and consequently, I — as an interviewee quoted in the article, as a member of the campus movement for Hmong studies which was referred to in the article and as a Hmong American student — wish to address the factual errors and unintentional misrepresentations which occurred in “Culturally Starved,” an article in last week’s issue of
First and foremost, allow me to address the factual errors. I, Ong Xiong, spoke as a student representative from the Hmong Studies Initiative (HSI), the student, faculty and staff movement to introduce Hmong studies curriculum into this University, not the Hmong Student Association (HSA). The conflation of the HSA with the Hmong Studies Initiative is understandable; however, it is important to acknowledge that the movement and proposal have been stimulated by students, faculty, and staff who have united outside of traditional or organizational boundaries to work towards a common goal.
The conflation of HSA with HSI can be harmful to both our movement and to Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton’s Blugold Commitment (BC) proposal. Additionally, I wish to clarify some confusion that may have occurred when I or other interviewees misspoke. The outcome of the Blugold Commitment funding will not be determined “in a year” but “in the next year,” specifically during the next semester. Finally, last year was the first Hmong Heritage Month, not the “Hmong history month.”
With factual errors aside, I would now like to address some misrepresentations, ones which I recognize as completely unintentional, but again still feel the need to address. Outside of the story that was told, I noticed an important story that was missing: The Hmong Studies Initiative would never have pursued this endeavor if we thought the benefit was only to Hmong American students, and yet that was the only benefit which was outlined in the article. This is in spite my heavy emphasis that Hmong studies generally and Hmong history specifically offers broad benefits to non-Hmong students.
Hmong people and their history provide a great opportunity for helping students to become “globally-competitive graduates,” a goal of the Blugold Commitment proposal (http://www.uwec.edu/BC/upload/BC-Executive-Summary-Jan-2010.pdf). They have been strongly impacted by tense international relations and global activity throughout much of their history. Additionally, The Hmong people and their history, culture,and language is one where politics, economics, culture, psychology, and science heavily intersect.
Thus Hmong history specifically and Hmong studies broadly will allow students to become competent at recognizing how the structure and dynamics of a larger world impact their life. But even more importantly, the experiences and world views of the Hmong can greatly enrich students, adding to their understanding and appreciation of the world.
Courses at this university devoted to Hmong studies, such as a course in Hmong history, would make this knowledge much more accessible. This is a reason why Hmong American students support the proposal to create a three-year position in Hmong/Asian American history, written by Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton.
It was this missing story — of the benefits of Hmong studies to non-Hmong students — that was the more important story to tell, perhaps because it is the story which is most overlooked and also most difficult to understand. As mentioned in the article, piecing together fragmented stories gives us a more complete whole that can deepen our knowledge and enhance perception of our world. In the future, I hope that journalists and editors will strive to do justice to a multi-faceted reality; without this effort, a multi-faceted story can suddenly have only a single face.
With regard to the story which was told, some of the word-choice was misleading. To begin, “Culturally Starved” may not have been the wisest of titles, firstly because the proposal being submitted is one regarding history, secondly because it implies a cultural deficit which does not exist.
The university already has a very diverse campus and curriculum, and Hmong American students are very active in embracing their heritage but lack sufficient resources and institutional support. What this proposal and our Hmong studies movement addresses is not that Hmong students or the university are “culturally starved,” but that the Hmong people are institutionally underrepresented or underserved.
Considering this fact, Hmong students do not simply “feel they’re being cheated” [emphasis added]. This marginalization is real — not just perceived or subjective, or something they merely “feel.” Yet, students also realize that this marginalization is not deliberate, and that the university is not out to “cheat” them.
The statement that Hmong American students “feel they’re being cheated” has heavy and false implications, and hence was explicitly requested by the interviewee Charles Vue that it not to be included. While journalists have the right to use any recorded material, I do not understand the motive for not honoring this request.
The phrase “making some noise” is not the best descriptor of how HSI has conducted itself in this movement. In fact, it is because we have faith in this university that we have not used protest or demonstration as a strategy at this point. Instead, we are engaging the university in a two-way conversation about the value, need, and demand for Hmong studies, and are doing so through formal university procedures, such as proposal processes and general meetings.
Rather than “making some noise,” we have “claimed our voice” as valid members of the university community. Some of the word choice may be misled readers to believe that Hmong students are making an outcry before first attempting to gain a mutual understanding.
Furthermore, this movement is not simply here at UW-Eau Claire “now that a Hmong humanities class has been eliminated.” HUMS 110 Hmong Civilization and Culture has not been taught for about ten years, and we were surprised that the last year’s Blugold Commitment proposal for its revival was rejected, despite the fact that it was submitted with a petition signed by close to 400 university members.
While considering this, students of the Hmong Studies Initiative realized it was silly to ever attempt to compress the complexity and richness of the Hmong people, history, language and culture in a single Hmong humanities class. For this reason, we are lending our support to Ducksworth-Lawton’s Blugold Commitment proposal for a visiting scholar and course in Hmong history.
Also, the university has been interested in Hmong studies for a long time, and has cultivated a strong relationship with the Hmong community. Research on the Hmong is supported by the university and is a recurrent theme at this University’s Student Research Day. Each year, the university hosts the Hmong New Year, the Hmong Fellowship Dinner and various talks about the Hmong given by guest speakers.
It is from this spirit that this movement arises. Previously, faculty, staff, and guests gathered in 2006 during the panel discussion, “An Introduction to Hmong Studies,” to discuss the presence of and potential for Hmong studies at Eau Claire. It may have been difficult for The Spectator to gather information about the long history of Hmong studies movement in this university in a short period of time, but I would like to point this out in fairness to the university with whom we have long collaborated and would like to continue collaborating.
I have a lot of respect for journalists and editors, who sometimes conduct hours of interviews and even longer hours of writing and editing to produce a piece that may only run half a page. It is a strenuous and noteworthy endeavor. I applaud The Spectator for the hard work which it put forth in producing this piece, and realize that The Spectator was sincere in its attempt to cover the story accurately. This story was one which was difficult to understand in a short period of time — especially given the cultural and political density — and I realize this contributed to the errors and misrepresentations which occurred.
— Ong Xiong