April designated as Hmong Heritage Month

Story by Bridget Cooke, Staff Writer

The month of April has been designated as Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month and has been planned by students and community.

According to their website, the month of honoring Hmong culture is meant to “promote an appreciation and education of the complexities of Hmong culture and history among members of the UWEC campus and the Eau Claire community.”

The Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month Planning Committee organized events in order to carry out this mission statement.

Yang Sao Xiong, a doctoral candidate of the sociology department at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke to a crowd of nearly 75 people in the Ojibwe Ballroom of the Davies Center Tuesday about the inequalities of public education for Hmong Americans. He kicked off the month-long festivities with his presentation.

Xiong covered various aspects of California English Language Development Test, an exam he said is overused in representation of the level at which Hmong Americans understand the English language.

“Within the first 30 days, a kindergarten student who happens to have been born in the US, is given an English language development test and it shows that 90 percent of them don’t pass,” he said. “It’s the same thing as me giving you a sociology or psychology test on the first day of class of the semester and expect you to pass.”

UW-Eau Claire senior Mai Neng Vang who established the Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month, said the idea behind the month of honor is to scratch the surface of understanding between Hmong and non-Hmong
students and community members.

“I really hope that it will open people’s minds to the different challenges that Hmong Americans face on a day-to-day basis and really help people to think more critically about those issues,” she said.

The Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month Committee met and decided what the month is comprised of including a spring diversity conference, a food workshop at Towers Hall and a documentary made by an Eau Claire student. Events include speaker Xiong, who talked about the inequity for education on what are referred to as learning English proficient.

In his presentation titled, “Hmong Americans Educational Attainment and their Over-Representation as English Learners,” Xiong talked to the audience about the unequal treatment of Hmong Americans in public schools. He addressed the issues found as a result of the method of a proficiency test brings to the development of Hmong students.

“My fear about the system, is that only LEP students are required to demonstrate proficiency,” Xiong said. “The system has the intent to identify so that they can properly support these students, but what I’m arguing is that despite this good intent, there are clear unintentional consequences.

Junior Grant Butterfield said the problem, to his understanding, is basically dependent on education policy.

“He made a very clear case about how things need to change and how the system is currently over-representing and simultaneously not helping Hmong students,” Butterfield said.

Vang said she looks forward to the other speaker at the end of the week, a professor at UW-Milwaukee, who will be addressing more historical aspects of Hmong culture.

“There’s a lot of Hmong Americans in the Eau Claire area, so I just thought it was important to do something to honor the Hmong heritage in the area,” she said. “It’s just a way to foster pride among the Hmong Americans that live in this area as well.”

The ECHHM will be hosting their next event, an alumni panel in which former Eau Claire students talk about their experiences at the university,  Monday, April 8.