Monday, June 18, 2012

What I Miss Most

Born in Thailand in 1983, Vang Xiong remembers many of the details about his life with thousands of other Hmong in the refugee camps following The "Secret War." Arriving in America at age 13, he and family members joined others who arrived before him. “What I miss most,” he shared with Bremer Bank employees in a recent Hmong Culture Days Event at the Marshall and Willmar bank locations, “is the landscape in my homeland, the site of a rainbow over the mountains, and the sound of raindrops on the metal roof of our hut. None of those scenes and sounds are quite the same here.”

Xiong is a graduate of Southwest Minnesota State University and Minnesota State University Mankato. He is currently Assistant Professor, Dept of Ethnic Studies, Minnesota State University Mankato. Xiong facilitated two all-staff assemblies and six lunch sessions over the two day Hmong Culture Event at Bremer, accommodating more than 80 of the Willmar Charter’s employees in our learning and relationship-building with the Hmong story, history and culture. Thanks to our partnership in this effort with Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership’s Achieve Homeownership Program, several Hmong elders and a student from The Southwest Minnesota Hmong Community Center in Walnut Grove, as well as one of Xiong's ethnic studies students, also visited with us about their transition to America.

Not surprisingly, some of the best stories and conversations came together over lunch – a Hmong feast of chicken, beef strip salad, pork egg rolls, steamed rice, cabbage rolls and sauces prepared by Hmong families for the days’ events. We learned about Hmong dating traditions, New Year’s celebrations, funeral ceremonies, language and communication struggles and triumphs, young people growing up speaking only Hmong at home and only English at school, how no one told them about Minnesota snow and leafless wintertime trees, about saving money together as families, helping each other, and what Hmong people want to know about banks.

Leading up to the events, Bremer employees prepped each other on the Hmong people’s journey and recent history in Laos and Thailand by following excerpts from Thailand-born, Minnesota immigrant author, Kao Kalia Yang: The Late Homecomer - A Hmong Family Memoir.

Ua Tsaug (means “thank you” & sounds like “watch out”) is definitely our sentiment for the generous sharing of life stories, time and food from representatives, now friends, of our Hmong community.

Lois Schmidt, NRS, Willmar

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