The Fresno Bee June 3, 2000, Saturday

Negative attention hurts Hmong efforts

BY: Cha Yang

According to some people, I have already been arrested. Some were surprised and others were relieved when I told them that the Tcha Yang who many have read about in The Bee was someone else. Some of these people knew me in high school. Shame on them, they should have known better! Others are new acquaintances that I am assuming are just checking to see if I am one of the defendants in the highly publicized gang-rape case.

Names are the same

The Hmong only have 18 surnames, and it is not uncommon to have those same names for a first name. For every defendant in the trial, there are many other law-abiding people out here with the exact same name. One only has to open the phone book to Vang or Yang in the white pages to verify this. Do not jump to conclusions when you encounter somebody with a similar name. Take it from me; we are mistaken for each other all the time.

With the gang-rape case involving the Mongolian Boys Society, a lot of

free web hosting | website hosting | Business Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting
unwanted negative attention has been drawn toward the Hmong people. Whatever these young men did, their fates will be decided by our justice system. The Hmong community as a whole should not be judged by the actions of these young men.

Fresno holds one of the biggest populations of Hmong in the entire United States. Every year around Christmas time, thousands of Hmong from all over the world congregate in Fresno for the Hmong New Year celebration at the Fresno Fairground. This event is held over a period of about a week, and everybody is welcome. Still, much to my surprise, I am still coming across people who have never associated with a Hmong (a few that have never even heard of Hmong) before.

The Hmong are an ethnic group deeply rooted with strong traditions and cultures. Originally from Eastern China, some migrated to Laos to escape persecution. Once in Laos, they settled in the mountains that were undesirable to the lowland Laotians. During the Vietnam War, they were enlisted by the Central Intelligence Agency for military duties. After the Americans pulled out, they were persecuted for being American allies. To escape persecution, many came to the United States. Yet some Hmong families faced prejudice and racism here that was no different from that in their homeland.

My family arrived in Portland, Ore., in 1980. During the first two years, our house was bombarded regularly with oranges and eggs. Nobody spoke any English so we had to endure this prejudice. The one time that the authorities were called, they gave us more of a hassle than the actual incidents.

The story of Fresno

While attending school to learn English one day, my dad was told of a place where the people were friendlier, where Hmong who spoke English were plentiful and the weather was remarkably similar to Laos.

Three months later, my family was in Fresno. In Fresno, there were helpful Hmong who spoke English (and even a few Americans who spoke Hmong), the weather did resemble the weather in Laos; however, the prejudice that we had run from was still prevalent.

Through the years, with great efforts toward assimilation, the Hmong have been accepted somewhat by mainstream society. Still, I am surprised at the discrimination that is still occurring. A court case like the one in Fresno can obliterate all the efforts to fit in.

I remember how some people reacted to me as I walked through the mall when the local media first regurgitated the facts of the first phase of the investigation to the public. They would avoid eye contact after making a quick glance to see who I was. Some actually walked around me, as if any second I would viciously attack them as if I was one of the defendants in the case.

Our image should not be tarnished through this incident. People should not be so narrow-minded that they would assume that the rape incident was a reflection of all the Hmong. We are are your friends, your neighbors, your fellow Fresnans.

If anybody wants to learn more about the Hmong, there are numerous links in cyberspace that give every detail about the Hmong. For those who like to read, I highly recommend the book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman. Still, the easiest way that one can learn about the Hmong will be to ask a Hmong person.

We, too, love America. America is our home, our place and our country. We, just like any red-blooded American, will sacrifice ourselves for the red, white and blue.

Cha Yang is a student at California State University, Fresno.