U students, profs prep for Hmong

Last semester one of Kong Vang’s classes offered extra credit to University students who tutored Hmong adults.

Vang, an American and Asian-American studies junior, began teaching English twice a week to Hmong immigrants trying to pass citizenship tests. After recognizing the work’s rewards, Vang has not stopped.

“I feel that the younger Hmong generation should do something to help our elders,” Vang said of his volunteer work at the University’s Jane Addams School for Democracy. “It’s my responsibility.”

Come summer, Vang might have more people to tutor. Approximately 15,000 Hmong living in Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp in Thailand will arrive in the United States this summer, according to the U.S. State Department. Approximately 35 percent of that population will settle in Minnesota.

Many University students and faculty members are preparing to tutor, teach or welcome Hmong immigrants into their homes this summer.

In some cases, that means enrolling more Hmong immigrant students at the University.

Of the 15,000 immigrants, approximately two-thirds are under the age of 19, according to a report released by a St. Paul assessment team Wednesday.

Blong Xiong, a General College professor, said 2 percent to 5 percent of the Hmong population under 19 years old might attend the University within three years of arriving in Minnesota.

Immigrants who attend the University could be part of the University’s Commanding English program, established 25 years ago to help Southeast Asian immigrants acculturate to the University, program director Robin Murie said.

The program offers English programs to University first-year students whose native language is not English, Murie said. Students are immersed in a learning community in which their regular University classes are supplemented with reading courses to help them better understand their coursework, she said.

But Murie said she does not see Hmong immigrating to the United States this summer immediately entering the University.

“I would be really surprised if an incoming group of immigrants would be ready for the University in the first year,” Murie said.

Murie said the program offers courses through postsecondary options to high school seniors so they can become used to the University.

“We’re very aware that a new group of Hmong immigrants is coming and as soon as we sense what high schools they’re in, we can explore options in connecting with them,” Murie said.

At the Jane Addams School, University students and faculty also connect with Hmong immigrants.

Started in part by the College of Liberal Arts, the Jane Addams School pairs college students with immigrant families who teach English, D’Ann Urbaniak Lesch, the school’s coordinator said.

Aside from tutoring problems, the school holds biweekly Dinner and Dialogue meetings, at which Hmong community members share food and conversations about U.S. culture, she said.

Lesch said she hopes the University is part of this summer’s immigration process, because the school is ready to welcome any Hmong.

“The University would be wise to play a role in connecting with the immigrants,” Lesch said. “There will be people who want to participate and learn, and we look forward to working with them.”

The wave of immigrants will also affect some University students and faculty on a more personal level.

Xiong said two families of his relatives will arrive in the United States this summer. Four family members might live with him, he said.

Xiong, who was born in Laos, came to the United States in 1982. Six months ago, Xiong said he visited the refugee camp in Thailand where his family members live.

“The poverty in the camp was phenomenal,” Xiong said. “We wanted to give these families the opportunity to live in America.”