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Hmong Heritage Month encourages appreciation and education of Hmong culture

April 11, 2012
 Mai Neng Vang
Mai Neng Vang
EAU CLAIRE — When Mai Neng Vang came to the United States from Thailand just days before her fourth birthday she didn't speak any English, but soon found herself in a preschool classroom surrounded by English-speaking children and a teacher she could not understand.

With the help of an interpreter, Vang was able to learn the English language and find academic success. But the memory of those early struggles — as well as an appreciation for her Hmong heritage— has stayed with Vang, a graduate of North High School in Eau Claire who now is a junior psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

In an effort to foster cultural understanding, Vang, along with her planning committee, has organized a month of activities designed to share her native culture with members of the campus and greater Eau Claire communities. Throughout April, the campus will host a series of Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month events, which include everything from Hmong exhibits to Hmong cooking to expert speakers to a Hmong volleyball tournament.

Vang said she established Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month to promote an appreciation for and education of Hmong culture and history among members of the campus and local communities. The events also are an effort to strengthen the relationship between the university and the local Hmong community, she said.

"Appreciating the local Hmong culture and history is important for the community since a large population of Hmong Americans live in the surrounding areas," Vang said. "It also is important for encouraging future generations of Hmong and non-Hmong individuals in this region to learn about and preserve Hmong cultural heritage."

The Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month activities will provide university students and community members with experiences that are informative and enjoyable, Vang said.

"The goal is that the month of April will cultivate a renewed sense of cultural identity and pride for people in the Hmong community and especially for the Hmong students on campus," said Vang, who credits Jodi Thesing-Ritter, associate dean of students at UW-Eau Claire, with helping make her vision for the monthlong series of events a reality.

Born in Chiang Kham, a refugee camp in northwestern Thailand, Vang said she has always wanted to motivate students like her, who may not have the same benefits as students with ready resources.

In addition to Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month, Vang also developed a language acquisition and cultural retention program to provide summer instruction to English language learners who participate in UW-Eau Claire's Blugold Beginnings program.

A complete list of Eau Claire Hmong Heritage Month events can be found online.

For additional information, contact Mai Neng Vang at vangmn@uwec.eduor Heather Harris at harrishd@uwec.edu.

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HH/JB/DW

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