Language club helps preserve Hmong culture

April 26, 2018

About 15 to 20 students attend Hmong language club every Wednesday morning at Locust Lane Elementary School.

School faculty True Vue, Tia Lor and Karla Lien created the club to allow Hmong children the opportunity to practice their own language. Students in the club learn how to read, write and hopefully, preserve Hmong culture in an English dominating community.

“I got to thinking about it and thought, ‘We have to create an opportunity for these kids to learn this if they want to and practice it,’” Lien said, “‘or the language will die out eventually, like a lot of oral languages do.”

Hmong club opened to students in fourth and fifth grade who knew how to speak the language. The club succeeded.

Locust Lane Elementary School, ©2018 Max Harding

Students meet between morning drop-off and when classes start. They learn more than just reading and writing.

“This is an opportunity for students to, more than anything else, get together with other kids who are from a similar background and celebrate their history, their families, and their traditions,” Lien said.

In the Eau Claire Hmong community the loss of the language is a serious threat. Eau Claire Hmong Mutual Assistance Association (ECHMAA) community liaison, Long Vang said the community’s not doing enough to preserve the language.

“Without any help or without any support from the community,” Vang said, “I think that eventually the language is going be lost.”

It’s difficult for Hmong community members to practice their language with English as the dominant language, Vang said. And with the distractions of work and life, it’s difficult for families to teach children the language at home, as it has been done for years.

The disconnect grows wider every year between the older generation who knows the language and the younger generation, making it difficult for tradition and culture to pass down orally.

“The long-term effect of not knowing your culture is not knowing your history, not knowing where you came from,” Vang said, “which will have an effect on your present, and will have an effect on your future as well.”

Vang is glad, however, that Hmong club gives students a place to learn about their heritage. He hopes for additional programs in the future, and encourages the community to advocate for learning about different cultures.

“I would definitely encourage people to take part in community events,” Vang said. “Take a language class, anything to help immerse themselves in a different culture, start the conversation and perk that interest in other cultures to draw the gap between cultures.”

Lein is hopeful for the future of Hmong club. She hopes to expand the club into the community, promoting awareness through projects and events.

This week, Locust Lane Elementary School is celebrating Hmong History Month. Every morning, a few Hmong words are announced alongside some events to bring awareness to students. On Friday, April 27, Hmong students are encouraged to wear their traditional clothing.

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