My kids are 8 and 10 and English is their second language. Before they were exposed to the American educational system, they spoke Hmong fluently. From the time they were born to when they started school, they were around my partner, my mother, and myself most of the time. And we made sure to speak Hmong to them all the time.
My kids were so fluent in Hmong that they didn’t even speak English and only understood very basic English. My kids had an accent when they did try to speak English. That was how fluent my American-born Hmong kids were.
I was intentionally not teaching my children English because I knew learning English was inevitable. So, besides reading in English, Hmong was the language my little family spoke to each other.
Then my oldest started school. She, the “silent” student in class (silent only because she didn’t speak English), learned English so quickly that she slowly stopped speaking Hmong at home. What she learned in class, she brought home. And that created a ripple effect where her younger sister started speaking English before she started school.
At the beginning, I spoke to my kids in Hmong and they responded in Hmong. Then they responded in English. Then their response became, “I don’t understand what you’re saying,” or “Are you saying this….?”
They no longer speak Hmong today. My oldest understands 75% of what I say to her and my youngest understands less than 15%. Both refuse to speak.
In our many conversations on why they do not speak Hmong, they say that it’s because they have no Hmong peers at school and it’s embarrassing to do so when they’re already being made fun of for how they look. There is pressure from school, peers, friends, and mainstream to conform and speak English. There is also pressure from Hmong folks for them to be educated and in being educated, one has to speak English fluently. I am not surprised, albeit sad, that my children have internalized this oppression.
Additionally, they don’t have the confidence to speak because of their insecurities. Little comments or “jokes” that Hmong adults have made about my children in front of my children have contributed to their insecurity. When they were still little fluent Hmong speakers, the comments were, “Oh my goodness! You can speak Hmong; you’re so fobby!” And now that they’re no longer speaking Hmong, “You should be a proud Hmong and speak your language correctly.” So much confusion! What is it that we want from children?
What prompted me to share my story of my children’s journey with the Hmong language is “Hais Lus Zoo” by TL featuring Danang that was released on YouTube 5 days ago. It has stirred quite the controversy with the online Hmong community. It’s a song with rap lyrics by a White Mormon dissing Hmong folks who cannot speak Hmong or do not speak Hmong fluently. “If I, a White person, can speak Hmong, and you, a Hmong person, don’t even care to keep your language alive, then you’re the problem and you need to go back to the mountains.”
I won’t go into details as to why it’s problematic of Mr. Daniel Danang Knapton make such a statement and why LP and TL of Peb Hmoob should not endorse such a song because Fres Thao along with many others already did. However, I will say this:
This song is a piece of shit. It misses so much of Hmong reality. If I was to sit young Daniel down and have a conversation about how wrong this is, it will be an all-day conversation about White supremacy, oppression, colonialism, cultural erasure, assimilation and how all that has impacted a growing number of Hmong young adults and youth who do not speak Hmong. We would also talk about how many Hmong folks have internalized oppression to agree with his message. Not to mention that Mormons have long used our Hmong language as a tool to eliminate our beautiful sense of religion and spirituality because they believe it is pagan, savage, and wrong.
Other A Hmong Woman blog posts you may like: