Education

New Hmong program at Fresno State one of five in U.S.

Beauty pageant contestants at the 2015 Hmong International New Year celebration speak for a Hmong television station at the Fresno Fairgrounds.
Beauty pageant contestants at the 2015 Hmong International New Year celebration speak for a Hmong television station at the Fresno Fairgrounds. jwalker@fresnobee.com

A new Hmong studies program at Fresno State is one of only five of its kind offered in the country, and the only one on the West Coast.

The program, which will be offered as a minor in the fall, will focus on Hmong language, culture and history. Fresno has the second-largest Hmong population in the U.S. and more than 1,500 Hmong students attend Fresno State – making up about 6 percent of enrollment.

Many Hmong are survivors of the “secret war” following the 1975 collapse of the kingdom of Laos, and were displaced as refugees. The Hmong fought alongside U.S. troops against communism in Indochina, making them targets for extermination after the Laotian communist government took over.

Kao-Ly Yang, a Hmong linguistics professor who is overseeing the new program, said it will help students connect with their culture. Many young Hmong people in the Valley are not proficient in the language, she said.

“I met with parents and they told me that they wish to communicate and connect with their children in a deeper way. They can communicate on the everyday level  but they aren’t able to go beyond that,” Yang said. “They lack profound, in-depth knowledge of the culture.”

Yang said the program also will open up local job opportunities by offering language skills to non-Hmong students.

“It’s a plus for many people in the Central Valley,” she said.

Student Keng Vang, president of the Hmong Language Club at Fresno State, plans to graduate with a minor in Hmong studies. He said it’s something many students see value in.

“Our club was created so that we could support Hmong students if they needed help with Hmong or English, so we’ve been waiting for this to happen,” he said. “It’s great news for us.”

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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