Building Bridges: Teaching about the Hmong in our Communities
November 9, 2009
10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Nai Christopher Lo, Hmong Cultural Center
David Yang, St. Paul police officer, Shaman
Immanuel Lutheran Church
104 Snelling Avenue South
St. Paul, MN 55105
The Twin Cities metropolitan area is rich with Hmong culture. If you have been curious about learning (more) about Hmong culture, history, and religion attend the November VAN Forum.
Nai Christopher Lo, Outreach Coordinator of Hmong Cultural Center, will provide a multi-cultural educational program specifically designed to introduce the Hmong people and way of life to the non-Hmong community. The presentation helps to build a bridge between the mainstream American culture and the Hmong traditional culture. Lo, who was born in Laos and came to the United States in 1988, has extensive experience with nonprofits and has been working with the Hmong Cultural Center for 2 years.
David Yang, a St. Paul police officer, is a practicing shaman in the Hmong Culture. Traditional Hmong culture believes that a spiritual world coexists with the physical world. Shamans communicate between the physical and spiritual world.
Download the flyer.
On Tuesday, November 9, 2009 50 people gathered at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Paul to listen to Nai Christopher Lo of the Hmong Cultural Center, and David Yang, of the St. Paul Police Department discuss Hmong Culture.
Lo provided an overview of Hmong history and culture; particularly emphasizing how it affects Hmong people living in the Twin Cities today. Lo said that estimates predict there are about 200,000-250,000 Hmong people living in the United States. However, researchers are not certain of the number due to the fact that the 2000 Census didn’t allow the opportunity for Hmong people to mark that they considered themselves Laotian. Another reason for this discrepancy is fear that marking ethnicity would result in violence, similar to what Hmong people experienced in their homeland.
Between 1963-1975, the Hmong people got involved in a secret war with the United States. Approximately 30,000-40,000 Hmong died during the Vietnam War. When the United States withdrew troops in 1975 they left Hmong – and Vietnam announced that it would wipe out any Hmong left in the country. Therefore, Hmong persons fled to Thailand in an effort to save their lives. Of all those who traveled to Thailand, 70% died along the way.
Between 1975 and the 1990s, Hmong people began immigrating to the United States, many whom made Minneapolis/St. Paul their home. The Twin Cities currently has the largest metropolitan Hmong population in the United States. Many Hmong settled in the Twin Cities area due to the fact that other family members could speak English and the cultural practice of dependency on one another.
Lo offered some interesting facts about Hmong culture.
- About 70% of Hmong people practice the traditional Animist Religion and about 1/3 of the Hmong population in the United States is Christian.
- Similar to the United States, where there are different dialects, the Hmong language also has different dialects. The Hmong culture was pre-literate, with no written language until the 1950s. Hmong language uses 8 different tones to communicate.
St. Paul Police Officer, David Yang, talked about the shaman and the role of the shaman in Hmong culture. Immediately, Yang debunked the myth that the Hmong worship their ancestors. Instead, the Hmong call upon ancestors to help them when necessary .Yang said that all cultures have shamans, they are just called different things. For example, in the US, the equivalent is a psychic.
Yang also talked about shamans and the process of how shamans are chosen. He said that shamans don’t know that they will be shamans. What typically happens is that someone will be sick for days, months, or years. Being ill is a sign that a person is meant to be a shaman. When the sick person accepts the responsibility of being a shaman, he or she will be better within days. After the shaman is chosen, the he or she is now responsible for helping others who are sick. Yang then told a story of a shaman who accepted her fate and is now able to communicate with sign-language. The shaman had no formal training.
The Hmong believe that a person becomes ill when there is soul loss. The shaman wears a cloth mask over his or her face as a distraction device to maintain focus with the spirits. The shaman will also bang on a gong as a way to help the soul rise up in the spirit world. New shamans work with older shamans to learn the way, and information was traditionally been passed along orally. However, how shamans continue to educate other shamans is changing.
To view Nai Christopher Lo’s Power Point Presentation, click here.