Fresno, Calif. (Feb. 9, 2017) — Six Hmong American young men ages 14-18 from Fresno went to the California State Capitol Thursday to meet with policy makers about education and economic disparities facing their Hmong community in Fresno.
“Not a lot of people know about our problems, or even who Hmong or Southeast Asians more generally are,” said Ger Yang, a group member.
The group of high school students met with the offices of State Assembly members Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) and Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno). The group was supported from the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center and Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM).
While in Sacramento the group took part in the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund’s advocacy event, Equity on the Mall. It brought more than 1,000 community members and advocates from California’s Central Valley to amplify the challenges facing the region.
Forty years have passed since Hmong refugees first came to California after the Vietnam War. Many Hmong soldiers fought for the United States during the “Secret War in Laos,” which together with almost a decade of incessant bombing claimed around 10% of the country’s population.
Today, California’s Central Valley is home to the second largest Hmong population in the country, but the community’s history and current realities remain largely invisible to policy makers, leaving the community grossly underserved.
Fresno’s Hmong community faces staggering rates of poverty and barriers to education. While California’s high school students have an average graduation rate of 80%, only 58% of Hmong in Fresno have graduated from high school. Hmong and Cambodian children experience the highest rates of poverty in the state of California at 42 percent and 33 percent respectively, compared to California’s total child poverty rate of 23 percent. (2011-2013 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates)
The youth are part of the SEARAC-led Asian American & Pacific Islander Boys & Men of Color Coalition Helping Achieve Racial & Gender Equity (AAPI BMOC CHARGE).
“We know that Southeast Asian American youth across California have among the lowest high school graduation rates and highest rates of poverty in the state,” said Quyen Dinh, SEARAC executive director. “Yet policymakers almost never mention Hmong, Laotian, or Cambodian communities when they talk about ‘boys and men of color’ needing additional resources and support. These five youth from Fresno are setting out to change that by bringing their stories and demands directly to California policy makers.”
For Neng Thao, a Hmong youth group member, the journey to Sacramento is personal. He said these visits present an opportunity for him to provide solutions that will “give my community the chance to strive and be more successful.”
“That way,” he said, “the generation after me won’t have to go through the experience me and my parents went through.”
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. Find out more at www.searac.org.