Monday, March 1, 2010
The idea of a charter school tailored to Hmong students has generated excitement among local Hmong educators and parents, whose children are some of the lowest achievers in the Sacramento City Unified School District.
Proponents of the school say the struggles of Hmong students have been obscured by the academic successes of Asian students in general. Specialized teaching methods and lessons at the Yav Pem Suab Academy, they say, would help those children flourish.
But the pastor of a small Hmong church on 47th Avenue says the proposed school lumps together culturally different ethnic Hmong groups.
Sacramento's estimated 20,000 Hmong include White Hmong, Blue Hmong (some of whom don't spell it with an "H" and are also known as Green Hmong) and even Striped Hmong and Black Hmong.
The Rev. Txer Paul Vang of the 130-member Hmong Calvary Evangelism Center details differences in dialect, spelling and culture in a passionate letter to Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond. He charges that the proposed charter marginalizes the Blue Hmong-Green Hmong.
Raymond could not be reached for comment.
But board member Diana Rodriguez said: "I wasn't aware of that. I had heard there were different dialects."
Vang, who also is chairman of Mong Federation Inc., said Western missionaries translated "Mong Leng" as "Blue Hmong" and "Hmong Der" as "White Hmong."
"However, Blue Mong and White Mong are misleading terms and … must be ceased and discontinued," Vang wrote to the superintendent.
Vang, 55, said about 40 percent of the district's 3,000 Hmong children are Mong Leng, and if the Hmong language teachers speak Hmong Der dialect, "it will be confusing for our Mong Leng children, and we do not feel comfortable to study the Hmong Der Language."
Proponents of the charter school presented a revised proposal to Sacramento City Unified trustees during their Thursday board meeting.
They're asking for a five-year charter for their kindergarten-through-sixth-grade program that would open in the fall. The school board has until March 27 to accept or deny the petition.
The petition specifies, "Both the Hmong Der language (White Hmong) and the Hmong Leng language (Blue Hmong) will be taught."
And the school's name, Yav Pem Suab Academy (pronounced Yah Bay Shooa), means "preparing for the future" in Blue Hmong, said Vince Xiong, the front-runner for the principal's job at the charter. "It sounds good so we all agreed to it – it's recognizable in both White and Green Hmong," he said.
The academy will be open to students of all races, Xiong said, and Hmong language – taught in both dialects – will be offered to any student who's interested.
Hmong leaders acknowledge different dialects among ethnic groups, comparing them to the differences between Thai and Lao languages, or British and American English.
And each of the groups – including the Striped and Black Hmong – has distinct ceremonial garb.
Kathy May Ly, director of Sacramento Asian-American Inc., said she owns four traditional Hmong costumes: White, Blue, Striped and Hmong Chinese.
"I don't segregate – all Hmong are one," said Ly, whose parents speak Blue Hmong.
Lue Vang, who identifies as Blue Hmong/Green Hmong, said that in Laos, "somehow the White Hmong were the ones who dominated because they joined the French first."
Each group made fun of the other's dialect, but when the CIA forced Hmong jungle fighters into an anti-communist guerrilla army during the Vietnam War, "we blended," Lue Vang said.
"All Hmong kids are really behind in school, not only the Blue/Green ones," said Lue Vang. "They need both dialects – whoever teaches Hmong needs to be a master of both."