Yang Sao Xiong’s new position teaching Hmong American Studies at UW-Madison is the first tenure-track post in that subject area in the United States, he says.
Much of Xiong’s work will look at the experience of Hmong refugees and their descendants in the United States through a lens of power differentials like those which have shaped the experiences of other immigrant groups, he says.
“The Hmong community is excited to partner with the UW to create the first Hmong American Studies in the nation,” Peng Her, director of the South Madison Promise Zone, said in a statement. “Hmong American Studies will enhance cultural exchanges between the Hmong community and the university.”
As more Hmong students attended UW, they petitioned the university to develop coursework to enable them and other students to learn about Hmong heritage and culture as part of their academic training, says Mai Zong Vue, who led the community advocacy effort.
“By establishing Hmong American Studies, we recognize the UW’s willingness to be the leader in this relatively new realm of scholarly study that will likely be receiving increased attention,” she said in a statement.
Hmong American Studies will be part of UW-Madison’s Asian American Program and the School of Social Work. Hmong studies at UW-Madison in the past have focused on Hmong language and the culture in southeast Asia.
Xiong’s classes, starting in fall 2014, will focus on Hmong social movements in the United States from the 1980s to the present and look at social movement theory, as well as historic events in California, Wisconsin and Minnesota, he says.
Xiong, who recently completed his Ph.D. at UCLA, said he plans two research projects while at UW. The first would look at why some Hmong families remain in poverty despite having multiple wage-earners and access to education, along with how some families overcome that pattern.
A second project would survey Southeast Asian refugee and immigrant communities in the Midwest about their access to and experience with health care services, he says.
“While there are elements of culture in these situations, they are not just issues of cultural difference,” Xiong said. “Issues of power and power differences are at the forefront.”
Xiong credits the local Hmong community with organizing, as other ethnic groups have, to win recognition of the need for and legitimacy of cultural studies.
“Hmong-Americans are at a stage where they want to focus on critical issues affecting them — poverty, health, race, and politics — just like many other social movements,” Xiong says.