Center for Hmong Studies: Concordia University’s Presidents’ Community Partner Award Recipient

The objective of the Center for Hmong Studies is “to take Hmong to the world and invite the world to Concordia, St. Paul.”  Since the founding of the Center for Hmong Studies in 2004, over 6,000 people from throughout the world have visited the Center.  Visitors have included elementary, secondary, and college students as well as scholars and community members who want to research on the Hmong community. The Center for Hmong Studies has provided opportunities to intentionally connect the Hmong community with our student body, has brought a wealth of knowledge and resources to the St. Paul community, and has enriched the life of our campus both academically and socially.  The Center, besides developing and launching the first minor in Hmong studies in the world, regularly hosts events which showcase the traditions and heritage of the Hmong people.  Such events this past year have included a Hmong Performing Artists’ Red Carpet event, a Hmong International movie event, book readings by Hmong authors, and an International Conference on Hmong Studies.  The 3rd International Conference on Hmong Studies drew over 700 individuals.  Many had to be turned away because of space capacity.  The Center is truly succeeding in achieving its objective “to take Hmong to the world, and to invite the world to Concordia, St. Paul.”

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One response to “Center for Hmong Studies: Concordia University’s Presidents’ Community Partner Award Recipient

  1. Alex Christensen

    My name is Alex Christensen, undergraduate and co-founder of the BYU-Idaho Hmong Association. Within the realm of my studies in the English program here, I often find my research centered on Hmong, Hmong language, and Hmong culture. I just recently discovered news about this new educational center at Concordia University, and I immediately sought for an opportunity to contribute to research or spreading awareness of Hmong people and their culture.
    I recently conducted research about the Hmong language and it’s affect on cognition. My ideas are based off of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which posits that language shapes the thoughts and world-view of individuals. Having worked with Hmong people for a large portion of my adult life, I recognized that my world-view compared and contrasted with certain Hmong individuals on levels that transcended strictly cultural or religious differences. Their conceptual thinking sphere seemed to differ from my own, especially in reference to time/tense. I immediately recognized the space between Hmong concepts conjured by Hmong words and the corresponding English or French translations. The English and French correspondents represented not only an arbitrary connection between the signifying aspect of the Hmong word and the signified, or image concept, but because the Hmong language communicates in reference to many concepts associated with their life in the mountains, rice paddies, etc, our English or French correspondents cannot fully grasp the concepts conjured by the Hmong words.
    My studies and personal experience are best described by the words of Dr. Neil Ernst from Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, when he comments that he often feels like there is a layer of Saran-Wrap between he and the Hmong he was trying to work with. I propose that this layer is not only a cultural/religious boundary, but that the linguistic/conceptual boundary divides even the conception of ideas between the two parties.
    Personally, my concept of Hmong thought was liberated on some level when I learned about war, rice, corn, and mountain life. When someone told me once that many of the proverbial elements in Hmong stories are often referenced to the development of rice and corn, I felt a greater level of understanding that I couldn’t describe in English. I began to make the bridge toward thinking in Hmong.
    I would love to contribute or participate somehow in the continuing growth of Hmong studies nationwide, including how our Hmong Association at BYU-Idaho might find more tools and resources for Hmong Studies. Feel free to correspond with me through e-mail.

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