Carrying on the culture

Junchi Vang points at photos of family members
Junchi Vang points at photos of family members back in Ban Vinai camp
Photo By: Dymanh Chhoun
When you go into an interview, you have all your notes and background information on that person. Leaving the interview, you walk away with so much you didn’t know. I ended up learning that Junchi is a courageous person and has achieved so much in his life. You walk away with an unforgettable story. -Stacy Dahl

I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. My 13 siblings and Mom and Dad all traveled here together when I was 13. I just graduated from Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and started my first year of college at the University of Minnesota this fall.

I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. My 13 siblings and Mom and Dad all traveled here together when I was 13. I just graduated from Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and started my first year of college at the University of Minnesota this fall.

In the camp, my family had the choice to either come here or go back to Laos. If my parents went back to Laos we would have been in a bad position. Because we have the same last name as our leader, we would constantly be in trouble. We came here because we wanted to have something we could call our own. Back in Laos we would have been refugees, but here we could actually be something. Here in America you actually have rights.

The hard part is explaining to people where I am from. I usually just say I am Hmong. Then they ask what nation am I from and again I say Hmong. They ask me what country I am from and I say Thailand. Then they say ‘Aren’t you supposed to be Thai then?’ Trying to explain who I am and where I’m from is the hard part.

I mostly miss my childhood. We lived in a village and if you live in the village you could do whatever you wanted as long as you did not go outside of that village. I miss living in a jungle. I feel if I was able to go up to a mountain I would feel more like myself.

Like a newborn baby

Coming here, I felt like me and my family had to restart everything. I felt like a newborn baby learning how to talk. First we had to learn the language and then adapt to the culture. We tried to learn this whole new culture in America and at the same time tried very hard to hold on to our own.

I’m not sure what I want to do after college. I’m a traditional guy, so I would like to hold on to my culture. Today people think my culture is evil because they think we worship ghosts when actually we don’t. We worship our ancestors.

Junchi Vang Born: Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, Thailand, 1991 Residence: Minneapolis Moved to Minnesota: 2004 Current occupation: Freshman at the University of Minnesota What do you miss about Thailand? The trees and mountains. Advice to someone moving to Minnesota: Remember who you are and then try to be a good citizen of this country.

My dream would be to inform people all about my culture. My Dad wants me to be the leader of my clan, which is a group of about 200 people. Being a leader of my clan means being responsible for everyone with the same last name as me. Basically my job is holding all my clan’s families together so we don’t lose touch. When my Dad cannot be the leader anymore, I will take his place because I feel it is very important.

My parents are everything to me. They support me, and I am who I am today because of my father. Everything the way I do, even the way I talk, is like my dad. I sometimes try to even think like him. My dad is kind of like my hero, even though he is not famous or anything.

I don’t feel pressure from my parents, but I do feel pressure because in my culture there are so many things for a guy to do. There are five things I have to learn to be a clan leader.

The first thing is to worship our ancestors. The second is to learn to be a wedding preacher. The third thing I have to learn is to be a Hmong funeral preacher. Fourth, we have to learn to be kind of like a doctor to fix our people on the inside if they are not well. And as a clan leader, I have to look after other clan leaders and govern them.

I have to learn my family’s own culture and then all the other Hmong families’ culture. Sometimes I feel angry at my older brothers because they got married and have their own families so they cannot be the leaders of the clan. My family said if I don’t want to do it, I don’t have to. But I told my family I want to do it. I know that if I don’t do this, no other guy will do it. So I have to keep this tradition going to keep my culture alive.

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