Nu Xiong & Shoua Her


nu xiong & shoua her

Starting with the basics

Shoua discusses with her daughter, Nu, her own path to learning after fleeing from Laos.

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Note: There are no letters in the English language that can be translated into Hmong

Nu: Daughter
Shoua: Mother

Nu: Before you and Dad came over to the States, did you ever get a chance to go to school?

Shoua: No, we never did.

Nu: So that means you didn’t know any English then?

Shoua: Yes, we didn’t. We never had a chance. Even when we lived in Laos, we couldn’t go to school because we had to farm. And then when we fled to Thailand as refugees, we no longer had a chance to farm either. So the government gave us some food, and we lived in the refugee camps that were built for us. Even as we eventually decided to immigrate to America, we didn’t know a word of English, let alone Thai. We only knew a couple simple words of Thai, enough to allow you to buy some food in the market, yes, enough to be able to get some food.

Nu: Do you remember the very first day that you arrived in America? I know that you landed in San Francisco, do you remember that day?

Shoua: Yes, I remember. We came the year of 1987, but we had already planned to move and immigrate for a long time before that. When our application was finally approved, we started our journey in March of ’87 – we were transported on buses from Vinai [Thai refugee camp village] to Pana [refugee immigration center at the time], and we had to study. They said that we had never been educated so we had to at least have some knowledge before coming to America. And so at Pana, right before we came to the States, we started to learn the basics.

Nu: What were you studying?

Shoua: When we started, we didn’t know a single word. We couldn’t even write our names. So they taught us how to spell our names. They taught what letters I was going to use to write my name and helped me to write my first name: S-H-O-U-A and last name H-E-R. They told me that I should practice writing my name so I would know, that once arriving in America, even if I didn’t know anything, I would know my name. That I would be able to say my name so that if I was seeing a doctor, for example, that I could at least write my own name.

Note about copyright, attribution, and citation:  StoryCorps holds the copyright to the audio recordings of interviews and to the photographs of the participants; StoryCorps has licensed limited use of those to the Bureau of Study Counsel/Harvard University.  Harvard University owns the copyright to all other material on the First-Gen Voices website (bsc.harvard.edu/first-gen-voices).  Quotations of the transcripts and translations of interviews from the website by parties other than StoryCorps and the Bureau of Study Counsel should be attributed/cited as follows: “This excerpt is from a website created by the Bureau of Study Counsel of Harvard University with interviews recorded by StoryCorps (www.storycorps.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”


nu xiong & shoua her

“Strive… and work hard at it”

Shoua talks with her daughter Nu about how education can be beneficial.

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Note: There are no letters in the English language that can be translated into Hmong

Nu: Daughter
Shoua: Mother

Nu: When you began sending us to school, did you and Dad ever have thoughts about how parents who have been educated might have an easier time helping their children? Did you ever compare yourselves with these parents?

Shoua: Yes, we did think about it. Parents who are educated know how to look at their children’s homework and know how to help their children do it. They know how to teach their children. But for parents like us who didn’t have a formal education, when our children come home from school, we look at their homework, and we just don’t know it, because we’ve never been taught it. You are the ones who are learning, but we never learned, and it’s difficult to be taught now since we are older. So we always encouraged you all to pay attention, focus, and work hard. If you couldn’t do it, then we advised that you should get help from your teacher, or, if another Hmong person understood, we could drive you to their house to get help. But if you can do it on your own, then you should really strive and work hard at it.

Note about copyright, attribution, and citation:  StoryCorps holds the copyright to the audio recordings of interviews and to the photographs of the participants; StoryCorps has licensed limited use of those to the Bureau of Study Counsel/Harvard University.  Harvard University owns the copyright to all other material on the First-Gen Voices website (bsc.harvard.edu/first-gen-voices).  Quotations of the transcripts and translations of interviews from the website by parties other than StoryCorps and the Bureau of Study Counsel should be attributed/cited as follows: “This excerpt is from a website created by the Bureau of Study Counsel of Harvard University with interviews recorded by StoryCorps (www.storycorps.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”


nu xiong & shoua her

Opportunity to learn

Shoua shares her memories and thoughts on being her daughter’s age and her hopes for her children.  .

Read the Transcript

Note: There are no letters in the English language that can be translated into Hmong

Nu: Daughter
Shoua: Mother

Nu: This year I’m 21 years old. Can you think back to when you were 21, and can you remember what you were doing at that time? And did it ever cross your mind at the time that in the future you would have sons and daughters attending school in the U.S.?

Shoua: Well, at that time, I didn’t know how to think of that yet. When I was around 15 I got married to your father. And when we arrived in Thailand as refugees, I was probably around 18. So when I was around 20-21 years old, I didn’t really know what to think yet. I just knew that if I were to have children – at that time, of course you had a lot on your mind to think about, but I didn’t even know at that point if we were coming to America. I had a lot on my mind – I knew that if I had children I would want to let them go to school, and not do what the traditional adults have done in the past where they didn’t let their children go to school with others. I knew that I thought differently about education from the traditional parents. I knew that you had to send your children to school so that they could become educated and so that they can put food on the table, find work, and become respected citizens like everyone else. I was able to think of this, but at the time I didn’t know if we would be able to come to America. Because I didn’t know if we would stay in Thailand, if we would come to the U.S., or if we would return to Laos. I had a lot on my mind, but I did believe that if I had children I would send them to school, no matter what country we were living in because I knew that I never had the opportunity to learn. I remember how much I wanted to go to school when I was younger, but I couldn’t. My parents only let my brothers study, not me.

Note about copyright, attribution, and citation:  StoryCorps holds the copyright to the audio recordings of interviews and to the photographs of the participants; StoryCorps has licensed limited use of those to the Bureau of Study Counsel/Harvard University.  Harvard University owns the copyright to all other material on the First-Gen Voices website (bsc.harvard.edu/first-gen-voices).  Quotations of the transcripts and translations of interviews from the website by parties other than StoryCorps and the Bureau of Study Counsel should be attributed/cited as follows: “This excerpt is from a website created by the Bureau of Study Counsel of Harvard University with interviews recorded by StoryCorps (www.storycorps.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

 

first-gen voices

First Gen Voices

The Bureau of Study Counsel collaborated with StoryCorps to record conversations between first-generation-to-college Harvard College juniors and their parents (or other members of their family or community).

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