Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that UW-Madison was the first university to offer Hmong-American studies. While a young field of study, other universities have established programs. Thanks to multiple commenters for chiming in.
Come fall 2014, students at University of Wisconsin-Madison will be able to enroll in the university’s first Hmong-American studies courses taught by Professor Yang Sao Xiong, who was hired for the school’s the first tenure-track post in that subject. It’s all kinds of history in the making.
While the college has offered courses on Hmong language and culture in the past, Xiong will teach and research the Hmong-American experience. It’s an important distinction. “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 told Wisconsin’s Capital Times. The courses will live in the university’s Asian-American Studies Program and the School of Social Work, and were established after years of fractious community relations and organized advocacy from the local Hmong community. Fittingly, Xiong’s first course offering will focus on Hmong social movements in the U.S. from the 1980s to today, the Capital Times reports.
The U.S. Hmong population blossomed in the wake of the Vietnam War as people fled their native Laos. During the war many Hmong were recruited by the CIA to fight for the U.S., and eventually emigrated as refugees. Today Hmong communities are concentrated on the West Coast and in the upper Midwest—around 45,000 live in Wisconsin alone.