This is my first time in Thailand, but I’ve heard many stories from my parents and elders who have told me about their experiences living in Thailand. I didn’t hear much of what life was actually like in Thailand because they only told me about being in the refugee camps or escaping from war. In other words, I didn’t get to hear much of the positive aspect, but mostly only that the Hmong were very poor back then. In addition, they were treated as “outsiders” of the country. However, throughout the few days that I’ve been here, I notice that the Thai government recognizes the different ethnic groups such as the Karen, Lisu, and Hmong either living in the highlands or living along with the Thai locals in the lowlands. This is a different perspective that I’m getting compared to what my parents and elders have told me. The ethnic groups may live in villages and struggle from day to day, but at least there is being progress where the Thai government are supporting them in some way.
The day that meant most to me throughout our first week was Friday which is today. In the morning we visited a local school called Chiang Dao School. It is a school that offers 1st-12th grade to students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lot of them are poor and they come from the different ethnic groups. Stepping onto the campus grounds – I was just so excited to meet the students especially hearing that there are Hmong students among the student population. I was very interested in hearing how the school supports these students since a lot of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The school helps fully fund the students from when 7 y/o until 15 y/o, but what about the 16-19 y/o then? Well, the school helps find resources for the older students, so that they could keep going to school. For example, they may connect them to organizations where an organization can provide them grants or connect them to jobs where students could work on the weekends while attending school during the week. Throughout the morning, we got to tour the campus and meet the students. I was very happy to see them, but it looked like they were too shy to meet us. I felt that maybe we invaded their space a little, but maybe they were just shy. I hope that we didn’t make them feel that way because I wanted to come in with the intention of being a friend.
In the afternoon, we visited Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village. After the experience at Chiang Dao School, coming in to this village made it felt like I’ve returned “home”. I put myself in the shoes as a Hmong Thai as someone who goes to school during the day and then return to the village in the evening. The most humbling and proud experience in the village was when I helped translate the village chief’s words from Hmong to English to our group. Although I had trouble with trying to translate some of it, I helped translated most of it and I think that is something to still be proud of because not being able to have much opportunities to maintain/learn Hmong, yet still translate most is great. I’m not the best, but at least I’m able to hold on my own well enough to converse with the Hmong Thai community. I didn’t get to have a satisfying experience at the village as I wanted since we were there for a short time and we didn’t get to interacted with villagers as much. Maybe because we came in as tourists instead of travelers. I wanted to come into the village not as a tourist, but someone who’s been gone away from the village for a long time, but then has return to stay with our community. I wanted to push myself out there by trying to interact with as many locals as I could, but then maybe it may seemed like I was doing too much which was I held myself back. I didn’t want to show off in front of others just because I’m Hmong, but I wanted to immerse myself into the community whether if it being helping the young man push the cart up the hill or chatting with the Hmong students about their day at school. I think what we did was okay. Probably because the short amount of time, I didn’t find it as meaningful as I wanted it to be.
While visiting Chiang Dao School in the morning and then Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village in the afternoon, I’ve felt like I “belonged” there. Again, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a Hmong Thai person throughout the day. I’m very happy to hear that our Hmong students are being accepted into the Thai community and that the Thai government are helping them with their education. Also, I’m not one to judge how Hmong Thai should like Hmong Americans, but they have their own ways of living. Therefore, if they so happen to live in a village and try to stay happy as much as they can, then so be it. I support the Hmong Thai community for doing that because it’s definitely not a life that I’m accustomed to. However, the whole day experience made it felt like I’ve returned “home”.