May Yer Thao's Experience at Wat Tham Krabok
Photo taken by Kevin Miyazaki
When KaYing Yang, manager, and I first started the cultural orientation training at Wat Tham Krabok, we had about two weeks with a group of adults over 18, majority of which were married couples. The two weeks soon decreased to one week and then to several days in order to get people through the door to the US, so we lost a lot of quality time. Over the course of this time, KaYing hired several other Hmong American cultural orientation trainers to join us in this work.
Ultimately, the goal of the cultural orientation was to provide parents and families with a crash course of what life in America would entail. We taught about civic engagement, the importance of voting, and the American political structure. We did not dig in deep, just covered the basics of what they needed to know and do once they arrived to the United States, including working on their citizenship. We held sessions around employment and conducted mock interviews for adults to experience being interviewed for a job; this was always one of the more fun sessions, laughing and encouraging the adults to not be shy.
We also had a simulation trailer that imitated a home, where we demonstrated how to use the toilet, sink, refrigerator and other basics of living. Many already had more experience because they were living in modern times compared to when my parents were refugees in the 1970s. But still, there were those who were like “Really, you turn it on and off like this?” Or “Wow, so we will have all of this in our house? We can do whatever we want? Clean water? Flowing? No boiling water just to drink?” It was a sense of amazement. Then they transitioned to the next stage: worrying about the bills and concerns about finances. “We don’t know the language. How will we get to work? We can’t drive. How will we survive there?” We had to help relieve that stress.
We also taught budgeting and managing finances to cover all the bills. If you want to buy a car, what does that mean? Just the basic survival lessons, as well as debt. In addition, we had conversations about the importance of education and encouraging engagement with their children, including parent/teacher conferences.
Towards the latter part of the relocation period we developed a youth curriculum. We taught eight year olds to teenagers about education, hopes and dreams, arts and crafts, and mental health. How do you take care of your well-being and mental state of being in order to stay healthy? In my classes, I taught about teenage life and pop culture, as I could relate most to these younger folks because I was the youngest Cultural Orientation trainer there. We also taught them some basic English language and because they were younger, it was easier for them to grasp.
During my time there, what was truly meaningful were parents’ concern about their children’s education and the mock employment interviews. We reassured parents that their children would most likely be much more motivated and more successful in school than our American-born Hmong children who are now more privileged and take life for granted in the US.
Our Hmong women, who of course were not exposed to the United States as us Hmong American women, were still very traditional. Very shy and quiet. We had to encourage them to engage, talk, and interact more. It was about empowering the Hmong women and helping them to overcome their shyness.
Our job also consisted of providing “counseling” because they faced kev txhawj, kev nyuaj siab, not knowing what to expect in America.
My time working with our Hmong in Wat ThamKrabok has been one of the biggest honors of my Life. And it is amazing to run into them here in the US now, years later, and to see how accomplished and resilient so many of these families have become.
Photos are courtesy of May Yer Thao, taken at Wat Tham Krabok, Thailand from 2004-2005.
Learn more about Wat Tham Krabok:
- We Are Water: KaYing Yang’s Experience at Wat Tham Krabok
- HmongStudies.org PDF: A Photo Essay of the Hmong Experience at Wat Tham Krabok in Thailand (By Pao Lor)
- HmongStudies.org PDF: Coming Home? The Integration of Hmong Refugees from Wat Tham Krabok, Thailand, into American Society (By Grit Grigoleit, M.A)