Ryan J. Foley, AP, Jan. 26, 2007
State lawmakers on Thursday proposed requiring schools to teach about the Hmong people, saying suspicion of the new immigrants could be eased by an understanding of their past as U.S. allies in the Vietnam War.
The bill, backed by a group of Assembly Democrats, is identical to one that was proposed in April 2005 but died when lawmakers adjourned last year. Sponsors said racial tensions rekindled by this month’s homicide of a Hmong hunter could build support for passage this year.
More than 600 Hmong residents packed into the Assembly parlor to support the bill, having arrived in eight busloads from as far away as Green Bay and Eau Claire.
“All of the difficulties that the Hmong face and experience in the U.S. are due to the fact that there is no formal teaching about the Hmong to the general public,” said Za Blong Vang, president of the Hmong Community of Wisconsin. He spoke in Hmong but provided an English translation of his remarks.
The plan would require school boards to come up with programs to teach about the Hmong in history classes, including their role in the Vietnam War and why they have immigrated to the U.S. It would be up to school officials to determine how extensive the education would be.
“We felt this issue now has some urgency,” said Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee. “The fear and apprehension felt by our fellow Hmong citizens makes it important that we retell the important role they played in the Vietnam War.”
Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, and the bill’s lead sponsor, said the conflict has undermined Wisconsin’s tradition of tolerance.
“There are still some who view the Hmong community with suspicion,” she said. “We can change this with education.”
Hmong leaders said they were tired of their contributions being overlooked and of explaining who they are to neighbors. Even their children are skeptical of their history, since it is rarely taught in schools.