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Feature

Three girls in Thailand.

Three girls in the Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp in Thailand.

Balancing act: U program prepares Hmong community for bicultural parenting

U program prepares Hmong community for bicultural parenting

By Pauline Oo

From M, fall 2004

Clothing, hairstyles, grades, curfews... Hmong immigrant parents in the United States are no different from their American counterparts when it comes to butting heads with their children over these things.

The challenges of bicultural parenting will again hit the estimated 5,000 new Hmong immigrants arriving in Minnesota from the Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp in Thailand, says University professor Zha Blong Xiong. But unlike the families before them, they won't have to deal with the challenges alone.

"The first wave of Hmong immigrants settled from 1975 to 1979 and the second wave came in the early 1980s through the early 1990s," says Xiong, who resettled in Minnesota in 1982, two years after he fled the communist regime in Laos. "The parents had little preparation for dealing with conflicts with their teen children. That contributed to soaring arrest rates in the last 10 years for Southeast Asian juveniles." In 1985, there were 84 Asian juvenile arrests in St. Paul; in 1999 that number jumped to 1,036.

Why Minnesota?

Minnesota has more than 45,000 Hmong (second to California's 65,000), and more than half live in Saint Paul--the nation's largest urban concentration of Hmong. Facing death or imprisonment for fighting alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, many Hmong fled Laos for neighboring Thailand when their country fell to communist rule in 1975.

But why did these Hmong refugees end up in Minnesota?

"The answer is we invited them," says Dan Detzner, University family social science professor. "We're a relatively prosperous state and have a more educated population here compared to other parts of the country. The assumption is that people with higher education levels would be more tolerant, more accepting, and have a better understanding of the history of America in which their own grandparents or great grandparents were immigrants."

Xiong and family social science colleague Daniel Detzner are leading authors of Bicultural Parenting for Southeast Asian Families: Helping Youth Succeed, a curriculum for settled families and newly arrived immigrants. The syllabus features stories about disagreements stemming from baggy pants to pregnancy. Families can discuss their own situations with a facilitator, who helps them come up with a solution that blends their traditional views with the American perspective.

"We need to begin teaching these parents how life works in this country, especially how to manage their expectations for their children, because the excitement and novelty of the first couple of years will wear off and those children will begin to live the real life in America," he says.

Xiong and his seven siblings are sponsoring two families--10 relatives, in all--from Wat Tham Krabok.

For more information about the Bicultural Parenting for Southeast Asian Families: Helping Youth Succeed curriculum, visit http://edprojects.che.umn.edu/biculturalparenting/goals.html.