Where are the MEN in Mentor?
A big part of our Hmong-American collective is that there is a crucial piece missing when it comes to higher education. I grew up like any Hmong kid, surrounded by many other Hmong kids. But while I grew up and continued my education, the number of Hmong males around me began decreasing.
A major issue I see missing in the Hmong Community is the involvement of leading male figures. It’s difficult enough getting people of color to take higher education seriously, let alone our Hmong boys. Statistically, our female counterparts are doing a phenomenal job achieving higher educations.
I believe I speak for many Hmong boys when I say we can’t easily find a positive male role model. I also want to bring to attention the pride that comes with being a Hmong man that doesn’t allow us to accept this statement, and so we find other things to fill that void in our lives.
I didn’t have a Hmong male role model until I was 18 years old. It wasn’t until I fulfilled the goal of getting into college by myself that I found my MENtor(s) – other Hmong men who attended the same college. I was grateful because they pushed me to attain my degree and I honestly don’t think I would’ve done it without them (Yes, WOULD’VE instead of COULD’VE). The value of a Hmong Mentor for a confused coming-of-age Hmong boy had a tremendous impact on me.
In college, I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Tou Ger Bennett Xiong. His personal stories and the involvement in his community (along with his comedy) provided the freshest perspective on what I can do for my community. I also met Rapper and Activist Tou Saiko Lee, who had similar stories of struggles during his upbringing, and he shared that his life actually turned around after he met Tou Ger who inspired him. These two Hmong men single-handedly made me question my existence.
How did I get here? Where am I going? How can I get more Hmong men to where I am? What can we do to change our perspective? How can we move forward together? How do we play our roles to support our entire people?
Our sisters have done more than enough. We all know the traditional roles females and males play in the household - but what is important to me and to our collective Hmong community is: What more can men do?
My desire is that a MENtorship program can be created. It would be similar to a Big Brother/Big Sister program, guiding our youth to take education seriously because this is a key that opens many doors in American society. There could also be a program for those who want to become more involved and go back to school because it’s never too late to get an education. For everyone, sharing stories and a mentorship support group would bring new insight to how we live our lives collectively.
My hope is that a movement like this can launch so that our Hmong brothers can keep up with our Hmong sisters, and we may all thrive together.
Author Robby Vang, center