Haitau Yang is a third-year, first-generation Hmong American student at Michigan State University, majoring in applied engineering science with a concentration in supply chain. at the faculty of engineering. He is the current president of the Hmong American Student Association and the elected vice-president of the board of directors of the Asian Pacific American Student Organization.
To talk about me, you must first talk about my Hmong identity. Growing up, I always questioned my ethnicity because people always assumed I was Chinese. Being Hmong, I am a minority of a minority. Many people ask me what Hmong means and if it is the same as Mongolian. The Hmong ethnic group is a people without a homeland originating from Indochina.
Today, my people find themselves all over the world, displaced by the Vietnam War and the Laotian Civil War, also known as the Secret War. From farmers to CIA-backed guerrilla fighters who helped slow the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, my people have become refugees fleeing their homelands to avoid persecution. My parents and their families were pushed into the jungles of Laos, forced to roam the terrain at night, under fire from Pathet Lao soldiers. The displaced Hmong were placed in refugee camps in Thailand and, soon after, in the United States, France and Australia.
Years later, the first generations of American-born Hmong children arrived in a world their parents never knew growing up. A world where farming and hunting were not central to daily life and where someone can go to school down the street or take a bus instead of walking miles just to educate themselves . Students like me have grandparents who speak little or no English and parents who only speak well enough to get their point across.
Today, as a Hmong student here at Michigan State University, I serve as president of the Hmong American Student Association. I joined HASA because of its involvement in my childhood and family members who joined while in college or attending events. I wanted to give back to my community by joining the organization.
As president, I strive to encourage young Hmong people in our community to pursue higher education, whether at university or vocational school. I also use this opportunity to provide a community for Hmong students on campus and use it as a forum for them to network with our Asian Pacific Islander Desi American affiliate organizations, or APIDA. Under my administration, my first Board of Directors founded the Hmong Student Network in which 13 Hmong student organizations across the country work together to bring the national Hmong community together.
My people have come a long way, from farmers to students and now to lawyers, doctors and politicians. Serving on the HASA board for three consecutive years allowed me to connect with Hmong public figures across the country, including local politicians and APIDA activists.
Hmong American Heritage Month takes place in the month of April, celebrated statewide in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and coincides with MSU’s APIDA Heritage Month. I encourage our readers to attend these APIDA events to learn something new and meet new people as we celebrate APIDA Heritage Month. As we learn about our peers who identify as APIDA this month, I also ask readers to not only learn more about our customs and cultures, but also our struggles as a community.