Nyob zoo

Phonetically speaking, it’s actually Nyah zhong.  Hello from the Hmong.

Back in 1980, The Refugee Act was passed by congress and signed by President Carter (read an article here).  Even though I was in elementary school at the time, the signing of the Refugee Act has had a very large impact on my life.  During the Vietnam war, the Hmong helped the CIA block the North Vietnamese from extending the Ho Chi Minh trail into Laos.  Because of working with the US, the Hmong could not return to their homeland.   I remember when Hmong refugees started arriving in my city.

There are several states that took in Hmong refugees.  The top few are: California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina.  My district has close to 30% Asian American students and that high percentage is thanks to the Hmong.

For my class today we learned about the Hmong.  We learned of their involvement in the war, experience in refugee camps, family structure (clans), religion (Shamanism), beliefs about Health and Medicine, Marriages and Funerals.  It was interesting, but I was hoping to learn something new.

I don’t know how extensively my classmates are involved with the Hmong.  I’m sure their numbers are increasing as they move from the city to the suburbs.  Most of my classmates teach in the burbs.  The largest minority group in my school is Hmong.  In fact, they are the largest single ethnic group at my school.  Each year I learn from my students and see how the culture is evolving from when they first arrived.

When I student taught, there was a girl who barely spoke English.  She was tiny and Hmong.  One day after school I asked her if there was anyone at home that could help her with her math.  What did she say?  “My husband.”  I was shocked.  At the same time, I found out this girl was pregnant with her second child.  There are still pregnancies with Hmong girls, but not how we used to see them.

Our speaker had mentioned that he married young.  His wife was 16 when they were married.  He was 21.  Five years isn’t much of a difference now.  But the more I think about it, that is exactly the situation that bothered me so much 14 years ago.  Young girls, older husbands, pregnant teens, futures taken.  How common is this practice now?

I had already had a fun conversation with my students about who they could date.  The basic rule is that they can’t date someone from the same clan (same last name).  There are 18 clans in my state.  It’s nice to have a complete list!  Chang/Cha, Chue, Cheng, Fang, Her, Hang, Khang, Kong, Lee/Ly, Kue, Lor, Moua, Pha, Thao, Vang, Xiong and Yang.

In my school we have something called the Senior Project.  Each year I sit through presentations where a Hmong student has researched some aspect of their culture and presented it to a panel of teachers.  From students, I’ve learned about the Hmong genocide in Laos, Qeej (reed pipe) playing, Hmong traditional dress (including White and Green Hmong), making a story cloth, learning to read and write the Hmong language and many more!  I’ve even been taught how to make egg rolls by our Asian Culture Club.

When I see something that concerns me, I do ask the student about it.  I realize that they have various healing methods that do not fit into western medicine.  Last spring I had a student with band aids on her face because her mother had removed her moles.  When I talked with her, it was clear that her mother was believing in the old Hmong ways and she was interested in what I could tell her from my experience with mole removal.  Read about it here.  She’s walking the line between being Hmong and being American and as her teacher, I’m helping her along the way.

At the end of the presentation our speaker asked if anyone in the room knew how to speak any Hmong.  Years ago I asked a Hmong colleague of mine to teach me a few things.  I only know a few phrases, but they seem to work.  All I know is “speak English” and “be quiet.”  Those two phrases have served me well in 14 years.  Now they’re hardly speaking Hmong in school so I rarely get the chance to show off my Hmong.  When the speaker asked what I knew, the one that came to mind was the “be quiet” one.  I know I’m saying it correctly because my students understand perfectly.  The speaker thought I had said “good-bye” in Hmong.  I was confused, but I went with the flow.  Now that I think about it, I sure hope he didn’t thing I was telling him to be quiet!

The Hmong are a lovely people and I’m so glad I get to teach their children.  They are the only ethnic group that ever thanks me for teaching their children.  I would love to learn more details about how their culture is changing as they live in the US longer.  I need to know more about Hmong funerals and who is expected to attend and how long they should be absent.  How is the culture adjusting to all of their girls that are becoming highly educated and very successful?  Is it a legal marriage when two teens are married in their culture?  Are arranged marriages a thing of the past yet?

Questions, questions and more questions.  I’m glad I’ve got colleagues and students that can inform me.


Actions speak louder than words.

One of our speakers today was an American woman who grew up in my state. She described herself as a non-practicing Methodist prior to converting to Islam. She has a master’s degree and is an educator. She is the education coordinator for the Muslim Community Center that we visited. Her topic was “Experiencing Islam first hand.”

When telling her story, she told us that she took three years to study Islam and then decided to convert. She became a Muslim in March of 2001. One of the reasons that she liked the Muslim faith was its Respect for Women.

She wore a hijab (the head covering) and explained that Muslim women cover down to their wrists and ankles and wear loose-fitting opaque clothing. A face veil is not a requirement, but is just another level of modesty. She remains covered in front of any male other than her husband, father or brother. She explained about some accommodations that hair salons make when she gets her hair cut (so she remains unseen by any male).

“God commands us to behave modestly.” Guess what? No flirting. No walking with a sashay of the hips. No excessive make-up. Ok. I can deal with that if it’s your choice and that’s how you behave because of your religion. Fine by me. No problemo.

Non-related Muslim men and women do not have any physical contact. Period. Apparently separation is to avoid distraction. There is no checking out the opposite gender. No flirting, crushes or accidental contact. This separation seems to start happening when they reach puberty. Another speaker said that they believe the first attraction reaction is biological since you don’t know the person. So you can’t be attracted intellectually or emotionally prior to meeting someone.

To me, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on the sexual attraction of men and women. So much so, that they remove temptation and deliberately separate them. I don’t know about you, but I most certainly am not attracted to every man I meet between puberty and age 90. And whether or not I am attracted doesn’t matter. Hello? Self control? How do you learn that with the opposite sex? Controlling your appetite is not quite the same thing. Plus this belief assumes that everyone is heterosexual. I wonder what they would say to this?

I can’t say that I was really bothered talking about the separation of men and women for their religious purposes. But then came the time for the noon prayers. Guess what? The men came into the Mosque and us women had to go upstairs.

I am a white lady. I have not experienced segregation. Until today. You can say that you believe women are equal, but when you put me in a corner, I most certainly am not equal. I can’t say that it was even a conscious thought at first. I felt it. Then, I named it.

No matter what is said about the respect of women and Islam, I will have a hard time swallowing it. I don’t know if it’s because of me being Christian or American. But it most definitely has to do with me being a woman. How long have women been fighting to be on equal ground with men? In my gut I could feel that I was not an equal of those men during that prayer service.

Actions don’t speak. They scream.


Huh?  What does [pbuh] mean?

Peace be upon him.

I can’t count the number of times I heard pbuh today.  I spent the entire day at a Muslim Community Center and Mosque.  Every time the name of a prophet is mentioned, pbuh is said afterwards.  There are many prophets in the Quran.  Even the familiar ones from Christianity are mentioned.  Jesus pbuh, Moses pbuh, Abraham pbuh and most common – Mohammed, pbuh.

We learned the Five Pillars of Islam – Declaration of faith, Prayers, Zakat (giving to charity), Fasting and the Pilgrimage to Mecca.  As a teacher there are a few of these that affect my students.

Prayers are done five times per day.  They start at dawn and the last is at sunset.  There is a window of prayer time for each of the five.  We were given a website to find the prayer times.  Enter your zip code for times in your area.  In my district, there is a person that sends us information about when the prayers should be done.  When the prayer time is long enough outside of the school day, we are told that we do not need to make accommodations for students during that time.  Otherwise, there is are two rooms set aside for Muslim students (1 girls and 1 boys room) to pray and there is a staff member that keeps track of their comings and goings and makes sure the locations are available.

Fasting and Ramadan.  In 2010, Ramadan will begin around August 11th.  During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset.  Fasting shows that they are in control of their appetite and desires.  No food, drink or marital relations take place during the daylight hours.  It is a time of generosity and giving and a time to renew their relationship with Allah.  There is a big celebration at the end.  For those of you wondering…  Exemptions are made for those with dietary needs and sickness.  Children are not expected to fast.

My experience with Ramadan last year was unique.  I was on the island of Zanzibar (primarily Muslim) when Ramadan started.  We witnessed the celebration in the night before it started.  Our form of witnessing happened to be the loud music keeping us awake at 2 or 3am.  But after Ramadan started, we could sleep in peace. La la salaama.

As we walked from the guest house to the beach we were approached by locals that would ask us if we were fasting.  I don’t normally talk about my faith, but I was happy to be able to say, “No, I’m a Christian.”

I was in school when Ramadan ended.  I asked one of my Muslim girls what they did to celebrate.  “We just go to OCB” (Old Country Buffet).  OCB?  For some reason that surprised me.

As I listened and learned about Islam I was trying to just take in information that would be helpful in my teaching and to better understand my students.  I had expected it to be similar to the Hindu presentation yesterday where I felt comfortable in how our belief systems can peacefully coexist.  I won’t say that it’s not possible with Islam, because it is most definitely possible.  It’s just quite a bit more difficult reconciling my beliefs as a Christian, an American and especially as a woman.

This is the third installment about the class I’m taking.  The speakers were on Wednesday, July, 28th.


This is the second installment about the class I’m taking. It took place on July 27th.

How do you greet your Hindu students? Wait… Who are your Hindu students? Typically they’re your Indian students (not Native American). I was glad to find out that the greeting is the one that I’ve been doing for years in my yoga classes. Whew! No new vocabulary for me!

Day #2 was a visit to a Hindu Temple. I have been to many temples in various parts of the world, but I think they’ve all been Buddhist. A Hindu Temple was a new experience for me. I found the visit very educational and rewarding. It makes me interested in learning more about Hinduism.

Faith and values are integrated into the culture, art and activities of Hindu families. Some of the basic principles of their faith are: 1) God is only one and wise people call God by different names, 2) The entire world is my family, and 3) May everyone find happiness. This is also the religion that believes in karma and reincarnation. To the Hindu, the concept of time is circular rather than linear. They do believe in God, but they call God Brahman. It is also the only faith that have God represented in both masculine and feminine forms.

I liked learning about Hinduism. They seem to stress that choices made now result in an outcome and that I create my own destiny. Personal responsibility. That sounds really good to me. Non-violence is an integral part of Hinduism. Another plus!

After learning about Hinduism, it made me wish that I had Indian students in my classes. At the moment, I can’t think of a single Indian student in my school. It makes me wonder about where in my community the majority of the Indians live.

Before we left the temple, they served us a wonderful Indian meal. I think I could easily eat naan for every meal. There was a dish with beans, peas and lentils, a dish with potatoes and tomato sauce, rice with various spices and a sweet dessert and fruit. The entire meal was vegetarian.

We did get to ask some questions at the end. Our speaker gave some interesting responses to the stereotypical questions about Indian people.

What’s the deal with Indians and cows? Hindus believe that everyone is holy and sacred. A cow is their symbol of the animal kingdom. And when you understand the important role of a cow in an Indian family, it makes more sense. A cow produces milk products, the bulls help to plow the fields, hides are used for shoes, etc. The cow spends its entire life giving to the family. They can’t eat a cow much as you and I couldn’t eat dog or cat meat.

What’s the deal with the red dot on the forehead? The dot symbolizes the third eye. It’s used to symbolize the awakening of the conscience. It’s a sacred symbol and a sign of good luck. The main thing I got from it is that it makes the individual aware of their conscience as they go through their day. The color does not have to be red.

Another thing that Indian students struggle with is their identity. At home they need to be Indian, but at school they are American. I think this is a struggle in many cultures.

And another clarification… Hindu is a faith and Hindi is a language. Hindu does not equal Hindi.

I came away from the temple visit feeling very glad that I got the opportunity to visit and learn. The Hindu faith is so full of universal good will that I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with it. The problems would only seem to arise when there is ignorance. If I had to describe my impression of Hinduism in only a few words, I would make sure that inclusive and tolerant were on the list.

At the end of August there is a free yoga class that will be offered. I think it would be interesting and I would feel comfortable returning to the temple on my own. I think that statement in itself speaks volumes as to what our speaker was trying to accomplish and making us feel welcome.

Lots of Letters

This is the first installment about the class I’m taking.  The speakers were on Monday, July, 26th.

GLBTQ               PFLAG

Do you know what they stand for?  GLBTQ = Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Questioning.  PFLAG is an organization for Parents and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons.

Nationally, there are only 5 districts that support GLBT programs in schools.  That’s sad.  The happy news is that my district is one of the five.  Another one of the five is the big city district next to us.  The first speaker happened to be from the program in my district.

Our speaker, Miriam, did a nice job in explaining the issues.  First, GLB are the letters that most people understand.  They have to do with who you are attracted to.  T = Transgender.  The way she explained it is when the outside doesn’t match the inside.  On the inside, you know whether you’re male or female.  But if your parts don’t match your gender on the inside,  that’s when transgender comes into play.

One of the things she explained that I thought was helpful is the continuum of sexuality.  She used a 6 point scale.  Zero would align with straight. Three would be bisexual and six would be gay.  Everyone fits somewhere on the scale depending on who you are emotionally, intellectually and physically attracted to.  Having a continuum allows for all of the variation and kids seem to deal with that much easier than adults.

“That’s so gay.”  How many times have you heard that in your classroom?  What do you do about it?  I usually recognize that someone has said it and mention that what they’re trying to say has nothing to do with sexual orientation.  Miriam suggested a nice strategy.  Name it.  Claim it. Stop it.  Basically you acknowledge that a harassing comment was made, state the school policy that we don’t do that and then ask them to change their behavior in the future.  She also gave us a list of words to express dissatisfaction.  In other words, replacing the word gay in “That’s so gay.”

The speakers from PFLAG were all parents.  One was the parent of a transgender male and there was a couple whose son came out to them when he was 15 years old.

Can you imagine your 3-year-old daughter telling you that she was a boy and wanting to be called by a boy’s name?  What would you do?  Steve is lucky that Florence is his mom.  I can imagine many parents would act differently than Florence did.  She turned into the strongest advocate for her child that she could be.  She explained how difficult life was for Steve in the early grades.  Teachers and Principals didn’t know how to treat her child.  Something as simple as going to the bathroom was a major issue.  Eventually everything worked out and Steve went through school and was only known as a boy.  But Florence was clearly navigating unchartered territory.

Gretchen and Tom have four children.  When he was 15, their youngest son had an argument with his father and blurted out that he was gay.  Up until that point, David was a wonderful student and well-rounded kid.  He had started withdrawing from his family and they couldn’t figure out why.

Gretchen and Tom both articulated how they reacted to the news and how they worked their way through this new revelation.  PFLAG was an enormous help.  They were able to meet families that had dealt with the same issue and were living happy and normal lives.  The main thing that they stressed in telling their story was that the bottom line is that your child just wants to be loved and accepted for who they are.  And that’s what they did.

In hearing these stories, it made me think about students that I know are gay or lesbian.  At my school, it seems like students are fairly accepting.  I’ve seen lesbian couples holding hands in the hallway.  There are some openly gay boys and the students seem to just leave them be.  I remember a particular student a few years ago – he was such a good dancer that no one seemed to care that he was gay.  There are a few girls that dress like the boys.  I mean really dress like the boys – saggy pants, long t-shirts, baseball caps, etc.  Now I wonder if they are transgender or cross dressing.  One of them went into the boys’ bathroom and caused quite a ruckus last year.  How do schools accommodate those kids?  Clearly, something needs to happen.  I’m not sure how it’s addressed in my school, but I intend to find out.

Here are a few resources:  GLSENTeaching Tolerance, aMaze – Families all Matter book project,  Out for Equity, Out 4 Good.

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Summer Activities

At the end of the school year I was asked by many people where I was planning on going this summer.  To their surprise, I told them that I wasn’t going on a major trip.  I’m just doing my standard Michigan and Colorado trips that I usually take.  Last summer was a pretty big deal, so I’m feeling fine about being home.  It’s not as if I’m just lounging for the entire summer.  I’m getting stuff done and enjoying some new things.

Last Friday started my string of two classes.  I had a one credit course titled: Math Based Art Projects for two days.  This week I’m taking a 3 credit course titled: Broadening Our Educational Horizons.  I haven’t done a lane change in a while, so I might as well take some fun classes while I have the time.

I’ll try to write about each of my classes to give you a flavor of what I’m learning.  For the second class, I need to journal about each day and the experiences, so I might as well share it with you, dear reader.  The class this week is exploring the different cultures and religions as well as learning about GLBTQ and PFLAG.

As a preview, I’ll give you a peek at my week:

Day 1: Introductions, Syllabus, GLBTQ and PFLAG speakers

Day 2: Hindu Temple with Indian meal and afternoon Latino Presentation

Day 3:  Mosque and Muslim Community Center with a Middle Eastern lunch

Day 4:  Hmong Center tour and discussions

Day 5:  Synagogue tour and learning about the Jewish faith

After 2 days of class, I can say that I’m really enjoying this one.  It’s nice to have a class that you will be able to apply your knowledge so easily.  The field trip nature of the class also makes it fun.

Next week I’ll be attending a union conference put on by the Illinois Federation of Teachers.  I’m taking a class called: Building a Political Powerhouse.  I’ll be traveling to a resort in Wisconsin (almost to the IL border) for that one.  But before I think about that one, I need to get through my current class.

Are you SIRIUS?

Do any of you listen to satellite radio?  With my new car I got a free 6-month trial of SIRIUS satellite radio.  I have to admit, I like it.  The new car has the SYNC system also.  But I get tired of the stuff on my iPod and like to listen to other things.  Plus, I don’t necessarily bring the iPod along on every drive I take.

What’s the best part of satellite radio?  No commercials.  I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there are more and more commercials on regular radio these days.  And it’s not just 30 seconds here or there.  It’s a full 5 minutes sometimes.

I’m still figuring out SIRIUS.  But so far I’m listening to the 80’s station quite a bit.  It makes me laugh to hear some of those songs and remember when I first heard them.  They’ve got a channel for each decade, so you can choose from the 40’s to the 90’s.  BBC Radio 1 is kind of fun too.  I should have figured out more before I drove to Detroit.  But I didn’t have the time research it before I left, so I didn’t use it much.  Now I’m thinking about how to organize my pre-sets.  SAT 1 music, SAT 2 talk, etc.

Now before I’m completely hooked I probably need to make a decision about my future with SIRIUS.  The thing that is deceptive interesting is that in all of the materials you are sent about this new-found friend, there is never the mention of any cost.  No, I haven’t read the fine print on the welcome materials, but a quick scan did not reveal and amounts.  There’s all sorts of info about fees for various scenarios.  I have a feeling that it costs about what my Netflix membership does each month.

Is it worth it?  Do any of you have it?  Any thoughts?