Blia Vang Schwahn spoke, along with demonstrations of traditional and contemporary dancing and singing.
As part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Reception, Blia Vang Schwahn shared her story of escape from Laos after the Vietnam War, and the importance of understanding Hmong culture and contributions.
Blia’s presentation was just one segment of the event that was held in the auditorium at CVTC’s Business Education Center.
The event also included local Hmong girls demonstrating traditional dancing and singing, as well as a Hmong B-boy break-dancing crew to display a more contemporary aspect of Hmong culture. An assortment of local Asian food will be sold by CVTC’s Diversity Student Organization.
Michael Ojibway, Diversity/Equal Opportunity Specialist at CVTC, called the event “very significant, not as a symbolic celebration of diversity and of the local growing Hmong population, but in showcasing this very diverse and unique population that has inhabited the Eau Claire area for over 30 years.
“We hope to expand awareness of the Hmong student population, CVTC’s largest nonwhite student population, and also to expand curriculum and professional development to be more inclusive of their needs and experiences,” Mike added.
Blia, a community liaison for the Eau Claire Area School District, described her family’s escape, its five-year stay in a rundown refugee camp in Thailand, and how she and others made their way to the U.S. and eventually to Eau Claire, where she’s lived since 1980.
“By telling my story, I hope it helps people better understand what the Hmong people had to go through,” said Blia. “Hmong history and culture were not really well represented in the media after the Vietnam war. The Hmong were involved in the war in such a secret yet important way.
“I’m hoping people get an understanding of our involvement in the war and what we had to go through, the tragedies, to make it to where we are today,” she added. Blia, 46, said the Hmong “don’t want special treatment; we just want people to understand us better. To think about where we came from 35 years ago to where we are today amazes me. We are survivors.”
“Lots of people died in the war and in the camps,” she said. “We just want people to know what we went through to get here, that it wasn’t like we woke up one day and decided we wanted a better life, bought a ticket and flew to America to live the American dream.”