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Nelsie Yang

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Nelsie Yang was born in Minnesota, USA in 1995. Her parents were Hmong refugees who came to the United States because of the Secret War in Laos. Her experiences of racism in the United States and discrimination she observed as a study abroad student in Thailand led her to become active in political and social justice movements in Minnesota.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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My name is Nelsie Yang, I am the daughter of Hmong refugees of the Secret War. I was born in Minnesota and have lived here for my whole life. The first memory I have of experiencing racism is when I was put into English as a Second Language class in second grade. For all of my school career I have been in the top 10% of my class. I am a native English speaker and grew up speaking English more fluently than Hmong. Yet these teachers still assumed from the color of my skin and my parents’ refugee status I could not possibly speak English as well as white students.

Unfortunately, it did not end there. Fast forwarding later, when I asked my college advisor to review my statement of intent to apply for the social work major program, she stereotyped me. She told me I had a few grammatical errors, but “that’s typical for students who speak English as a second language”. I have been speaking English for my whole life. When I asked the advisor to clarify, she said “of course English is your second language, you are an international student.” These assumptions were very hurtful, especially because I had been working with her for over three years. Now, I was beginning to realize racism is a reality of life in the United States, and I had to change that.

In 2013, I had just returned home from studying abroad in Thailand. While I was there I heard news of increased racism toward Hmong communities. I felt guilty missing these important events while I was away and felt strongly motivated to advocate for justice when I returned. My first experience getting involved politically was with Dai Thao’s campaign for council member reelection. I spent hours campaigning for a Hmong candidate I believed will do great things to lift up the Minnesotan Hmong community. This is where I identified my passion to fight for equality and justice.

Leading up to the 2015 caucus I participated in caucus training run by Hmong community organizers to attend the St. Paul caucus. Due to my diligence I was elected to be a Bernie Sanders national delegate at the state delegate election and went to the Democratic National Convention this past summer. This experience has been life changing for me. Now I can envision myself one day in the position to speak publicly about the issues I value, breaking the layers of oppression. Someday I will run for office to be a voice of inclusion for all people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. I will not let my voice be silenced or my pride in my Hmong heritage be lost.