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Sheng Yang

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Sheng Yang was born in St. Paul, MN in 1995. Her parents were Hmong refugees who lived in a Thai refugee camp following the Secret War in Laos before resettling in the United States in 1992. Sheng studied at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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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 Sheng Maly Yang. I was born and raised in Saint Paul, MN. I am a child of Hmong refugees who found their way to America as a result of the Secret War.

My parents landed in America on October 23, 1992, with my two older brothers in hand. My dad's brother had come to America years earlier and had gotten married to a Hmong naturalized citizen and they requested for our family to come to America. As a Hmong-American, growing up I struggled with balancing both my identities. I was never American enough because of my race and ethnicity. I did not look like the typical American girl so throughout elementary school to middle school, I was put into ESL class even though I spoke perfect English. Back then I thought it was normal for all the Hmong student to be in ESL since we all look alike. I didn't realize that I wasn't being set for success. At home, I struggled to embrace my Hmong heritage as well because as a kid, all I saw growing up was the stereotypical white, caucasian on television. There was no Asian representation in the media or at school, the two places that occupied my childhood and that affected how I learned to embraced my heritage as a kid. I believed that I could only be Hmong at home and outside of my immediate family, I had to be "American."

Growing up, I didn't realize how privileged I was to go to school and to have access to education. My parents grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand and were taught to be agrarian farmers all their lives. They were never given a chance to pursue higher education. Even when they moved to the United States, they had to give up going to school to find work and earn money to feed the family. During my junior year in high school, I had to apply to colleges, file for FAFSA, and scholarships by myself because my parents didn't have the resources or the knowledge to help me. I remember thinking to myself, why am I even applying? Will I even be accepted into any colleges? Am I smart enough to attend these colleges? All my older siblings didn't pursue higher education, so why should I? I don't think I belong in college, I don't think anyone does. But at the end, I chose to attend the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities on a whim and I don't regret my decision.

At the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, I found my Ohana, communities that I belonged to, and my peers. The first community I gained in college was my living-learning community called Tsev Hmoob, Hmong house, a hall filled with peers who looks like me, pursuing higher education with the same ambition like myself. This was the start of my undergraduate career and working towards accepting my Hmong heritage. The second community I gained in college was STLS, Students Today Leaders Forever. I call them my Ohana. A bus tour to Washington D.C. but stopped to do community service on the way. And throughout the tour, I was challenged to go outside of my comfort zone and challenge to think about what a community is. The people in this bus opened my eyes to the diverse communities that there are on campus and they taught me how to be a supporter of those communities. In my third year, I became the Treasurer of the Hmong Minnesota Student Association on campus and it changed my life. My first two years of undergrad, I avoided HMSA because I didn't want to only associate myself with Hmong students. Although in high school what I yearned for the most was Hmong club. HMSA opened my eyes to other narratives and struggles like mine that I was never able to vocalize. I found my voice through HMSA. I, along with 10 other board members, set out to educate not only ourselves but other Hmong student on campus about issues that affects our community on campus. I can honestly say that HMSA has changed my life and grounded me in many ways, especially with my Hmong roots.