November 30, 2023 – Hundreds of high school and middle school students from Clovis Unified schools gathered in the gym at Clovis East High School on Wednesday, November 29th for the Asian Student Success Conference.
“The conference provides CUSD students with an informative and inspiring day of cultural heritage, resources for academic success, and college and career readiness tools,” said Sonia Torossian, deputy principal of Reagan Educational Center and a part of the planning committee.
The focus of this year’s conference was on Hmong culture. The theme was “Sib Hlub, Sib Pab,” which translates to “love each other, help each other.”
A video produced by Reyburn Wolfpack Film Crew introduced Hmong culture, then keynote speaker Clovis Mayor Pro Tem Vong Mouanoutoua gave a passionate and meaningful speech.
“My history; my life, is now interwoven into the fabric of the history of America. They can’t say I am not. Whatever I have done is an American doing—because I am here,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mouanoutoua.
“In America, you choose. Ask anyone who comes from a country where you have no choice. That takes courage, and that I have to own the decisions that I make. I have to make that decision and I have to live and pay the consequences for it.”
Mouanoutoua shared many parables to speak to the students. The Mayor Pro Tem emphasized the importance of thinking of others, of putting others first. He also encouraged the youth to “make their mark.”
The students were split into groups where they each spent time at three breakout sessions located in different locations on campus. One session had interactive cultural stations like Hmong dancing.
Another session featured a variety of local mentors. The mentors included professors, doctors, business owners, Army recruiters, educational professionals, police officers, engineers, IT analysts, accountants, city planners, and more.
The third session was a cultural education presentation titled, “The Secret War: The Forgotten Hmong Heroes.” The cultural information was presented by Dr. Pa Nhia Xiong, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Work Education at Fresno State.
The research was based on these premises among others: memorialize the experience of Hmong veterans who participated in the Secret War, understand how they became involved, understand how Hmong veterans and their families developed an indeed in the United States, understand the Hmong veterans’ perspective on family, culture, and education.
The Secret War took place from 1961 to 1975, during the Vietnam War. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited Hmong men and boys who lived in Laos to fight alongside the U.S. against the Communist regime in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
A third of the Hmong population died, and half of all males over the age of 10 had been killed as a result of this conflict. Dr. Xiong was a child in one of the refugee camps of the Secret War. Many Hmong people and their families died attempting to flee Laos and make it to the refugee camps.
Five years after the war, President Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980, in an attempt to make up for the U.S. breaking promises to help the Hmong people in return for fighting alongside us during the war. The act enabled resettlement of many Hmong people in the U.S., but not all of the soldiers and their families.
After the breakout sessions, students returned to the gym for lunch and to watch the traditional dance performances by fellow student groups.
The dance groups included: Buchanan Tribal Handkerchief Dancers, Clovis East Hmong Dancers, Clovis West Chinese Fan Dancers, Clovis High Hmong Dancers, and Clovis North K-Pop Dancers.
“Knowing each other’s culture and diversity is important and can lead to better understanding between students and our community,” CUSD Coordinator of Community Relations Saul Salinas, Ed.D. said. “It’s also vital students learn about paths to success as they consider their futures after high school.”