First and second generation Hmong Americans have always struggled to maintain their cultural heritage. Fortunately, the rise of programs and classes centered around educating the youth about Hmong culture means preservation of culture is no longer in question. Right?
Actually, I’m not so sure about that. A consistently emerging trend among the Hmong youth is the excessive fandom of Japanese anime and Korean Pop (kpop) culture, which they then choose to replace their Hmong heritage with. Hmong youth are increasingly becoming Koreaboos and Weeaboos.
Throughout my whole life, I’ve noticed that many young Hmong around and in my life have always connected through a common fandom of anime or Korean dramas (kdramas). In my experience, Hmong males are more likely to be fans of anime, and Hmong females are more likely to be kpop fans. The majority of my interactions with my relatives between the ages of 13 and 30 revolve around the topic of either anime or kdramas. When reunited with my cousins, our conversations inevitably become, “What good anime have you seen recently?” or “Have you seen this Kdrama yet?” Upon seeing an older cousin of mine for the first time in over two years, instead of asking me about my trip to Laos — the ancestral homeland of our people — he asked me if I had seen the latest episode of Attack on Titan (a very popular ongoing anime series). Similarly, when I worked as a tutor at a local middle school, I connected strongly with the female Hmong students — but only through through the fandom of kdramas.
Fei Yang, aka Heyitsfeiii, is a successful Hmong Youtuber with over 700,000 subscriptions. Her content is centered around Korean beauty products, Korean makeup tutorials and Kpop video reactions. Her channel has almost 300 videos, but only one in which she mentions being Hmong. So much of her identity is influenced by Korean pop culture, and if not for her one video that states she is Hmong, there is certainly no evidence of her being Hmong. Her online personality has the manorism and humor of a kpop fan, and the information provided in her videos are even sometimes written in korean.
I think anime and Kpop appeal to the Hmong youths more because those entertainment options are accessible and varied. Hmong entertainment is stuck in old-school slapstick humor, which just can’t compete with the flash of anime and kpop. Perhaps it is also a form of escapism. Perhaps Hmong youths want to connect to their Asian identity but chose to be attached to a more popularized and modern asian culture, such as Japanese or Korean.
The Hmong community itself has limited media production. Growing up, I’ve been accustomed to Hmong dubbed Kdramas, Bollywood movies, and Thai dramas. The few Hmong-produced movies I have seen have been either a retelling of common stories, or childish slapstick humor catered towards the older Hmong generation, both poorly produced and unappealing to the youth. There have also been too many unsuccessful Hmong rap bands in the early 2000s causing poor reputation among the Hmong teenagers and making the Hmong music industry completely unappealing.
The parents and grandparents of first or second generation Hmong bring a scolding attitude towards the youths. They often say things like “Why don’t you know this?” or “Just do it because it’s culture,” when the youth question the motives of their culture. Many elders also shame youths for being ungrateful about their privileged American lifestyle. They reminisce about their past so much that youths get sick of the same “When I lived in Laos we didn’t have this,” type of stories.
Many Hmong youths might say in response that their fandom of Japanese and Korean culture is just harmless fun. They might say that Kpop and anime is just much more entertaining than Hmong-produced media. I am just as guilty in being a fan of anime and Kdramas, and agree that they are far more entertaining, however in the long term this could lead to the disintegration of the Hmong culture. The excessive fandom Hmong youths have will lead to them taking Japanese or Korean language classes, instead of Hmong language classes, and eventually they will want to travel to Japan or Korea instead of Laos or Thailand.
Some might say that there are lots of other Hmong kids out there learning and preserving the Hmong culture. It is true that there are a lot of elementary school programs encouraging the preservation of the Hmong language; regardless, there is a lack of Hmong community within the middle school and high school age range. At Madison West High school, there was a year without an Asian club. Because the club was predominantly Hmong students, when the Hmong community at West became inactive the Asian club disbanded. What resulted was an emerging Asian Food club and a Kpop club in its place, both made up of predominantly Hmong students.
Cultural identity is important. While I appreciate Hmong youth embracing their Asian identity, I’d like to see them also embracing their Hmong identity, and I’d like to see our Hmong elders do a better job of helping us love and embrace our culture.
A decent Hmong movie once in a while wouldn’t hurt either.
This piece was produced by a student journalist in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more and support our educational programs, visit madison365.org/academy.