Pang Hlub Xiong: On Multicultural Education
What does Multicultural Education Mean to You?
For the better part of my life, my identity has been clouded as I navigated and juggled the taboos and struggles of being bicultural in America. Growing up, I was often confused—about who I was and about who we Hmong are as a people. The stories my parents told me about growing up in the peaceful country suddenly destroyed by war was unfathomable to me but greatly influenced how I was raised. Throughout most of my life, I was made to believe that being bicultural was a handicap. I grew up in a time when the public school systems were just learning about Hmong people and how to serve these students with different needs. I remember the sense of urgency around having to learn English and the stigma of being an ESL student. It was important to learn the rules of school and the ways to be at school because the life I knew was wrong. Since my parents knew nothing about this country, I knew I had to work twice as hard and face twice as many challenges, only to be half as good as my peers.
Being bicultural meant that I would be misunderstood again and again because of the way I looked, the things I said, the foods I ate, the beliefs I valued, the choices I made, and the life I lived. Home life and school life often clashed as each had a very different set of values and expectations. Out of shame and embarrassment of my culture, I learned the lies to tell in order to gain approving nods from friends and teachers. These experiences continued throughout my life and shaped me to be the educator I am today.
Because of my unfortunate experiences, it is my goal to redefine what it means to be multicultural and create a safe learning environment where all children can learn to embrace who they are. In an education era driven by standards, there are no standards directly addressing multicultural teaching. Instead, multiculturalism is left to those educators conscious enough to recognize its significance. Multiculturalism extends beyond the classroom and should be addressed because of the lifelong implications it can have.