Nhia comes from a Hmong family where tradition is important. If his parents had their way, he would never date or even have friends of the opposite sex. While he respects his parents and his family’s values, he feels that it’s important that Hmong of his generation take steps toward independence and leadership. As he says, “Just make sure you take big steps and not little baby steps.” And through writing he wants to be someone who influences those of his generation.
It’s because of this desire to inspire others that Nhia got involved in his newspaper at Lansing Everett High School in Lansing, Michigan, and is now majoring in journalism at Michigan State University. His passion to affect others through his writing has been recognized. He has won more than $60,000 in scholarships including the Michigan State University Distinguished Freshman Achievement Award and Detroit Free Press Journalism Award. When asked his planned career field, he says that he will become the editor of Rolling Stone.
Only the Strong Survive
Our lives are not predetermined but rather a journey that each individual must decide for himself. Events that transpire along the way do not just disrupt the journey but sometimes occur to benefit it. During the Vietnam War, my family was forced out of their homeland Laos and into Thailand, where they sought refuge for five l years. All was left behind to take a stab at giving my siblings and me a possible future. The only life they knew had been wiped clear of existence. The familiar air breathed, land cultivated and faces seen all seemed like a lost dream.
Relocating in Thailand did not manifest into the Promised Land everyone had heard about. Instead of the beautiful lands and abundance of food, what they found were crowded camps and no food. Hunger spread like wildfire and people died by the handful. What many thought was a safe haven was in actuality a waiting deathbed.
Only the strong survived the refugee camps. My family members were just more faces in the crowd of thousands in the same situation. It was there that I was born into a life deprived of the simp’ nood things in life. Finding food was always a problem and just trying to survive to the next day was a top priority. My parents knew that in order to survive we had to leave the
refugee camps. if you were lucky, you were sponsored to move to Amera Along with thousands of others; we had nothing to do but wait. Wait on? reply to our pleas to leave.
in 1985 my family finally received word that our prayers out of Thailand were answered. A church in Michigan sponsored our family and that was our ticket out. We immigrated to the United States to start anew. We had to adopt a new language, a new culture and a whole new way of life.
Through it all, we continued to practice our culture and customs. That was something my parents wanted to keep and pass on to generations to come. It was the only thing about the past that remained with us. My parents wanted us to grow up to be traditional Hmong boys and girls.
I knew what I wanted in life, but knowing that traditionally Hmong children married at a young age, it was hard to break out of that mold By
choosing journalism as a career path, I hope to set an example: following the traditional rules is not the only option, even though that’s the only
life we know. I want to complete school and have my writing reach a vast audience. I hope to make a difference with writing and show the youth of my culture that we can balance both worlds at the same time. We can still have respect for our parents and compassion for our culture while changing along with modern society. There is a lot more out there for us, a world beyond marriage and children, a world that can show a whole different
perspective on life.
I want to show that growing up impoverished can still lead to being published in a national newspaper or writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning article. I want to be that role model for Hmong kids who sometimes feel trapped within the walls that are built around them.
I believe that if I can live my life the way I want it and not how my parents want it, then others can follow. Instead of marrying into a burden-filled life, I can become the anchor for that change. I want to take the path that my parents never spoke of. I know that in the end that will be the difference between what is and what could have been. Hopefully young people, not just Hmong kids, but anyone who feels lost can look at what I have achieved and find their own path.