All my life, I wanted a taste of the city life. I was ambitious. I wanted to get out of this small town I knew as Little Chute, Wisconsin, and into the world of opportunities and a busy lifestyle. Or so I thought. Looking back, it wasn’t the busy life that I was after, because I get plenty of that as a college student. As for opportunities, it is a privilege attending higher education; to be able to learn and grow intellectually and socially.
What I really wanted was a place where I might connect with others, where I was welcomed despite my differences— a place to call home. I believed a bigger city could do that for me. But when I tried on a slightly bigger city than Little Chute, it wasn’t the right fit for me. All the people I have met and befriended are great people; it was the place itself that left me feeling like I needed something different. But what is a place really?
The place one inhabits is as important as any aspect of becoming a member of that community. When I transferred to UW-Stevens Point, I already knew that I would love it here. For one thing, I liked the emphasis on nature that the campus encompasses and the tranquility it provided. In all, UW-Stevens Point surpassed my expectations as a welcoming and safe campus. However, there is still much needed to improve the community as a whole.
Currently, I am studying overseas in Vietnam in Southeast Asia. I am conducting research on my Hmong people in Sapa, a beautiful district surrounded by mountains…mountains of mountains that climb into the horizon. Immediately upon my arrival in Sapa, I felt the welcome of a cool mountain breeze and the lively sounds of locals and tourists chattering and walking about, and I watched as people gathered in the center square. I felt as if I could really settle down here.
My biggest barrier however, is the language. Not only do I not speak Vietnamese, but many locals do not speak English. This can cause miscommunication and, because I do not know the area, opportunities to become lost in directions. There are no English words to be found on the street signs and when the occasional sign in English would appear on a shop or building, I took it as homage to enter, even if there were no English-speaking persons there. This experience has made me think about signs and places.
The Stevens Point community can work on being more inclusive to all groups of people. Since I am Hmong, I will use Hmong people as my example. The elders and non-English reading/writing Hmong people who come to live in an unfamiliar place like Stevens Point for the first time will be confused and at a loss of confidence in themselves. As refugees, they are already displaced from their homeland and entering a new and unfamiliar place. It would be helpful to have signs written in Hmong to direct Hmong speakers to different places. Not only that, but signs that have Hmong writing on them would be more welcoming (i.e. shop and street signs).
Also, there are ongoing struggles among the Hmong youth who sometimes feel or are accused of losing their identity and the traditions of the Hmong culture. If we can synthesize different cultures and promote positive education and discussion about Hmong culture and multiculturalism, Hmong youth can learn to embrace and love their culture along with the cultures of others. Signage can also promote Hmong youth to learn their own language and help close the widening language barrier gap between Hmong American youth and older generations.
Not only would signage give the opportunity for non-English speaking Hmong people to feel included and welcomed, signs and symbols open doors to conversation on other cultures. As a long time resident of Stevens Point, Qeng Lee stated, “I think we (Hmong residents and students) need to put ourselves out there more, which in turn will help with inclusivity, etc. They know who we are, but we don’t give many opportunities for the community (on and off campus) to really connect with us…We need to continue these discussions and invite people to ask more questions.”
I now realize that I do not have to change my location to reach my goals. I can start here, in my community of Stevens Point which reminds me a lot of my own home town. This blog is my outreach to my fellow citizens, community members, and passers-by; let’s continue this conversation so that we can have a better future for our community and for all of us.
Thank you to all the collective voices who contributed to the discussion and blog: Kasheng Lee, Mai Lee, Qeng Lee, Austeen Yang, Charlie Yang, and Cindy Yang.
— You Chi feng Lee is currently a senior at UWSP. She is a Philosophy Major and double minor in Anthropology and Biology. She is also a dancer and choreographer producing many of the hip hop and Hmong traditional dance routines enjoyed at HaSEAAC Taste of the Mountains and other community events.