King Xiong has become the first Hmong male elected an ASUC senator at UC Berkeley. Xiong was endorsed by the progressive Asian-Pacific Islander community to run, and through weeks of hard campaigning, the votes came through for him. Being a part of UC Berkeley’s rich, cultural diversity, Hmong students are one of the few ethnic groups whose history and culture are unfamiliar to a majority of the campus.
The Hmong — a nomadic, persistent and adaptable group — consist of communities that reside all across the globe ranging from places such as Canada, Australia, France and the United States. They walk by unnoticed because of an oral history and culture that was never documented or mentioned in textbooks.
The group’s oral history traces the Hmong back to ancient China, and as people of the highlands, the Hmong periodically moved wherever there were open fields to roam and farm. Unfortunately, in the 1970s, the Hmong people came upon an event that changed the course of their lives: the Vietnam War — known to Hmong communities as the “Secret War.”
Hmong families were forced out from Laos and lost their rich cultural possessions as they crossed the menacing Mekong River toward safety in Thailand. Many Hmong families were separated or died during the harsh journey, and the ones who survived were placed in numerous refugee camps all over Thailand. Hmong families, experiencing trauma from genocide and poverty in a land they could not freely roam, could only rely on the immigration passage to pursue freedom — the American dream known worldwide.
King Xiong’s family was one of many that experienced the tragic war. Born in Phanat Nikhom, one of the refugee camps in Thailand, Xiong immigrated to the United States with his family when he was just about three months old. Raised in a small town in northern California, Xiong was the first child in a family of eight who chose to leave home to attend a UC school. But as a family-oriented person, Xiong initially found it difficult to adjust to the Bay Area city life.
When addressing the importance of having a Hmong male senator, Xiong described barriers the Hmong community faces in higher education and in society — countless stigmas Xiong himself has experienced as a Hmong male. In the traditionally patriarchal Hmong culture, Hmong men inherit the responsibilities of creating a family or taking care of their family, because their masculinity is depended upon in these small communities. Many Hmong male struggle to stay on the path toward a successful higher education because of these obligations. Xiong, who identifies as a 1.5-generation Hmong American, is determined to surpass the limits of the stigma on Hmong males while at the same time preserving his culture.
Though Xiong is the first Hmong male ASUC senator, he is the second Hmong senator to be elected. In 2008, UC Berkeley had its first female Hmong senator, Stephanie Yang. These two moments in UC Berkeley history are a big leap for the Berkeley Hmong community, the size of which makes it a bit difficult for its members to represent their voices on campus.
“It’s a humbling experience, but when I reflect on it, it is very monumental,” Xiong says. “Even if it wasn’t me and it was another Hmong male, it would still be monumental.”
Now a fourth-year political economy major with a minor in education, Xiong is excited to serve the UC Berkeley communities and initiate cross-cultural events that will promote more awareness and understanding of various issues that different communities face.
The Hmong community makes up less than 1 percent of the thousands of students at UC Berkeley. Belonging to one of the smallest communities at UC Berkeley, Xiong aspires to leave footprints on political and social grounds for Hmong students who are soon to become future college students and leaders.
Maxie Moua is a second year at UC Berkeley and the education coordinator for the Hmong Student Association at Berkeley.