Chukou Thao, executive director of National Hmong American Farmers, immigrated to Fresno, CA with his family at age 8, after Laotian citizens were granted asylum in the US after the Vietnam war. Many of the first Hmong farmers suffered from discrimination, so Thao left his "cushy" job at the city of Fresno to ORGANIZE his community in a fight against injustice.
Using the experiences of community members, Thao has grown NHAF to promote economic development, training and assistance to create positive social change in his community.
This lesson addresses the following Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies and you can have students look for these issues and examine them in themselves.
Self-awareness: Chukou Thao recognizes the injustice happening to the Hmong community and realizes that he has the ability to help fight for those that are unable to speak for themselves.
Self-management: Chukou Thao gives up his “cushy” job to help organize and push for fair treatment of Hmong farmers.
Social awareness: Although Thao did not experience the discrimination directly, he is personally familiar with the life of a Hmong farmer because his parents were also farmers. He realizes that to combat this discrimination he must help get the Hmong community to unite and organize.
Relationship skills: Thao is able to unite the Hmong community and create NHAF as well as effectively speak to people that can help their cause.
Responsible Decision-making: Thao works through peaceful and constructive methods in dealing and fighting the discrimination and injustice he sees.
1. Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):
- As a class, discuss what the term discrimination means. Who does discrimination happen to? Why do you think people discriminate against others?
- What kinds of discrimination have immigrant groups faced in the United States?
- Describe a time when you or maybe someone you know experienced discrimination. How did it make you, or the person you know, feel?
- Have you personally ever seen someone else being discriminated against and spoken up or intervened on their behalf? Describe your experience and what happened in the end.
- Think of someone who has fought on behalf of those who have been discriminated against (e.g., Rosa Parks). What injustice(s) did they see and what did they do to fight against them?
2. After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt) :
- Discuss what the term upstander means and discuss whether you think Chukou Thao is or isn’t an upstander.
- What discrimination did Chukou Thao see, and what did he decide to do about it and why? He said he does not see himself as a leader, but he just sees himself as “a person who sees things and wants fairness and equity.” What do you think?
- In what ways did Chukou Thao help local farmers? What activities did the farmers do to improve their lives?
- Discrimination may not directly affect you, as is the case with Chukou Thao. What are the risks Chukou Thao takes by intervening? What risks are you willing to take?
- Does discrimination happen in your own school or community? As a class, brainstorm types of discrimination that you see and then describe a few ways in which you can help combat this discrimination in your school and/or community.
1. Research the Hmong people in Fresno, California. What is their history in the Central Valley? What kind of discrimination did Hmong people experience? What kinds of organizations were created to fully engage Hmong people economically, culturally and socially?
2. Hmong people are among many different immigrants from Southeast Asia. Research the countries in Southeast Asia and the immigrants from those countries.What were the different reasons people from Southeast Asia came to the United States? What experiences have these immigrant groups had in the US?
3. Chukou Thao is an organizer in his community. Have the students explore the skills of community organizers? Have them find out about community organizations and organizers in their community and make a directory to share with families at the school.
By Geraldine Divina and Becki Cohn-Vargas