MILWAUKEE — Annie Vang was two years old when her family came to the United States as refugees.
Like many Hmong families now living in America, Annie and her parents were forced out of their cultural home in Laos after the Hmong people sided with the U.S. in the Vietnam War.
“They left behind everything to start a new life here, to try and live the American Dream,” Vang said of her parents.
As refugees fled Laos following the war, stories and histories were lost because Hmong is historically an oral language and only recently became a written language.
Vang explained that nothing was written down, especially during wartime, and everything was lost.
Vang’s family spent time in Laos before moving to Iowa. She lived in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin as a child.
Today California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are the states with the largest Hmong populations in the United States.
Vang remembers feeling the need to integrate as she grew up and settled in her new country. However, Vang began to lose touch with her roots and lost connections to her history.
She explained that English was the predominant language she learned in America as a child. As a result, her identity as an Hmong American grew up and she lost her ability to communicate.
She realized that the United States offered many opportunities to reconnect with her roots and she took advantage of the skills and knowledge gained while living there. She is now an iOS app developer and web developer and created the HmongPhrases phone application in 2011. The app was updated in summer 2021 to include more features.
“I saw a gap. Vang explained her motivation to create the app.
HmongPhrases has many sections. There are phrases, words and sounds as well as flashcards. Annie recorded her voice to assist users in learning correct pronunciation. It also contains both green and white Hmong Dialects.
She said it’s important to preserve and record the Hmong language because “it’s critical for identity purposes, being able to communicate. It is important to tell our stories.
Vang hopes that non-native speakers will also use the app to learn more about Hmong culture.
It’s exciting to hear a non-native Hmong speaker speak it to me. They’re learning and are curious. She said that she is willing to learn and share what I have learned.
“It’s just to teach Hmong recipes and Southeast Asian recipes,” Vang said. It serves the same purpose that I created HmongPhrases.
The apps allow her to connect with her past and keep the nearly 260,000 Hmong Americans in the US and nearly 50,000 in Wisconsin in touch with their roots.
“I wanted something that I could connect with that was easy for me to share. This is the app that includes recipes as well as the language application. It’s something that I made using skills I have learned in America.
Sarah McGrew at TMJ4 first reported this story.