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 displaced from their cultural home in Laos after the Hmong sided with the United States in the Vietnam War.
“You left everything behind to start a new life here to try to live the American dream,” Vang said of her parents.
When refugees fled Laos after the war, stories and stories were lost because Hmong is historically an oral language and only recently became a written language.
“Because many centuries ago, and especially during the war, not everything was written down, everything was lost,” said Vang.
After leaving Laos, Wang’s family lived in a refugee camp in Vietnam before moving to Iowa. She moved around the country growing up and lived in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Today, California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are the states with the largest Hmong populations in the United States.
Vang recalls that she felt the need to adjust as she grew up in her new home. But with that she began to lose her mother tongue and the connection to her own story.
“When I grew up in America, English was the main language spoken here, so I started losing my identity as a Hmong American myself because I was unable to communicate,” she said.
So she decided to use the opportunities and skills that life in the United States gave her to get back to her roots. She is now an iOS app developer and web developer and has the Hmong sentences Telephone application in 2011. In summer 2021, she added even more functions to the app.
“I saw that there was a gap. And I wanted to preserve the language for the younger generations too, so that I could speak to the older generations when they leave us, ”said Vang about her motivation to develop the app.
The HmongPhrases app has several different sections: phrases, words, sounds, and flashcards. Annie recorded her own voice for the app to help users learn correct pronunciation. The app also includes both Hmong dialects; green and white.
She said it is important to preserve and record the Hmong language because it is “critical for identity purposes, in order to be able to communicate. Our stories need to be told.”
Vang also hopes that non-native speakers will use the app and learn more about Hmong culture.
“I find it really exciting when a non-native Hmong speaker speaks it to me because I feel like they are learning and curious.
“It’s just about teaching Hmong recipes and Southeast Asian recipes,” Vang said. “It’s the same purpose that I developed the HmongPhrases app for.
Now both apps not only help you connect with your story, but can also help the 260,000+ Hmong Americans across the country and nearly 50,000 here in Wisconsin keep in touch with their roots.
“I wanted something that I could easily connect to and that was recipes and also the language app that I created using the skills I discovered and learned here in America.”
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