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Gazing On The Self and Beyond

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Grant Horst, Staff Reporter

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On Wed. April 26th, Dr. Vincent Her, UW-L professor of Anthropology held a presentation titled, “Gazing On The Self and Beyond: Rethinking Transnational Migration, Southeast Asian Village life, and Global Identity.” In this presentation, he discussed his migration at the age of 12 from his home country of Laos, his experience with Hmong people in Thailand, and his experience going back to Southeast Asia after 38 years.

Dr. Her retraced his footsteps to Southeast Asia during UW-L’s winter break with his wife to reconnect with his family, attend research sessions, and tour ethnic Hmong villages. His main question during this voyage was whether or not cultural borders seem impermeable as an educated American who left his own village. He discovered that in some places, he seemed like a foreign being, other places, he was treated with respect and kindness.

Dr. Her had major differences visiting Southeast Asia now than when he lived and grew up in that area. When he first initially left Laos, his family was near illiterate refugees with a great willingness to plunge into the unknown which landed his family in Wisconsin. Now, he was educated, literate, and modern but during his visit, the cultural dislocation was still evident.

Her stated, “Even walking around as an Asian man I still felt out of place, and was treated as such. I identify as a Hmong American and the locals could notice the difference very easily,” Her expands, “Overall, the Hmong ethnic villages were very comfortable talking and interacting with tourists, some even run their businesses off of tourists.”

Her gave his thoughts on similarities between Hmong and American culture,  “There are a lot of similarities between our core values and strive for success. In Hmong culture, we pursue money, wealth, and prosperity along with education and prestige,” Her elaborates, “Global consciousness is at an all-time high. We must be aware of our own identities and how these identities interact with others.”

The culture and way of living is vastly different in our society vs. Southeast Asian society.  Dr. Her commented on the aspect of culture shock,“It was shocking to see so many tourists now near the places I grew up, we didn’t see as many back then. For one, my wife thought it was ridiculous that food vendors set up as early as 5 A.M. in some places.”

Dr. Her ended the presentation with an array of pictures from his travels. He visited national parks, important temples, and monuments, as well as local Hmong tribes during his two-week stay in Northern Thailand and Laos.

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