My name is Thong Kham Vang (Ywj Pheej).
I would not say that I have one singular passion, but perhaps several aspects of my life that I am passionate about. These passions align and represent parts of my multiple identities. If I could summarize my passions in a few words, I would describe it as healing, education, and liberation. I want to believe that I pursue these passions through several facets.
As an educator, I stand for educational equity, abolishing the school-to-prison pipeline, and creating college access for historically underrepresented students in higher education. In my day-to-day role at BUILD, I provide services to 12th grade students in the college and career readiness program. I utilize my interpersonal skills to support them with processes around college applications, financial aid, and planning college-to-career pathways.
With roots in activism and community organizing, I believe that each individual/community is an active agent of change and has the power to change the narrative of their own lives. This can only be achieve by providing the critical space for our communities to actively participate in the transformation of their own world. I pursue this passion through opportunities provided by my communities and the several spaces I am involved with. I get the privilege to give speeches, lectures, and facilitate workshops around community building, critical pedagogy, mindful meditation, nonviolent communication, and sharing the social discourse of the Hmong people.
In addition, spoken word poetry has been a tool I have used for personal liberation and over time has grown to become a passion. I grew up speaking English as a second language and turned to popular culture and rap music to learn English. Eventually, I learned that rap was essentially rhythm and poetry, which sparked my interest in exploring other forms of poetic elements. As a result of this, I discovered spoken word poetry. It became an outlet for self-expression and I have continued to write and perform spoken word poetry until this day.
Although it might sound cliché, I want to believe that my passions chose me. These passions are a direct reflection of my own realities and the continual struggle for personal growth, community development, and liberation.
It was as if we left a war torn country
just to find ourselves in a war torn neighborhood.
Instead of the refugee camp officers,
we now faced the militarized local police.
The daily food rations from non-governmental organizations
was now substituted with monthly government welfare checks.
Instead of the shacks made of wood and rusty metals,
it was now the section 8 housing ghettos.
— Soulspired, Diasporic Aspirations
As a 1.5 generation, Hmong refugee-immigrant, my multiple identities is much more complex than anyone will ever be able to understand. It was challenging to be displaced and then raised in an environment where institutions failed to meet the basic needs of what our nation’s systems promised it was built to do. It got extremely frustrating! Therefore, I wanted to dedicate my energy toward services that would keep me connected and grounded in my roots.
Although some may see my bravery or courage to engage in activism and advocacy as a manifestation of my male privilege or college education, and sometimes it may very well be, I know that staying true to myself keeps me grounded.
I get the privilege of being able to collaborate with the communities and spaces I am a part of to give academic lectures, public speeches, and facilitate workshops. These opportunities give me a space to share personal narratives, engage the people in critical dialogues, and create new learning experiences. A few highlights include the following:
- Sacramento Young Feminists Alliance, Guest Speaker and Facilitator
(Building Community in the Context of Systemic Oppression)
- Inspiration for Scholars of Higher Education, Keynote Speaker
(Hmong and Higher Education)
- UC Santa Cruz – College Nine, Guest Lecturer
(Migration/Immigration in Southeast Asia – Discourse of the Hmong)
- UC Santa Cruz – Hmong Student Association, Guest Facilitator
(Building Community, Nonviolent Communication)
- Asian Resources, Inc., Guest Facilitator
(Education as a Tool for Transformation)
One of my recent poetry piece is titled, Sea Breeze. This piece is very different from my previous work. I was inspired to write Sea Breeze because I was going through some challenging times in my life. I was trying to understand the complex relationships in my life. I was coming to terms with my personal identities. Most of all, I was trying to reflect about my personal values, aspirations, and individual purpose. I want to believe that this piece instills hope in individual worth, despite the barriers, obstacles, and challenges a person may face.
You can check out Sea Breeze at the link below:
Although I am unsure of what the future holds, I am currently working on some personal and professional goals. A personal goal of mine is to continue writing in different capacities, whether it be journalism, blogging, poetry, free-writing, etc. My professional goal is to gradually start moving towards work in higher education and possibly pursue something related to academic advising or student services and affairs.
The meaningful relationships I build on this journey truly allows me to continue pursuing my passions and aligning with my purpose.
It can be challenging to be the first in your family or community to pursue dreams or goals that are outside the norm, but make sure you are not the last. Make a genuine effort to uplift others higher than yourself as you climb.
You can follow more of Thong’s amazing work and lifestyle here: