Lena Lee

Credentials: Languages: Hmong, English

Position title: Graduate Student, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at UW-Madison? How does language intersect with your work or your studies?

I graduated from UW-Madison in 2020 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a certificate in Asian American Studies with a HMoob American Studies Emphasis. I am also a proud PEOPLE alum! During undergrad, I was student researcher/intern at the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research (WCER). Our research investigated the sociocultural and institutional factors that influence HMoob American student experiences at UW-Madison. Currently, I am the Office Manager and Event Coordinator at the Office of Undergraduate Advising (OUA) where I get to work with wonderful campus leaders, advisors, career services, and learning support staff. I’m also a graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis with a focus on Student Affairs in Higher Education.

How do you feel your languages contribute to your  personal or professional identities?

Hmong is both a language and a group of people, which tells me that language is tied to being human. It’s part of my core identity and I bring everything it entails into every space I enter.

How do you feel your languages contribute or add value to your work or studies?

When I was a student researcher, Hmong was essential to our study. English was very limiting to our understanding of Hmong student and alumni experiences. Using Hmong helped us understand the depth of our participants and their lived realities at UW-Madison. Now that I’m a staff member, I get to offer different perspectives and critical knowledge in professional spaces where Hmong isn’t often represented.

To what extent do you feel others on campus value your languages in the context of your work/studies at the University?

Even though we’re the largest Asian group in Wisconsin, I don’t think many people on campus know about Hmong people and language. Hmong language is taught at UW-Madison and there are Hmong courses offered too, but Hmong student activists had to fight for the creation of these courses. Does the University as a whole value Hmong and other languages if students had to fight for these courses to exist? I’m not sure, but I’m fortunate to work in a unit and to be part of a graduate program that values my Hmong identity.

Have you experienced/observed linguistic prejudice or discrimination? If so, could you describe what happened?

Yes, on both ends. Hmong elders shame Hmong children for not speaking Hmong, but Hmong children are trying to survive in a racist system that prioritizes English. How are we supposed to navigate between being shamed at home for not speaking Hmong and being shamed by different systems/people for speaking Hmong?

How does linguistic diversity add to the richness of the various communities you navigate?

Linguistic diversity is connected to cultural diversity, which brings in a wealth of knowledge and perspectives to the communities that I navigate. Despite speaking different languages, we often find a commonality between our cultures and language. However, it is our differences that spark interesting conversations and allow me to learn how others navigate and understand the world we live in.

In what ways do you believe the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community?

We need to recognize that knowing more than one language is a strength. We see it as a strength when it comes to white folx, but not when it comes to BIPOC folx, who are often the target of language discrimination. Seeing it as a strength that benefits everyone would be a great way to recognize the value in linguistic diversity.