Dr. Theon Hill and Daniel Yang on a Hmong Awakening and a Revolution of Values: Two Experiences of Local Demonstration Against Injustice

Image: Photo by Daniel Yang

Dr. Theon Hill is Assistant Professor of Communication at Wheaton College. Daniel Yang serves as Director of the Send Institute at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.

From Daniel Yang:

When I watched the video of George Floyd lying face down with a white police officer’s knee on his neck and an Asian police officer supervising, I immediately thought two things: 1) “God, not another unarmed black man dying at the hands of police” and 2) “Lord, the Asian police officer looks Hmong.”

It was. And he was.

I sometimes think Hmong people have an almost spiritual sense when it comes to recognizing other Hmong people. In speaking with my Hmong friends who saw the video, they too immediately thought he was Hmong.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to know that another injustice was compounded onto the surmounting hurt and pain the African-American community was feeling, now, we were seeing a part of ourselves reflected in this police officer’s lack of intervention and complicity.

The day after the video came out, I contacted Dr. Theon Hill to process this with him as a race scholar. Not only is he a friend and Wheaton colleague, but he’s also a fellow resident in Aurora, IL, where, just two nights ago, our city experienced a long evening of protests which ended in rioting and looting.

In our email exchange, I realized there’s so much about American racialization that the Asian-American conscience, Hmong in particular, is being awakened to at this moment.

These are complicated feelings for a people group that have fresh wounds from our own recent war-torn history.

Yet, despite these feelings, many of us join the sentiment of my friend Der Lor, who’s a Hmong pastor in a multi-ethnic church in the Twin Cities. This weekend, he marched in solidarity with a sign that read, “Hmong Americans for Black Lives.”

I don’t mean to take attention away from George Floyd and the countless other African-American lives threatened or lost by gross and excessive authority. But I’m sharing a little of what it looks like for a small Christian refugee community to enter into this American crisis—the coming of age for Hmong-Americans and perhaps other Asian groups.

We are a complex group composed of people and structures that have been complicit with an anti-black bias. But we are also a group composed of many who are sensing and (imperfectly) responding to divine invitation to be advocates and allies.

On Pentecost Sunday, I gave a message from Acts 2:17-18 entitled “Holy Spirit and Teenagers Dismantling Anti-Black Bias.” My congregation was a group that I’m most accountable for as a Christian leader—my five children. I interpreted the events of this week as God summoning them to their purpose as Spirit-filled children of refugee immigrants sent to America. And because our Hmong history includes sustained periods of marginalization and oppression, I admonished them that our empathy towards African-Americans should be extremely high as well as our sensitivity towards the anti-black bias that exists both in our society and within ourselves.

I expounded Peter’s understanding of the coming of the Holy Spirit rooted in the prophet Joel’s call for deep repentance and divine justice. And by the end of my sermon, I couldn’t help but dream a dream for them: God has placed my children in America for such a time as this to be prophets from the margin, working to dismantle anti-black bias and racial prejudice in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

My dream, and by the Holy Spirit’s prompting, their vision.

Two nights ago, I participated in the demonstrations in Aurora, IL, where both Theon and I live. What started in the afternoon as a peaceful demonstration quickly changed into rioting and looting by evening. Joining me was another Hmong brother named Pheng, who serves on the board of a medical mission called Mission Possible in downtown Aurora.

We walked. We prayed. We chanted. We held a sign that read “Asians for Black Lives.”

We near wept at the passion of the young protestors.

Many were focused on their mission, but others had no vision. As the evening devolved, Pheng and I continued our prayer walk declaring God’s protection over demonstrators, law enforcement, and local businesses, many owned by minorities.

We felt led to pray down LaSalle Street where we walked by a jewelry store whose windows had been freshly shattered. All of its merchandise now out in the open for looters. But it was if we were directed by the Holy Spirit to be there at that exact moment. So we stood watching in front of the store warding off looters until the manager and owners arrived. The manager was a black man and the owners were a black and white couple.

When I came home late last night and recounted the evening’s events to my children, we prayed for our city and ourselves. We repented from the anti-black bias that had become so ingrained in both the American and Hmong culture. But we also felt more resolve for why we had been given the Holy Spirit, and for why we are a part of this small Hmong community in our city of Aurora.

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Source: Christianity Today