While writing my mid-point blog post, I had just begun my fieldwork on the Hmong people. Now that I have completed my internship, so much has happened that I would love to share. While the Plymouth fieldwork certainly included the challenge of approaching people with questions, talking to Hmong people greatly expanded this challenge. As a result, I became a much more confident researcher and person overall. I learned so much about the Hmong culture and language, and met so many interesting people; each with their own stories and backgrounds.
The most important breakthrough, which my professor was very excited about, was my finding Flats Mentor Farm, where multiple Hmong families farm for themselves and their families as well as sell produce at local farmer’s markets. After speaking with the woman who manages the farm, she felt as if I would be respectful of the farmers and she gave me permission to come to the farm to speak with the Hmong farmers. This was very interesting because most farmers were first generation Hmong people who came from Laos or Thailand 10-20 years ago. They provided me with valuable information on the differences between home and living in America, and it was interesting to hear their views on living in the US. They also told me how they felt about their children growing up here, and how it has affected their culture. I made sure to visit the farmer’s markets weekly where they sold food, so that I could continue to build on the relationships.
Besides finding the farm, I also reached out to people through organizations such as the United Hmong of Massachusetts and even through Facebook. I attained a number of interviews this way, most of which were recorded. It was often tricky to balance respect with getting information about the culture, but I felt as if I learned how to do this pretty well. I always made sure that the person felt comfortable and to let them know that if they didn’t want to answer a specific question that was completely fine. In the end, it always seemed like they wanted to share their culture with me, because they realize that people in the US don’t even know much about them. I was even invited to a lunch on the last day of my internship, which was a number of Hmong people meeting, many for the first time, who had found each other on Facebook. I felt included and it was nice to know that they appreciated my interest in their culture, rather than felt offended by my questions or lack of knowledge.
Knowing that I’m going back to Brandeis in only a few weeks, I am excited to share this experience with others and to continue to grow from it. I am planning on taking multiple Linguistics classes, and to build more on my Linguistic knowledge, as up to this point I’ve focused more on Anthropology. At one point during my Hmong fieldwork, researchers were trying to finish up the first project at Dartmouth, and they asked me if I could complete a large amount of acoustic analysis. This came during a very busy week for me and they were very understanding when I explained that I wasn’t sure if I could complete all of what they asked of me. However, during the small amount of free time that I had, I sat down and did it all! My professor was extremely pleased and appreciative, and my work really helped them to finish up in time. I felt as if I was a great help to the project, and while doing the analysis I realized that my technical skills had really improved. I hope to build on this at Brandeis in my Linguistics coursework.
Even though I have completed my internship, I plan to attend the Hmong New Year festival in the fall, as multiple people have invited me. This relationship with the Hmong has become a long-term interest for me, not just something I work on for one summer. I have built connections that will last longer too, many of which are valuable connections not just for myself but my professor, as well. If someone continues this project as an intern at Dartmouth, I would just advise him or her to work hard and really go with any connections they find. I found many of my informants through other people I had already met, but in the beginning especially, I had to do a lot of research to find the organizations or people. It was certainly an internship where I had to discipline myself, but this has only added value to my experience and shown me that I can in fact work through the challenges I face. In terms of the field, it is also one that includes a lot of self-discipline, especially when finding informants to interview. During the first part of the internship, learning and performing acoustic analysis can be tedious but is well worth it when you realize that you added data to a real research project. This has been such an enriching summer, so if you are someone who feels like you can motivate yourself to work hard and are excited to meet people and learn about a new culture, I say go for it! _ Alex Patch ’14