Excerpt from an interview with: Autumn Keltne
Interviewed by : Cuba Miller
Date: April 16, 1999
MILLER: Well, the second wave came two or three years
later. [Chuckling] Can you describe the refugees that came in the second wave,
in terms of social skills and literacy levels?
KELTNER: Mostly Cambodian fishermen and/or Lao Hmong
hill people, most of whom had had little or no education whatsoever in their
own countries. The Lao Hmong did not even have much of a written language to
learn to read their own language, had not even been exposed much to print material
in any way. Many of them did not even realize that if you put a piece of paper
in front of you, that was something you should be getting … could be getting
meaning from. So it was a major, major difference in teaching that had to be
brought in immediately.
MILLER: We didn't have many teachers that were capable
of teaching that pre-literacy level either.
KELTNER: That's very true. We had never been exposed
to doing that kind of thing. And then, of course, these people also had not
been exposed to living in a city, they knew nothing about using sanitary facilities,
kitchen equipment, rest room facilities. So there was a whole other area where
they had to have instruction to be able to learn how to cope with the things
in a city.
MILLER: Or what clothes were appropriate to wear.
KELTNER: Everything related, because you either had people
who'd lived on the rivers or people who'd lived in the hills.
MILLER: So, Autumn, bringing someone in at that level,
the Hmong hill … how many years of instruction before they would reach an
intermediate level of what we call basic competency?
KELTNER: Unfortunately, some never did, never have. Many
of them learned fairly quickly the basic rudiments of language and were able
to cope at, I would say, a beginning to high beginning level, and plateaued,
and are still trying to master beyond that today. Many, particularly with the
Hmong, moved into the Central Valley, and that area is still heavily impacted,
high unemployment for that population. Now the second-generation coming along
seems to be doing very, very well, no problem. But for [those original] people
and the shock to their lives, I think it was just such a culture shock and a
mental shock to them that they weren't able to cope with it.