Oroville's Hmong Cultural Center Has New Home

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Hmong elders make cards for the traditional "new harvest" celebration. (Photo: Rachelle Parker)

Hmong elders make cards for the traditional "new harvest" celebration. (Photo: Rachelle Parker)

As reported here earlier this year, Butte County is home to about 10,000 Hmong. Now the Hmong Cultural Center of Butte County, the group that serves them, has a new home. Seng Yang is the director of the Center, located in Oroville. She says Hmong elders are benefiting from a new service, the Zoosiab Program (pronounced zhong-shee-uh).

With the new program and location, Yang hopes to provide many hours of restful and mentally healthy recreation for Hmong elders. In addition, it will house an after-school study area for Hmong youth to help them excel in school, and hopefully lessen the chance that they will become involved in gangs.

In its previous space, the Hmong Cultural Center shared one large room with the California Health Collaborative. Now the Center has many rooms where people can meet privately. "This place is much better than our last location," Yang said. "The separate rooms are better to speak with people confidentially."

Yang's goal is to be able to provide recreation for the elders in order to keep them from isolation in their homes. Some of the recreational activities he wants to provide are story time, sewing time and movie time, as well as what he calls "survivor" classes, including English classes. But survival for Hmong is more than just English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, Hmong also need to learn about American culture. For example, healing in the Hmong tradition is achieved without pharmaceuticals, so people need to learn how to read the prescription instructions on a bottle of pills or how to understand a doctor's orders.

In this video, Chong Thao describes with the Center means to him. He came to Oroville in 2004.  His comments are translated by Nikki Thao, a clinician and therapist at the Center who is also a relative of his.

Ms. Thao also explained that the Zoosiab Program is quite innovative because, traditionally in the Hmong culture, someone with a mental illness is not viewed as being sick but as being "special." Thao says some people who westerners might think of as mentally ill may be considered a good shaman in the Hmong culture. Depression also is not seen as a mental illness, according to Thao. She explains that it is seen as "environmental" or temporary.

Thao's position and all the programs for the elders are funded through Butte County Behavioral Health with money from the Mental Health Services Act.

Tomorrow's post will feature a look at the Cultural Center's new programs for teens.

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About Rachelle Parker

Rachelle Parker was born in Oakland, California and raised in the Bay Area. Her grandmother moved to Oroville in 1960, resulting in Rachelle spending many summers and holidays in the area. Rachelle moved to Oroville in 2003. A graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in Sociology, Rachelle is a winner of the Judith Stronach Prize for prose, and contributed a story to The New City magazine in 1999 under the tutelage of Clay Felker. Rachelle has worked off and on as both a print and broadcast journalist since 1980, and is happy to bring her love of writing and her concern for her community to the task of being a citizen correspondent for KQED’s Health Dialogues.

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