Justin-Tou Ya C. Hang K’18 sits behind a camera in Hicks Student Center, gazing out the window across the quad. He wrings his hands, searching for the right thing to say.
“My parents set me up so well,” he says. “I don’t want to fail, but I’m still kind of finding out who I am and what I want to be.” He laughs, looking up from the ground. “It’s a lot of pressure, for sure.”
Hang is Hmong-American: his parents and grandparents are part of an ethnic group that spans China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. At K, he majors in Biology, plays football, and is an active member of the Asian Pacific Islander Association. But his family, and his heritage, is always in the back of his mind.
On Saturday, Dr. Safoi Babana-Hampton, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Michigan State University, traveled to Kalamazoo College to interview Hang for a sequel to her first documentary film project, Growing up Hmong at the Crossroads. The film, which follows two Hmong families as they travel to their homelands, also seeks to study young people who identity as Hmong-American. She joined Hang and his family on a trip to Laos and Thailand, where his grandparents and parents are from, and now she seeks to understand his life at K.
“I’m interested in how his Hmong identity impacts his daily life,” says Dr. Babana-Hampton. “The purpose of the film is to show a culture that is very different from American culture but shares many American ideals.”
She, and research assistant Jack Weyhrich, followed Hang through campus, making stops at the weight room, Saturday’s Men’s Basketball game, a study session in Dow, and APISA’s annual Asia Fest, in which Hang participated in a Filipino dance.
During interviews, Hang spoke of how his family’s trip to Laos and Thailand influenced his desire to study Public and Global Health.
“Seeing kids in an orphanage, I really wanted to help,” he says. “I’m just a helpless college student, like, what can you do? I just want to excel here so I can give back to my community.”
Dr. Babana-Hampton says she hopes to bring a screening of the film to K’s campus when the it premieres in Fall 2016. Information on the film, which shot on location in Laos, France, and sites across the Midwest, can be found on their official website: hmc.cal.msu.edu