Kouei Siong, who has returned to his family's California farm with dreams of upgrading the business, sees himself as not just Hmong, but Hmong-American.
Dressed in a red plaid shirt, jeans, and dusty boots, his brow beaded with sweat, Kouei Siong looks every bit the American farmer. Sitting in the shade of his family's roadside produce stand here in the Central Valley of California, he can see his family's 20-plus acres of berries, tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, chilies, and eggplant fanning out in orderly rows beyond the parking lot.
Farming is his future, a way of fitting in here in America, Mr. Siong now believes – even if he spent much of his life trying to avoid it. He remembers all too well the teasing that came with being the teenage son of Hmong immigrant farmers in the Central Valley in the late 1990s.
"The white kids would always mock the Asian kids," he says, shaking his head. "You know, 'You guys are a bunch of farmers, a bunch of dumb kids, a bunch of immigrants.' That was tough."
After studying business administration at Fresno City College and working as a corrections officer for the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, Siong, now 31, has come back to the family farm, and he's not planning on leaving anytime soon.
"It isn't like it was when I was younger," he says, explaining that working the land and being his own boss became more important as he grew older. "Hey, I'm not ashamed of it: I like being a farmer."