HICKORY, N.C. – Srina Hang can relate to the language and cultural barriers this area’s growing Hmong population faces in dealing with financial institutions. Hang is a first-generation American. Her parents escaped Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War when the Hmong, who had supported the United States, became targets of anti-American forces as the conflict ended. They settled in Seattle, where Hang was born. Today, Hang and her husband live in North Carolina where approximately 4,500 Hmong live and where most work in textile mills and furniture factories and are eligible to join Telco Community CU. Hang works as a teller at Telco – perhaps translator should also be part of her formal title. Once Telco Community’s Hmong members discover she speaks Hmong, they quickly turn to her for help with their transactions. Hang recalls growing up in the United States with parents who spoke little English. “When you need help with your homework, it’s hard,” Hang says. “But the longer you stay in the school system and learn the language, the easier it gets. As you’re learning to read and write English you’re trying to teach your parents.” Hang can appreciate the difficulties that can result from not being able to speak and communicate in English, and this lesson is not lost at her work at Telco. However, the fact Hang speaks Hmong does not overcome all the language hurdles. “There are different dialects,” she explains. “About half (of the Hmong) speak the green dialect and half the white dialect. I speak green. When somebody speaks the white you have to listen very, very hard to what they’re saying. Sometimes they’ll listen to the way I speak and say, `Oh, you don’t speak our dialect.’ I’ll explain I speak the green dialect, and they’ll speak the green dialect back to me. It works out perfectly.” But assisting Hmong members means more than knowing the language. It also involves overcoming cultural differences. The idea that members own the credit union and have a vote really doesn’t seem important to the Hmong. “They’re not really big into that,” Hang says. “For some of them this is their first time putting money into a bank or credit union. They don’t trust it yet. They trust the old way of keeping money at home in a safe or a strongbox under the bed. Then they learn they can come here and get their money any time, just as they would at home. “The biggest obstacle is trusting how we operate. We go out to festivals and explain to them what we’re all about. You have to reach out.” -

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