There and Back Again
I was an 11-year-old Hmong kid living in South Sacramento when college became real for me. I remember how students from UC Davis and Sac State came to the school I was attending — Susan B. Anthony Elementary School. They encouraged us to go to college and gave us awesome swag! I took that message to heart. I wanted to go to college, achieve big stuff, and become an example for my family and for my community.
Little did I know that 15 years into the future, I would be back in my elementary school again.
I accomplished my goal of going to college at Cal Poly Pomona, and graduated with a bachelor of science in food and nutrition. While there, I’ve discovered my motivation comes from helping others, and having a direct impact on people’s lives. One of my goals was to come back to my community and make a difference. I didn’t know when or how I would, but I knew that was something I wanted to do.
That opportunity presented itself when I discovered the Food Literacy Center. Through their Food Literacy Corps, an Americorps program administered by California Volunteers and sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service, I got the opportunity to work with Food Literacy Center as a Food Genius instructor, inspiring elementary school kids to eat their veggies though nutrition and cooking classes. When I learned that Susan B. Anthony was among one of the schools we teach, I looked forward to getting the opportunity to go back.
Returning to elementary school as an adult, I noticed that things are a lot smaller than I remembered! And I finally got to see how the kitchen looks from the inside.
I was encouraged that the after-school Start program was still there, and through that program the students get the opportunity to have food literacy. I was in the Start program as a child, and remembered the great people who volunteered their time and skills to teach us. That program gave me experiences I may not have had otherwise. I’m honored that I get to return that act of service to the next generation by getting to teach them and give them knowledge about food and nutrition.
The best difference I noticed was that the school was now a Hmong-dual language program, so when the students found out I too am Hmong, many of them became interested. I was relatable to a lot of the students; I look like them, I speak their language, I can relate and understand the cultural foods.
They wanted to know why I was there. I told them I went to college and learned about food and nutrition and I came back here to help them learn about how to eat healthier. As soon as they learned I had a college degree, I had gained their respect. I am now a role model.
One of the best things I ever did with the success I have is going back to the very community that instilled the idea of achieving great things and inspiring the next generation to do even greater things. Now every Tuesday I look forward to the “Nyob Zoo!”, which means “Hello!” in Hmong, from the Jr. Chefs who may one day become Sr. Chefs and even more.
Cindy Yang is a certified Food Genius and a member of the Food Literacy Corps. She teaches food literacy in 4 schools per week. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition.