Meet Ya Yang, Honors Graduate7 min read

By Xeng Moua

First of all, I want to apologize to my parents for sharing my story to the public, because it has caused many people to make negative remarks to them. I know that after this interview, there will be more negativity coming towards our way. At first, I hesitated to participate in this interview because of the negative feedback. However, after receiving numerous messages from parents with a child who is deaf/hard-of-hearing, I contemplated and decided that I should participate. Sharing my journey is not about me. It’s an opportunity to address that deaf people absolutely struggle – especially in the Hmong community.  -Ya Yang

My name is Ya Yang (Zaj Yaj), and I am 20. I was born in the Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp. My family resettled in the United States in the mid 2000s. No one is sure if I was born with a hearing loss or if it occurred later in my life since I was not born in a hospital. I never had a hearing test done until my family arrived in the United States.

I have seen many Otolaryngologists, and they all said that there were no problems with my ears. They said that a severe sickness could have damaged my ear nerves which caused me to have hearing loss. I was told by my parents that I was very sick as a baby, and no one thought I was going to survive.

Growing up there were many obstacles that I’ve encountered due to my hearing loss. I will focus on the two main ones. Obviously, the biggest obstacle is not being able to hear like normal people. This is difficult because education is a huge priority in my life. I wanted to be educated like other students, but it was hard because I don’t even know what the teachers were saying half of the time.

I hear them talking, but the words are not clear to me. When I was accepted into my dream school, UC Berkeley, I looked at the class sizes and it was huge. I don’t remember the exact number, but I felt intimidated that I was not going to be able to learn in an environment where there were so many people. I had to turn it down and chose UC Merced, a newly-established university where the class sizes are smaller and can accommodate my needs.

The second main obstacle is handling the comments from society. It’s hard to function like a decent human being when everyone is constantly telling me that I can’t do this or that because I can’t hear. It’s saddening and painful when I’m always looked down upon or made fun of. I remember a few times where I almost killed myself because of how society has treated me due to my disability.

There’s no unique way that helped me to overcome these struggles and society’s treatment of me. I just learned to be comfortable with myself. I accepted the fact that I cannot hear like most people. I admit that it is embarrassing to accept myself for who I am, but this is the truth.

I am not going live in guilt for the rest of my life, hiding an aspect of me, a part of me that there’s no need to be ashamed of. It’s not like I did anything bad. As I learned to embrace myself, I became comfortable with who I am and started to care less about the opinion of others.

My parents have always been my mentors. Although they are illiterate and do not speak English, they have always been there for me. They always push me to do my best and believe that I can accomplish anything I desire. And of course, my advisors, teachers from my younger years, and professors have always supported me. My parents always told me that the reason why we’re poor is because they are uneducated. This definitely encouraged me to work hard in school, because I want to change our financial circumstances.       

I will be graduating from the University of California, Merced. My majors are Public Health and Psychology. When I listen to someone, I focus on the concept – instead of all the words they’re saying. This has helped me a lot since I can’t hear. Even though I don’t hear all the details, I’m able to grasp the main idea. I like to make notes in my readings, because it helps me to retrieve the information that I’ve read.

After I graduate from UC Merced, I would like to pursue graduate school and become an epidemiologist. I’m very interested in analyzing the causes of diseases and examining data. However, I will see where my life takes me.

I don’t think there has been any major rewards in my journey because I still have a long way to go in my educational career. However, I do appreciate having the opportunity to do research with professors, the Chairs of the schools I’m in, Deans, and the Chancellor at UC Merced. I’m also grateful to have worked with a former member of the Canadian House of Commons.

I enjoy playing badminton and watching Netflix. I also love writing poems! At the age of four, as an illiterate little boy, I started creating poems within my mind and saying it out loud. Poetry is definitely a passion of mine.

My advice to those struggling to achieve their dreams and living with disabilities is I want every single one of you to know that you should never give up on your life or dreams regardless of what happens. You are very precious souls here on Earth. I know that it’s hard, but don’t give up.

There will always be people out there limiting you, but don’t listen to their nonsense. Those who bring you down are “low people” and want you to be with them at their level. Be around “high people” who support you to become a better version of yourself. Believe in yourself, even when no one believes in you.

 It’s your life, and you’re the one who can distinguish the differences between right and wrong. Show everyone that they have no right to treat you differently just because of your disability. The only way you can do that is by accomplishing your dreams.

If you don’t accomplish these dreams, they will continue to look down on you. They will always have that feeling of superiority. The United States has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but we are certainly not protected from discrimination. So, we have to be mentally prepared for the harsh and cruel realities of society. Lift our heads, and show them what’s up!

Tsis txhob tu siab nawb mog. Tu ib txhia los ho tseg ib txhia thiab os. Txawm luag saib yus twb tsis muaj nqis npaum tej niag dev tuag tom kev, los yus tsis txhob tuaj yeem swb. Yus xav hais tias yog neeg ib yam es luag ua tau yus yeej ua tau. Luag txawm yuav muab yus thawb ntog lawm ob peb teeg, los yus sawv tsees rov hlo los. Yus xuj kom yeej thiab qhia rau lawv hais tias yus yeej muaj peev xwm ib yam li lawv thiab. Yog hais tias koj nyoo lawv lawm, ces lawv yuav muab koj tsuj nthi li tej niag av tom kev mus tas nrho koj ib sib neej

To get in touch with Ya Yang, feel free to check out his Facebook page at


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Seng Alex Vang

Seng Alex Vang

Seng Alex Vang is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at the University of California, Merced. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Geography & Ethnic studies at California State University, Stanislaus where he teaches courses in Asian American studies.

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