Woman in Wisconsin tells Hmong shoppers on Black Friday to 'speak the language'

APPLETON, Wis. — A Walmart shopper here approached two women on Black Friday, admonishing them to "speak the language" as they talked to one another during what is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill.

Jasmine Xiong, 22, of Appleton was talking to her mother in Hmong when a woman approached and told both of them: “If you live here in America, speak the language.”

After the unidentified shopper spoke to the women for a few minutes, Xiong began recording.

“I was really shocked and upset and offended that she would say something like that,” Xiong said Monday.

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About 50,000 Hmong, who first began arriving in the United States in 1976 as refugees from the war in Vietnam and Laos, now live in Wisconsin, according to the 2010 Census. It is the country's third largest concentration of Hmong after California and Minnesota; about 250,000 people of Hmong ethnicity live in the United States.

By Monday afternoon, the 1-minute, 7-second video had attracted more than 300,000 views on Facebook and had been shared about 3,800 times. The woman who made the comment isn’t identified.

Xiong said she began recording near the end of the exchange to show her family and friends what she had experienced.“It really took me by surprise,” she said.

It's not the first time a Christmas shopper has lit into other apparently immigrant customers. Last year at a JCPenney in Louisville, Ky., an unidentified white woman aimed an expletive-laced tirade at two Hispanic shoppers waiting in line to check out.

Xiong said she didn’t expect her video would be viewed so many times. Now she regrets she wasn’t able to capture more of what happened.

“I’ve never encountered something like that,” she said. “I never thought I would.”

It's impossible to say if this incident is a result of a political climate in which some feel emboldened and not being politically correct was part of a major candidate's campaign, said Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor.  

"It's hard to say that about any one incident," he said. "It's sort of like asking, 'Is the warmer weather this week due to climate change?' 

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"Yes and no, there are daily fluctuations that are hard to explain but the long-term trend appears to be a product of climate change and rising temperatures," Burden said. "So I think if we think about the Trump era in that way, there definitely is a rising temperature in that the election of Trump has emboldened some people to feel more comfortable saying things to groups they think are not American enough because of skin color, language, country of origin, dress, anything else."

Contributing: Alison Dirr, The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent. Follow Chris Mueller on Twitter: @AtChrisMueller