Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Learning, Leadership and Change

First Advisor

Delores E. McNair

First Committee Member

Rod P. Githens

Second Committee Member

Laura Hallberg


Since 1975, over 1.3 million Southeast Asian refugees have resettled in the United States from the Southeast Asian nations of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (Office of Refugee Resettlement, 2014). Many Southeast Asian refugees fled their home countries after the Vietnam War to avoid political persecution. As a result of forced migration, Southeast Asian refugees experience high levels of psychological distress attributed to premigration trauma and postmigration. Stressors may include adjusting to a new culture, finding housing, establishing employment, financial hardship, learning a new language and the feeling of identity loss of their homeland. In considering these stressors, this study sought to understand how a lack of access to affordable healthy food may be impacting Southeast Asian refugees’ social, mental, and physical health. Using basic qualitative research, nine structured participant interviews were conducted. Findings suggest one way to alleviate some stress for refugees was to increase access to culturally congruent food. Additionally, increasing economic opportunities and transportation services were identified as critical to improving access to healthy food options. The theoretical framework that guided this study was resilience theory. This framework brought to light the hardship and stress experienced by refugees. I then used it to outline ways that community gardens may build individual resilience to overcome personal hardships through social support structures. The findings highlight the importance of resettling refugees in communities close to families to build individual resilience and the need for refugee resettlement practitioners to continue to offer resettlement support beyond initial arrival to the United States and until economic self-sufficiency is achieved. Additionally, four central themes emerged from individual stories of each participant’s perceptions of how food access impacts their social, mental, and physical health. The four themes were: (1) postmigration traumas create hardships among Hmong refugees, (2) poverty and physical and mental health disabilities impact food access, (3) food cultivation is deeply rooted in the Hmong culture, and (4) gardens build social communities and give hope. The study also uncovered two unexpected findings. The first was the strong cultural belief in natural healing using herbal medicine known as “tshuaj ntsuab Hmoob” or Hmong green medicine, and, secondly, the prevalent cultivation of Hmong herbal medicine plants in the gardens. For practitioners developing housing for resettled refugees, creating green space for refugees to cultivate their traditional green medicine is vital to Hmong refugees’ identity and culture. One way to provide such access would be to incorporate green space into resettlement housing arrangements so refugees may cultivate fruits and vegetables native to their home countries. Creating green spaces for refugees may help to preserve their rich culture and empower refugee communities to practice their cultural beliefs and traditions.

Lastly, I conclude the study with a proposal for development of a nonprofit community garden called Garden of Hope. My vision for the Garden of Hope is to address findings of this study through program services, which may increase access to culturally congruent food and promote individual resilience through entrepreneurship. The goal is to teach refugees how to grow and market their organic fruits and vegetables to local restaurants and or sell them at local community farmers markets. Addressing postmigration stressors for Southeast Asian refugees through the Garden of Hope may improve individual economic mobility and uplift improvised communities through entrepreneurship.