I am not Hmong; And I don’t speak Spanish!

hmong-1

A few of years ago, Dear Spouse’s niece exclaimed, “Auntie, I know how to say door in Spanish.”“Dora, the Explorer” was one of her favorite children’s television shows at that time.  I wondered if she had learned that from “Dora.”

“How?” I asked.

Qhob rooj!”

I gasped in surprise,  “That’s not Spanish!  That’s Hmong.  And the correct way to pronounce it is ‘qhov rooj.’”

Two years ago, the same niece got offended when I told her that she is Hmong.

“I’m not Hmong.  I’m American and I speak American,” she stated.

She does have a point; she is American.  She was born here.  She lives here.  She goes to an American school.   She learns about the American culture, history, and language at school.  But she can’t deny the fact that no matter how American she wants to be, she will always be Hmong.  Even if she labels herself as “American”, others are going to label her as either “Asian (Asian American)” or “Hmong.”

My spouse’s is not the only one.  I have witnessed too many small Hmong children who are ignorant about their culture.   Too many Hmong children don’t speak their native tongue and don’t even recognize the Hmong language when they hear it.  Too many Hmong children don’t know what the essence of being “Hmong” is about nor do they have pride that they are Hmong.

Who is to blame for ignorant Hmong children who believe their grandparents speak Spanish?  Who is to blame for Hmong children refusing to claim their heritage?   The parents.

Growing up, I didn’t have cable TV or watch American movies like my peers.  My mom bought Hmong movies and Asian movies dubbed in Hmong for my siblings and me.  If it weren’t for those Hmong movies, I believe I would’ve lost my ability to speak Hmong a long time ago.

My mother taught me how to do cross-stitch embroidery when I was 8.  We would spend every year embroidering new clothes for the Hmong New Year.  And once New Year came around, my mother would not hear that I did not want to wear the new Hmong clothes she sewed.  No matter how much I complained, I ended up going to the Hmong new years in our traditional clothing.

KLS was a very popular Hmong band during my pre-teen and adolescent years.   Like many other Hmong girls who crushed on them, I learned how to read and write in Hmong by singing along with the lyrics that KLS generously provided along with their albums.  It’s funny because I can’t even remember the band member’s name whom I crushed on.

These are just a few examples of how much I was immersed in the Hmong culture growing up.

My baby sister is very different from me.  We have the same mother, same family, almost same living environment as children—except for that, my mom stopped trying to “Hmonganize” us in my late teens (My sister was 6/7).  I guess, my mom just accepted the fact that we are in America and no matter how much she tried, our traditions are slowly melting away in this huge melting pot.  And because my mom stopped trying, my sister hardly understands when anyone speaks to her in Hmong.   And like many Hmong children nowadays, she doesn’t want anything to do with the Hmong culture.   All she sees are the negative aspects of our Hmong society that stick out so much more than the rich and beautiful culture hidden underneath.

JLNXX

My child in Miao clothing during Hmong New Year in Fresno, CA.

That is why now; I try my best to immerse my children in our Hmong culture so that even though they see the negative, they know that there is also a positive.  I teach them as much from my knowledge as possible.   I speak to them in Hmong 90% of the time.  I introduce them to Hmong movies and Hmong music.  And once they’re older, I would love to enroll them in a Hmong class as an elective.

Whenever my children have questions, I try to answer them to the best of my abilities.

“Mommy, nws ua dab tsi nab (what is that person doing)?” my older one asked when she saw a Shaman for the first time.

“Oh, he is called a Shaman.  And the little table he is jumping on is his horse.  He is traveling to the spirit world,” I responded in Hmong.

“Why does he do that?”

“Because they just had a baby in this family.   They are doing it for the baby and the mommy.”

“Oh.”

It’s hard to hold onto our native culture when we live in America.  We, especially our children, assimilate too fast to the mainstream American culture.  I am trying my best, as a mother, to make sure my children get the best of both worlds.  I want them to know at least something about their culture, even if it is just to be fluent in Hmong.

I know that learning and speaking English is inevitable.  I worry that once preschool and kindergarten comes around, my child will lose her ability to speak Hmong (like many Hmong children I know).  However, just because I don’t speak English to my children doesn’t mean I am preventing them from learning English.  In fact, my older one has started speaking English from observing everyone around her.  And when she does, if her grammar is incorrect, I correct her. “It’s ‘Mommy, is that mine?’ Not, Mommy, that mine?”

I am cherishing the days when my child would rather watch Hmong movies over cartoons.  When she sings Kwv Txhiaj and carries her kawm around.   I know they will go by fast because I have already started to see the changes.

I don’t want my children to be ignorant of their ethnic culture.  I don’t want them to say that they’re not Hmong and that they don’t understand “Spanish.”  Too many Hmong children don’t know what Hmong is.  I am proud that my daughters knows how to speak Hmong and loves to be Hmong.  Little kids may ask me why my oldest is speaking “Spanish” to them.  I just laugh and reply that she is speaking in Hmong, not Spanish.  Grown-ups may say that my child is very MTT (a FOB)** , but I just shrug and say, “I didn’t know that was a problem.”

**(Because someone asked).

MTT stands for “Hmoob Thaib Teb (Hmong Thailand).”
FOB stands for “Fresh off the boat.”

A FOB is an immigrant who is “fresh off the boat” and is ignorant or not up to date with the mainstream culture or not “Americanized.” It is sometimes used as a derogatory term. MTT means the same thing, only except that it is a specific term for Hmong people.

165 thoughts on “I am not Hmong; And I don’t speak Spanish!

  1. I agree with you. It is extremely important for your children to learn about and understand their culture even though they are growing up in America. You should never lose track of where you or your family comes from.

  2. (I logged on today, and your blog post appeared at the front!!) Anyway, I think it’s interesting how your niece said that to you. I had a situation that involved Dora as well. I was at the grocery store, a few years back, and this little neeg dawb kept pointing at me. He was probably 3 or 4, and his dad looked over at me, and was like, “Yeah. It’s Dora.” I thought to myself, if he had said Mulan or even Jasmine, I would have felt a little better, BUT DORA? WHAT?

    Not only is it important that we remember and continue to learn about who we are, our rich Hmong history and culture, but I also think it’s important to educate those around us. Everyone seems clueless, ignorant. && I’m super glad that you’re keeping the culture, language, alive for your children! I applaud you, because like you, I don’t ever want to forget who I am as a Hmong person or forget the stories of how older generations came here to America. And heck, whoever calls your daughter a FOB, definitely can’t understand that just because we’re in America, it doesn’t mean we have to lose our own culture, language, and tradition to be an American.

  3. I totally agree with you. I have a cousin who use to get so insulted and repulsed when people asked her if she’s Chinese. But all that changed when she came back from a business trip to China a few years ago. She’s always renounced her ethnicity at home, but in China… she said that there’s no denying it. She regrets her attitude now and a lot of the things she said; especially now that her children are enrolled in Chinese school and she can’t help them with their homework.

    • MB says:

      I know a woman who hates being Hmong so much that whenever someone asks for her ethnicity, she claims she’s Chinese. It’s pathetic. But I’m glad your cousin came around. You cannot hide who you are. You’re just going to have to embrace it.

  4. I think what you’re doing with your daughters is great :) Even if they let go over time, they’ll still know about their culture andhopefully pass it on to their children.

  5. addidesu says:

    Please please PLEASE keep your daughter speaking in Hmong and immersed in the culture. I myself am 4th generation Japanese American (great grandparents came to the USA in the late 1800′s) and because of the events of the war, most of the grandparents (3rd generation) tried to Americanize their children (my mom, 2nd generation) as much as possible.

    The result: an entire generation that cannot speak Japanese, with only a few exceptions. Now, there seems to be a movement for us 4th gen kids, because many of us have been making strong efforts to re-learn the language, myself included. But so much time has passed that the culture in Japan has moved forward, while the culture in my grand parents’ heart is like a photograph in the past, and we might never get those traditional customs back.

    So keep doing what you’re doing, teach your daughters, make sure they know that they should be proud of what they have and who they are! :D

  6. Thanks for your personal story. Your daughters will thank you one day.

    Even if children/adults lose their mother tongue fluency (as I have due to simply ravages of assimilation in Canada. I’m a Canadian-born Chinese.), it is very useful for children to become comfortable in social circles where other family members can speak a 2nd language and know the immigrant struggles.

    It is built-in sensitivity training for the long-term. I have seen this with several of my nieces and nephews, some who are Chinese-Caucasian and now great young adults themselves.

  7. Such an insightful post :D I, too, think that it is important for us to learn about our own culture. I did not realise it when I was younger, just plainly “brainwashed” into learning my own language. Am I grateful that I can speak it now! I’m sure your daughters will feel the same one day :)

  8. Keeping hold of our cultures is what makes America what it is today! My mother is from Italy and my father is 3rd generation Italian-American. I always regretted them not teaching me the language besides the slang.

  9. lycons says:

    LIVE WITHIN TWO CULTURE WAS DWELLING
    I AM IN INDIA, WE DON’T HAVE SUCH CHANCES TO LIVE IN TWO WORLD , IF SO I WOULD BE HAPPIER.

  10. This is a great (and so insightful) post. My children attended a school that was filled with kids who had come from other countries. Often, those children, because they were being acculterated very quickly, were the ones who communicated with the outside world. The parents took much longer. The result was that within only one generation, there was a wide rift. It takes an effort on the part of each generation to bridge that. BTW, I have read about the Hmong culture. Hopefully, it will not be lost!

    • MB says:

      You are right. I am a first generation Hmong. My parents and I immigrated to the US in 1987. Even though it is just one generation, there is a very wide rift. And I am making the effort, as well as my mom, to close this generation gap.

  11. What you are trying to do for your daughter is a beautiful thing. Although growing up I wanted to be like the other kids, but now I feel without a culture. Being American is wonderful, but being 3rd generation American I feel like I’m missing something. My grandparent were from Germany and wish that they never let their use of German die.

  12. my mother and her italian relatives didn’t want us kids to learn italian so they could talk trash or whatever and us kids wouldn’t have a clue. my wife’s hispanic relatives did the same thing. of course, that was back in the 50′s. traditions are fine and teach the language as well.

  13. This is great! Cultural background is a significant part of one’s identity, and your children will thank you in the future. My parents are Ukrainian immigrants from Poland who have never stepped foot on Ukrainian soil. They came to Canada, where I was born. They taught me to speak Ukrainian fluently and I feel very close to the Ukrainian culture – not only because I speak the language, but also because I understand my background, the history, the culture and have a place in the Ukrainian community here. I consider myself Canadian-Ukrainian and I believe that both elements are significant parts of my identity – if I don’t understand my family’s history, how can I fully understand myself?

  14. Kudos to you for trying to preserve your culture with your children. Good luck with your endeavors!

    I’m sure there are other books out there, but The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a good book that brings to the light the culture clashes that existed between the Hmong and American cultures, especially in the medical setting. I think pressures such as these helped to fuel the lost of the Hmong culture in America.

  15. This is the problem that plauges not just Asians growing up in America but other cultures as well. Asians are underrepresented in white society. Men are seen as inferior while the women are hypersexualized. Many Asians growing up in American society tend to have no cultural identity. They are at a crossroads of overly trying to be a white american or a black american. Too many are stupid and just follow suit. Learn to love yourself but that’s what the media does to people.
    These kids have no culture. Adapting to American society. Whatever you do marry an American speak proper English your still what you are. No escaping things..

  16. Mitsuo says:

    As sad as it is, we lose our culture (in terms of language/food/etc.) as the asian-american and other cultural generations expand in North America. Being Japanese Canadian, I will use this ethnicity as an example, seeing as they were the first of the orient to immigrate into North American.

    How many Japanese Canadian/American youths do you know, can speak Japanese? How many Japanese Canadian/American youths do you know who are fully Japanese? How many Japanese Canadian/American can actually cook Japanese food?

    Chances are your answers were “no, none, and none.” While I recognize myself as a Japanese Canadian, I also know that I’m not truly Japanese, I’m Canadian. Cultures assimilate the longer they stay inside another culture that they immigrated to. Generally, it’s the first and second generations who can speak fluently and know all about their heritage. Once you move into the third and fourth generation, you see a major drop off of their heritage. Knowledge of their ancestry goes down, understanding the “native” tongue goes out the window, and God forbid cooking. While it’s great to know where you come from, it’s impossible to keep that historical aspect because generational gaps get further and further apart.

    Yes, keep the culture within the family for as long as possible, but it’s hard not to avoid the assimilation of becoming an American or a Canadian or wherever else you immigrate to. The only way to keep your culture forever in the family is to stay wherever it is you moved from, but sometimes, that isn’t the best of options.

  17. inkgwen says:

    It is extremely difficult to keep your culture alive in America. Kids are bombarded by American standards of being “cool,” and just to fit in and avoid being made fun of because they are perceived as different, they try to conform as much as possible, and sometimes that means denying their culture.

    I remember growing up as one of the only spanish kids in my entire school and hating it!! I felt so different. I was ashamed of speaking spanish (although I knew how and my mom spoke it in the house). But, once I outgrew those insecurities (somewhere between middle school and high school), I embraced my differences, and my culture and was very proud of it. Also, very glad that my mom didn’t give up on teaching me my culture and incorporating it in the home. :)

    I think you are doing a good job in keeping that balance for your children. Teaching them your culture primarily, and nurturing their learning of the American culture as well. Because they will learn the American culture/language. It’s inevitable. But no one will teach them your culture. So, it is up to you! :)

    Nice Blog. Thanks for sharing.

  18. My mom told me one day that I was an “ABC” (American-Born Chinese). Before I started school, I knew my native language but once school started, I quickly lost it. Part of it had to do with the negative perception with speaking a different language other than English. I didn’t want my peers to think I was “dumb.” My parents spoke to us in Chinese but we always answered back in English. This is why I can understand better than I can speak. Keep doing what you are doing with your kids. One day they will come to appreciate their unique and rich culture. Growing up is a difficult time as we try to be accepted by mainstream American society. It is often not till we are grown do we realize how lucky we are to be part of a ethnic or racial group that has history. Unlike the 70′s when I was growing up, America is changing and much more acceptive of minority groups. Congrats on Freshly Pressed and love the photos! LB

  19. Janis says:

    It’s great that you’re retaining good stuff from your culture. We southern Italians lost a lot of ours, mostly because of the war, and partly because we just came from such poor, unpleasant circumstances in Italy that none of us wanted to hold onto it.

    But coming to the US means bringing the best of your own culture with you to enrich this place. It’s a shame not to be able to do that. I wish I could do more than swear in Neapolitan, and I can’t even learn it because the only Italian anyone can learn nowdays is the schoolroom northern stuff instead of the redneck Neapolitan my family spoke.

    Being American doesn’t mean leaving oneself behind — it means bringing the best of your culture with you to enrich our shared one. It’s good to remember who you are. I don’t think that people who don’t have immigrant family members can grasp that; they just expect you to reject your family like it’s nothing, all in the name of pretending to be a Brady Bunch American. Rejecting one’s family history is not an American value in my book.

  20. This blog post reminded me of the movie “Gran Torino.” Hmm, I think I’ll watch it again today…
    By the way, it is nice to hold on to culture & traditions, but sometimes people need to become more diverse in nature without limitations, laws, and standards.

    The classical man is just a bundle of routine, ideas, and tradition. If you follow the classical pattern, you are not understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow — you are not understanding yourself.

  21. pumpkinsaenz says:

    You are doing the right thing. To let one’s children forget about their heritage would be a disaster and an insult to their ancestors. They should be proud of the rich history of their family & the land that they (their ancestors) lived in. While they may go through a period of wanting to “anglicanize” and assimilate themselves into American culture, they will eventually grow out of it and want to embrace their roots. That’s what happened to me, anyway…my mom tried her best when I was younger to teach me Spanish, much to my dismay. She dubbed me her little “MAP” – Mexican American Princess. She told me that there would be a time when I would want to learn more about my heritage, and she was right. I think as your younger sister grows older, it’ll happen to her as well. In fact, she probably already regrets not knowing Hmong as well as you do.

  22. I have to disagree with the majority opinion here: Culture is inherently arbitrary and there is no rational reason why the culture of the country ones ancestors came from should be of that great relevance.

    Certainly, the opportunity, when the parents are native or semi-native speakers, to learn a second language from a very young age should be used. Certainly, it makes sense to know enough of the parents, grand-parents, and foreign relatives culture to understand their points of view (and similar). Certainly, the individual cultures, in themselves, should be preserved.

    However, again, culture is arbitrary. Moreover, culture is changing and the culture of my (Swedish) parents is different from even that of my great-grandparents. (The Hmong may be more static, but the same principle applies—and will apply to a higher degree in the modern society, irrespective of geography.) If someone of Hmong, Spanish, Swedish, or Irish descent wants to be an “American” then that is his choice—and, conversely, if a European wants to dwell into Hmong culture then that too is his choice. (Provided, obviously, that he does not do so in an offensive or unduly intrusive manner.)

    In the end, trying to enforce a particular culture onto someone else, even with the best of intentions, is likely to be futile and destructive. (In particular, when more than one generation has gone by since migration and/or the parents come from two different cultures.) Provide the opportunity—and let others take or leave that opportunity, as they see fit.

    • Apple says:

      I actually agree with you. Myself a Taiwanese and Kiwi, I hate it when others ‘tell me’ that I’m not a Kiwi, and I also hate it equally when others ‘tell me’ that I’m not a Taiwanese. I also equally hate it when others ‘tell me’ that I’m a Chinese not a Taiwanese.

      At the end it is entirely up to me, and it should be entirely up to me to decide who I really am. It is not something that can be reenforced.

    • MB says:

      No, my parents, my brother, and I immigrated to the US when I was 2, almost 3. But because I was so young, it doesn’t really make a difference even if I was not born here.

  23. maggiebird says:

    A very thoughtful post, and thoughtful comments as well. I agree somewhat with Michael Eriksson’s post, that culture is arbitrary. I am 3rd generation German-American, plus a whole bunch of other nationalities and races thrown into the mix from family having been in America for hundreds of years (we don’t know the origins of half of them) and marrying freely, without prejudice.

    I don’t feel a kinship with any of those cultures, although I have discovered cultural similarities between my Appalachian family and rural Irish.

    I was raised in California. Although I never knew anything about my Irish great-great grandfather, I play Irish music; although I have no Spanish-speaking ancestors, I picked up street Spanglish as a second language (and am working on speaking real Spanish, a language I love). I feel more at home in Mexico than I ever have in Ireland. I certainly feel more at home in California than I ever have in Appalachia.

    For me, being American means accepting and enjoying all cultures, being interested, sharing, joining. But I guess that’s just my California culture talking.

  24. Congrtulations!

    You are a great mother. I really think the best you do is
    “to make sure your daughters get the best of both worlds”

    Keep this way…

  25. Sunflowerdiva says:

    I, too, am Asian, Chinese actually. I’m often faced with the expectation to learn Mandarin and be able to speak it, and to learn all about my Chinese history. But sometimes I just hate it all and wish I could forget about my Chinese ancestry completely. That’s not going to happen, so I’ve learned to deal. I know that being able to speak Mandarin fluently is a huge plus, and I know that I can’t be ignorant of my Chinese history. In a way it’s hard to be different from others around you, but learning to suceed at being different is what makes you unique.

    I really liked this post, as I could identify with you and your family, as I, too, have a mother who refuses to let me forget my Chinese background. Great job!

    • Chinese people are highly intelligent and very industrious. Be proud you are Chinese.

      I studied Mandarin, verbally and written, as well as their culture. I am not fluent, unfortunately.

      Did you know they invented gunpowder? Quite fascinating.

    • MB says:

      The Chinese culture is very rich. The Hmong people have a long history with the Chinese people, and while learning about the Hmong culture, I have learned many things about the Chinese culture and history as well.

      And you are right, it is very difficult to be “different” from your peers. We want to “fit in” and be “cool.” I went through that during my adolescent years, so I know exactly how you feel. Then I learned to just accept who I am. Whether you embrace your culture or brush it off in later years, just keep in mind that there are so many people out there who have lost their cultural identity and wish they were in your position.

  26. Did I miss what MTT and FOB meant?

    I agree. I believe children who have one or both parents who are multi-lingual by birth especially need to make sure their children can speak their language of culture. To be bi-lingual in America is a blessing. Besides, bi-lingual people are paid more in jobs that require another language than us mono-lingual people in the same job.

    • MB says:

      I should’ve been more clear on these terms. I didn’t expect to get Freshly Pressed or this many views and comments.

      MTT stands for “Hmoob Thai Teb (Hmong Thailand).”
      FOB stands for “Fresh off the boat.”

      A FOB is an immigrant who is “fresh off the boat” and is ignorant or not up to date with the mainstream culture or not “Americanized.” It is sometimes used as a derogatory term. MTT means the same thing, only except that it is a specific term for Hmong people.

  27. I think it’s so wonderful that you are keeping your culture so close to home and so much a part of your children’s lives! I think people of all cultures could learn something from you. I only wish my grandparents had been the same way (They were Norse but tried their best to Americanize their children).

    I applaud you and hope your children continue to learn and love your rich heritage! Thank you for the lovely post!

  28. Amazing!

    Well I do speak spanish and that’s not spanish at all ;) Also, congrats a lot for all the work you’ve done with your girls, I’m just glad that you share with us this profound reflexion about heritage and culture.

    Thank’s and have a nice day!

  29. Melody says:

    You go girl! I applaud you for teaching your children their heritage. I wish someone had taught me. I was robbed of my culture and have very few traditions. Without them my life lacks richness and meaning in many ways. Keep it up.

    -Mel

  30. I’m a first generation Chinese-American; born and raised right here in America.

    I grew up in an area with not a lot of Asian residents, so I faced a lot of ignorant and vindictive comments all throughout elementary school. I grew up sort of passively loathing my “different” appearance, and it wasn’t until recently that I’ve begun to embrace my culture.

    Thank you so much for that inspiring article!

  31. I’m Hmong too. I feel what you are talking about. Keep your culture. I hate it when people do that to me too. . . KEEP YOUR CULTURE AND KNOW THAT AS A HMONG PERSON, KUV HLUB KOJ. . .

  32. I am not Hmong but Native American. I was adopted and found my birth family at age 36. Untill then I did not know I was Native American. I have a rich heritage of which I have no idea what that heritage is! I think what you are trying to achieve is wonderfull. America is the so called “melting pot” so we should speak our native tounges as well as English. Todays society does not honor its elders, modern America locks up the elderly in rest homes and forgets their past. Who they are and who they come from.
    For me knowing where I come from is like coming home. Seeing my face in other family members faces. Experiencing the similarities that were thought of as odd by my adoptive parents now are normal. Untill you have no sence of who you are, you will be lost untill you find your history, your heritage. Bravo to you! You are admired. ~Enduring Heart ~ aka NurseWrachette

  33. Wonderful blog. Keep on teaching them and showing them. There is way too much value in any culture for it to be lost. I’ve lost a fair amount of history and heritage in my family because it wasn’t passed down or flat out denied, and those are parts of my life that I can’t get back.
    I think you are doing a wonderful thing with your girls and I hope that they appreciate you and what you are doing.

  34. Do you have international channels in Hmong? It could help your kid if you have that in your house. Koreans and Filipinos have international channels that target these markets abroad. i am a Filipino!

    • MB says:

      No, we don’t. We do have Hmong News TV and that’s about it. That’s why I try to get as many Hmong documentaries, movies, and music as I can.

  35. I think your focus on having your kids know Hmong and know your culture is really great. I know it’s not the same thing, but I’m a Korean adoptee (adopted as an infant), and one of my biggest regrets is that I don’t know Korean. Not knowing Korean–more specifically, not being fluent and not having been raised speaking it, since I’ve taken lessons–has possibly been the biggest factor in marking me as “other” and not “really” Korean. Kudos to you for teaching your children and giving them the cultural identity that they deserve.

  36. nearlynormalized says:

    Struggles, struggles and more struggles…What a place to struggle…Hmong, American, non Hmong, bottom line in life is to “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you and if you weep, you weep alone.” Hope you are not in Arizona.

    • MB says:

      LOL. Your comment made me laugh. And no, we are not in Arizona, thank goodness. We’re fortunate enough to live in California, where diversity is much more embraced. The other day, I found my naturalization document after misplacing it and I joked to my husband that I can now travel to AZ without fear of being detained.

  37. Good that you speak Hmong with your daughter and have preserved Hmong cultural traditions. Your children will pass these traditions to their friends and children one day. As to language, kids have so many social pressures in school that cannot fail to learn English. And funny that she thought Hmong was Spanish. Like English, especially in this country, kids get a lot of exposure to Spanish, and for little kids, depending on where they live, they might think there are only two languages – English and Spanish.

  38. I commend you for sharing your culture with your daughters! Although they may express resistance, I regret my beginnings were silently left in the past and my sisters and I feel compelled to research where our ancestors came from and what their lives were like. Your generous sharing will one day help your girls to understand more about what makes them unique and will give them a sense of identity.

    In America we all came from somewhere, but how sad that much of that knowledge has been lost! When I meet bilingual people in this country, I think how fortunate they are to still have a foothold in their in their roots. What a blessing, what a gift! Bravo to you!

    .

  39. santiveron says:

    (this is a bit rambly, i apologize!)

    greetings from argentina! (where we *do* speak spanish, by the way ^_^). i think you’re totally right about how you feel and you should be proud of yourself. reading your article reminded me of my Jewish friends and their activities (i’m not jewish myself, nor do i have relatives who are): i think there’s a culture who understood how to be a part of different cultures and how to keep an identity at the same time.

    and about dora: it’s funny, here she teaches kids to speak english. i guess she looks asian because she has indian (native “american”) blood; you know how some indians, eskimos and asians have the same kind of eyes – i think some people migrated from asia to america walking over the pacific ocean when it was a big chunk of ice, thousands of years ago. i always think that’s how david carradine (from “kung fu” and “kill bill”) looked asian but was 100% american.

  40. missdotcom says:

    Beautiful post. It’s wonderful that you keep your culture alive through your children. I’m a part of an indigenous group. Even in my home country, we occasionally experience discrimination and that’s why a lot of people I know become embarrassed of their cultural roots. Your post and what you’re teaching your children is very inspiring.

  41. The best that parents and relatives do is to transmit what they know and celebrate best to the next generation. Then leave it up to the children to take the best parts of the culture.

    I recognize that being a 2nd generation Canadian-born Chinese means what I know that is “Chinese” is different that what my parents knew 50 yrs. ago or what being Chinese means in China 20 yrs. ago or right now with its booming (polluting) economy.

    What people here must remember is that there IS a unique Chinese-Canadian, Chinese-American culture that is a blend of shared immigrant history, new Chinese words invented to reflect North American immigrant experience and as we all know, specific Chinese dishes invented in North America, not in China.

    I am feel blessed to be part of a world where I know myself as a Canadian of Chinese descent, that culturally I am different than a Chinese born and raised in the Carribbean or in Peru or in Germany or in Hawaii. There is some underlying commonalities but pretty thin, but a really rich history worldwide which shows how ethnic identity, culture and even language is transformed by local culture and the other dominant/official language of an adopted country.

    So I think a German raised in Canada is a bit different from a German raised in Argentina. I should know my partner is German-born but raised in Canada after he immigrated as a young boy.

    So in my opinion, a person’s world view is greatly expanded if they recognize the advantage of knowing a 2nd culture even if it’s not perfect/deep knowledge, in addition to their present mainstream culture and 2nd language.

    Got that all straight? Welcome to the world of bilingualism, biculturalism …the world opens up bigger and faster for you to explore if you are raised from childhood with all this.

    • nearlynormalized says:

      There are no strangers on this earth and what a privilege it is to be exposed to many different cultures and walk away with a smile of knowing the similarities are many and the differences don’t matter.

  42. Just to illustrate: my partner and I joke that there are elements of Chinese modern culture and German modern culture plus work habit tendencies for both that seem similar:

    hyperactive, technically focused, go-go-go and organized (if there is a will). I should know I worked for a German firm in Canada for 3 years. I could see the cross-cultural interactions and behavioural tendencies among the Canadians (like myself), Germans, Thai, Filipino, British and Americans. These were employees directly from those countries on work permits.

  43. I was born in the United States, but both of my parents are from Argentina. As a teenager, I visited Buenos Aires for the first time. I felt like I had come home. Everyone spoke the language of my parents. I knew the customs; loved the food. Then, upon my return to the States, I had another homecoming. I am grateful to have two cultures, two homes.

  44. My parents tried to bring me up as a proud Filipino but they themselves had also lost part of their heritage. It honestly could not be helped because of their treatment here when they came as immigrants.

    I feel the educational system must change to fit the understandings of where we are in the spectrum of US history. I am a college student who has recently learned about my Filipino heritage. My education before mentioned nothing of Asian immigrants or even about the true meaning of the civil rights movement. What I learned was about how white Americans did this & that and how it was best. When in reality, America has made so many historical mistakes that we have to learn from.

    One of the solutions to the assimilation mistake is exactly what you have mentioned in this entry, =) we must embrace our culture, not stifle it. Thank you for this wonderful incite.

  45. CC says:

    We had to read a book for my Master’s nursing class related to the Hmong culture that I found exceedingly interesting. It was the most interesting book I’ve read, to date.
    I guess I think about this in terms of my own culture. I am black, but pretty much grew up in an all white area. My mother will occasionally state that I don’t know my own culture well. I always think that I am not less black because I don’t know my culture, but I can see how that can disadvantage me in the long run. Teaching does fall to the parents, but sometimes it’s easier to let the greater culture slip in. I think if we gently and loving encourage our kids to learn our culture, they will do so willingly.

  46. i really loved your entry. it tugs at my heartstrings although i am a native living in my native country of the philippines. i guess i felt really affected because i know many of my friends who have migrated and have been negligent when it comes to loving one’s own culture.

    thank you for sharing your experience! i am glad that you’ve decided to teach your young daughter about the richness of your culture :-D

  47. Great post!

    And while I acknowledge that Mr. Eriksson is right to a certain extent, I think it’s MUCH harder to forget your cultural background if your very outside marks you as something of an outsider in BOTH cultures. It’s hard to just be “American” if I look different and have the subtle mannerisms and pronunciation of someone raised in an immigrant household. It’s also impossible for me to be just “Filipino” if I can’t speak Tagalog and have the expectations of a privileged American nineteen-year-old.

    Because of that, I think trying to understand where I came from (as someone who is fairly assimilated in American culture) has become important to me because as I’ve been growing up, I have realized that I AM different and proud of it. I’m bi-cultural and to deny the parts that are Filipino would be to deny myself.

    Besides, I want to know what my parents are saying. :-)

  48. Dear Jade,

    You are one lucky, little girl! You have a mother who cares deeply about you and wants to give you the very best of both worlds. I believe you will carry this heritage in your heart and that it will contribute to forming a truly tolerant personality in the future. The world needs more people like you two who understand the importance of integrating cultures.

    Best of luck!

    hugs from a Norwegian mother and her two kids in Spain.

  49. I think the more we let go of our culture, the better. When we can do that then maybe we will be closer to becoming individual human beings who respect each other on a human level, and see past differences.

  50. I’m African-American, and I say bravo to you! You’re doing an exhausting job with your daughter and other family members, but please please please, keep up the good work. Too many parents (either immigrants or children of immigrants) try too hard to “assimilate” into American life. What are we, the Borg??

    The beauty of America is that you can practice your own beliefs and traditions AS WELL AS American. The theory is also that you won’t be belittled in the process, but there are a lot of hypocrites out there.

    I had never heard of the Hmong culture before reading your blog, so thank you for educating me on it. I’ll do my own research as well on what looks like, if your daughter is any indication, a really beautiful, sweet group of human beings! :D

  51. Yenyen says:

    I like your clog story a lot. I also as a third generation on my country and feels sad that i couldn’t speak chinese as my mother language.. If i marry then definitely will teach my children about chinese culture too.

  52. I am from Providence, RI where there is a huge Hmong population. I couldn’t imagine anyone thinking they were Spanish speaking people. By the way, can you ship me some Hmong sausage to DC :)

    • MB says:

      I believe the reason behind the “Spanish” is that here in California, there is a very big Hispanic population. So, it’s either English or Spanish. And because Hmong children are ignorant of their culture, they think it’s Spanish.

      And Hmong sausages are good. The home-made ones are always the best.

  53. airwanderer says:

    Came across your post on the front page of WordPress and I just wanted to say, growing up and going to school, I didn’t think being Hmong was very cool. Not just un-cool, but not very respected or admired by others. As a kid, Hmong kids always seemed to be unambitious, not very bright, clique-ish, and a percentage of them were considered gangsters. I basically forsaked trying to be friends with any of them in school (or this could be because I held a grudge against my Hmong friend who left me to hang out with these other Hmong girls).

    That was the best decision for me at the time in high school because while I focused on AP/Honor courses, after school activities, ballet, etc., the other girls focused on guys, talking to guys, and probably about marriage. I think if there was a big prominent Hmong role-model in the U.S., things might have turned out differently for me.

    Also, I wanted to comment, I’m extremely GLAD some of the traditions of the Hmong world are phasing out. My parents are pretty darn traditional (they’re old), but at least they don’t covet their boys/my brothers more so than me. They treat us all pretty equally. They don’t make the girl do all the work either, they try to be fair in doling out chores.

    I’m glad you’re teaching your little girls Hmong in the possible unfortunate case in the future when the elders are trash talking about them in Hmong, at least they might be able to defend themselves. =)

    • MB says:

      You know, I never thought of being Hmong as uncool or not respected. I grew up in a small Hmong community in California. All I ever heard from other people was that Hmong children are very bright. And those who struggle in school worked very hard. It wasn’t until I was in HS that I ventured out of my little bubble and saw how other communities negatively viewed the Hmong people in those communities. By then, I didn’t care because I knew that these were just stereotypes.

      And if you read some of my other posts, you’ll see that I criticize many aspects of our Hmong society (eg, the patriarchal society, how women are viewed as second class, parental control, etc). I am teaching my daughters so that they are not ignorant of these practices. The wonderful thing about traditions is that you take what you deem necessary and leave behind the others. And that is what I’m doing with my daughters.

  54. pastorblastor says:

    While I agree with keeping a cultural history for your family, I do not totally agree with not recognizing your new heritage as well. Celebrate both and make sure your family understands that.

    Your family came to America for a reason – a better life than what you had in your old country. Mine did as well, many many decades ago.

    All countries can be ignorant and insensitive as to a person’s cultural heritage and many of us have experienced it while traveling. America has no monopoly on people’s cultural ignorance. What bothers me, as an American, is when other cultures come to America and want everyone else to acquiesce to their specific needs. I do not speak Spanish as my native language, although I do speak it, but I am irritated when I have to constantly pay more for a service or an item because the producer has to write all the ingredients, instructions, and titles in other languages. Or I have to wait longer in order to go through all of the instructions in other languages first. If I moved to Cambodia or Vietnam, I would have to learn the language and the customs quickly in order to survive within those cultures. It is true wherever we go and decide to live no matter what country.

    What we fail to realize is that most of us are bi-racial. Even the Hmong, at some point in time moved into the region they consider their “native” land, and were assimilated or assimilated other cultures. It is a fact of the world we live in and human nature.

    However, God bless you in keeping your history and heritage alive for your children. It is a treasure to do so, but also celebrate their new one as well with them.

    • MB says:

      I never said I wasn’t acknowledging my new heritage as well. Like I stated in my blog, I am giving my daughters the best of both worlds, Hmong and American.

  55. This is a great, unfortunate read. Losing ones culture is always side to me. I am African American with West Indian heritage so I see the culture loss two fold in the American melting pot. This story reminds me of a debate I had with a student. I work in an inner-city high school where the majority of the students believe that only Black people born in America, are really Black. They find it hard to grasp the concept that Black people can be from Brazil and speak Portuguese, from Cuba and speak Spanish. This conversation came up when an Ethiopian student introduced herself and the students were telling her that she wasn’t Black. Silly I know, but it just shows how lost people can get in this melting pot.

  56. I think it is so cool that your daughters know the Hmong language and culture. My great grandmother spoke her native language fluently, but did not teach it to her children or my mother. I wish I knew more about my families’ varied heritage, especially now that I have a daughter of my own.

  57. Wonderful story of you and your daughter. The Hmong culture is indeed a very special one. We first became aquainted with Hmong people in Northern Thailand about 25 years ago and now many live here in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. It is not an easy transition to “become” American being pulled both ways. Hard on the new generation and hard for the grandparents and perhaps hardest on the parents who are inbetween.

    Our son-in-law is from the former Yugoslavia, came here as a refugee 12 years ago. Our grandchildren do understand both Serbo-Croatian and speak some. Baba lives with them and only speaks Serbo-Croatian to them. I am sure they will learn to read and write Cyrillic.! Their daddy speaks both languages. He also speaks Russian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, etc.

    Our daughter only speaks English with them.

    They attend pre-school and kindergarten which is good. Melania also watches Dora and I am sure is picking up some Spanish. LOL as she does greet us with hola sometimes. Our daughter speaks French fluently plus Spanish and some Italian etc. So these children will have many language skills in the future.

    I think it is VERY VERY important to nuture the heritage of the generations. I am a 15th generation American. :-)

    Mary-Anne

  58. I do agree that parents have the primary responsibility to teach their children about their heritage. But it is definitely up to the child to have an interest in their culture and to keep on growing from it. Parents can plan the seed but the child need to nourish and grow it! Great post!

  59. I am a fellow WP Blogger and I happened upon your Blog and find it quite interesting.

    I am married to an Asian Woman and our son attends a school where the Media Specialist is a Hmong Woman who introduced me to the Hmong People. Before a conversation with her, on day last year, I had no idea who you people were…..Thanks for doing this Blog!

  60. Great post… I feel your pain. Keep up the great work and spread the knowledge of your culture and don’t let it banish. Many foreigners come to the west and suddenly step on their cultures in order to fit and identify; not realizing how beautiful everyone is.

  61. I so agree with keeping ones’ cultural in focus, but I deeply object to the many young people/families who come to the US and refuse to learn English and even demand schools be taught in their language. I know this is a touchy subject but I strongly feel when you move to another country you have usually choosen to be there and should learn the language.

    Obviously older people like grandparents it can be difficult to learn another language and overcome the differences. I am only making my learn English comment for those who are young, have children here and refuse to learn English. I hear it daily where I live in California.

    OK off my podeum. BTW when I travel to another country I ALWAYS learn some words in that language. (I have traveled to 71 countries thus far-often for my job)

  62. carole says:

    Stopped by your website because of “freshly pressed” page. I too want to encourage you to keep up the work with the kids’ biculturalism and bilingualism. I’m a translator and so envious of people who acquired a second or third language from their family life – it takes so much more time and effort to acquire later.

    I am British Irish, a term which I found didn’t go down easily in the US. There are plenty of cultural differences within the English speaking world is the point I want to make. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to an American friend’s comparisons of US/UK differences after her decade living in the UK, with both of us seeing ourselves as slightly not fitting – and that’s for 2 native English speakers! Outsiderness (not necessarily a bad thing) doesn’t have to come from visible ethnic difference.
    I’ve chosen to live in France. I translate from Chinese to English. I read books in French and Spanish. There are many combinations available to us, and they can lead to examination of subtle aspects of our identities (I use the plural on purpose) but they don’t necessarily do so: I did hear an adult American visitor in a small restaurant, in a secondary town in Taiwan, complain that the menu should really be available in English !!
    I think contemplating difference and handling difference is something we need to learn how to do, it’s not something that we automatically acquire just by being confronted with difference.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. Dare i say that I learned about Hmong in the US from the movie Gran Torino? Is that a terrible thing to say? Not sure. I hope it isn’t offensive.
    Carole

  63. MaiBao, this is something that my husband and I have been talking about as well. It’s crazy how things have changed even over one generation. My husband and I have been trying to keep some of the Hmong tradition, but the language is something we really want to continue passing on.

    It’s bound to happen. We see it in cycles from generations past. Immigrants come to the US and gradually immerse into the major culture…but why not try right? I applaud you for going against the current. There is something really valuable about our culture. It’s a story that we’ll have to continue telling our children and grand children. It’s truly valuable.

    It really is sad when we think of the language and culture dying. But there’s got to be a way to keep it. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and, since I am a musical connoisseur, I’d like to incorporate the traditional Hmong music into modern day music. Small things like these are a part of our history.

    Anyhow, thanks for writing about this. I’ll continue to check out your blog!

  64. docpark says:

    All of the things you mentioned happened to us as well growing up Korean-American in the70′s and 80′s. Those of us who grew up in Korean speaking households retained our language and were enriched by access to the culture in Korea as well as abroad. I am stunned by the similarities of some of the rituals you mention -my grandfather would annually hire a mudang (a shaman) to exorcise the home, and my grandmother taught me that everything was alive and had a spirit, and there was a spirit world not visible to us except for those who can pass into it. It speaks to a common distant past that all of us in the rush to modernize have abandoned with great loss.

  65. docpark and maibao

    These are also common American Indian pratices. All four of my grandparents were part Indian (Cherokee, Miami and Shawnee).

    We are all more alike than differtent!

    • MB says:

      As I grew older, I realized the similarities among “pagan” religions, such as ours, Native Americans, and many Asians. I felt that I could always relate and that my family wasn’t the only “weird” one out there.

  66. Someone may have already reassured you on this count, but in case they haven’t, I’d like to: if you continue to speak Hmong to your daughters, they will know how to speak Hmong, or at the very least understand it when you speak. They won’t “lose” it in favor of English, just from living in an English-speaking country. Because of cultural pressures they might prefer speaking English at some points in their lives, but if you speak Hmong with them, they will at least understand the language.
    I can’t say I have personal experience in this; sadly I am mostly monolingual. However, I’ve studied linguistics and language acquisition, as well as bilingualism, and what I wrote above is what research has shown.
    That said, I applaud your efforts to give your daughters the best of both cultures. It helps make this country a richer place.

  67. michvayn says:

    I grew up pretty much the same way, when were kids my mother had Russian movies for us, and Russian music and we spent most of the time speaking Russian at home. But now that we have become older and my mother has been here over 30 years we mostly speak English, it kind of makes me sad, I would love to be able to teach my kids one day how to speak Russian.

  68. C. Morghan says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! I think it’s so great that you’re teaching your children to remember their heritage. Keeping those language skills and that understanding of culture will be a wonderful asset as they grow older. So many doors will open for your children because they’ll have a grasp of another language.

  69. I have to admit to mixed feelings here. Personally, I am (in part) 2nd generation Swedish. I also have Irish, Scotch, and First Nations blood in my heritage. While I am aware and unashamed of my heritage, like your daughter, I do not identify myself in that way, but as an American.

    America is the country it is today largely because it IS a melting pot receiving and over time assimilating people of various ethnic backgrounds. That assimilation is not always easy. It took the Irish for example over 100 years before they were fully assimilated. They are not alone, over history there have been other waves of immigration, most notably German, Italian, Asian, and Hispanic.

    I respect their desire to preserve their culture, but I also hope that they both do fully assimilate, blending their (your) culture into the culture of this country, making it stronger and more diverse.

  70. I think this situation is so sad. It really proves how important it is to preserve your culture. I see this all the time.

    I feel odd that I never had that experience myself–i was always proud of my culture, but my friends tried to hide theirs :/

  71. I have been reading your blog for the last 3 days and find so much interesting topics here. I’ve bookmarked your site hoping that I can take much more benefits from you. Thank you.

  72. Tanya says:

    I cannot express how much this post resonated with me. I am from a Northern California city where I was exposed to the differences between a Pinoy, Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong (among others). I was blessed to attend a multicultural school where I was taught native dances and songs of other cultures. It gave me such a sense of belonging to something bigger than what my family could expose me to…

    Unfortunately, my parents (Pinoy) had decided early in their marriage that THEIR children would not be the very things the ‘White Americans’ used for stereotypes. WE would be Americans in every sense of the word — so speaking anything but English in the home was forbidden. We no longer ate our beloved comfort foods — but started eating spaghetti, lasagna, and casseroles! Eventually I did forget my native tongues & have no hint of anything remotely “ethnic” about me, except the color of my skin. I don’t fit in anywhere — I can’t communicate with my extended family or those that are also Pinoy. And I am often shunned by those that are displeased that I don’t have command of the language.

    Okay – this is too long. I applaud your efforts to pass on the legacy of your proud Hmong heritage. Carry on undeterred!

  73. I applaud your pride about your heritage. Even if the western culture has greatly influenced the asians, I think we (i’m asian too, filipina to be exact) should still value our culture and heritage. Great job on doing that! ;)

    Visit my blog too please? I’m new here! ;)

  74. Great post! I was born and grew up in Indonesia, and not untill I study in America for my master degree that I really appreciate my culture. Sometimes it took awhile for someone to realize how blessed they are with their own ethnic when they’re trying to be so modern. I hope you keep persistent in teaching your daughter.

  75. Hi there, well, my story is very similar. I got to USA almost 2 yrs ago from Colombia, my wife got a job here and we had to move. My English was 0.0 I mean, I did not speak NOTHING. I tried to learn using podcasts, books, watching TV and also I bought Rossetta Stone, because many ppl said me that it is the Top…. That software was my last mistake. Then I took the decision of creating my own method, and I did it. First I got a book with the high frequecy words and I adapt them to me, and what I needed. I know that my english maybe is not as good as I would like, but every day is better. Using the same methodology I made a course for people that need to learn spanish (Beginners) and my clients love it.

    =)

    Good luck

  76. I am completely the opposite of there children. My mother is German and i have lived in the USA my whole life, wishing that i was more German, and thinking myself to be more German than American.
    Now that i have been an exchange student in Germany for a few months i feel like i am very American. Now, instead of just wanted to be German, i just want to be who i am; i mix of two cultures.

  77. JJ says:

    Really interesting. Well I’m Indian-American and I’m pretty familiar with my cultural roots. I was raised and born in the US. However, my brother and I know the customs and traditions of our parents’ heritage, know the festivals, lifestyle, music, eat and can cook a little of the food. We can understand their language but we speak/respond in English 99% of the time (level of comfort should be considered for speaking another language). I admit I can speak a little bit though but enjoy speaking it in only cases (as I’m more comfy with English), and rarely use it unless talking to someone who doesn’t know English and only when there is no one around lol. I don’t have any regrets for any of it. I keep hearing that kids lose their cultural identity, however, I feel you can gain some it back like learning the customs and traditions, cooking the food. etc.. Even if you don’t have all of it, which I don’t think anyone raised abroad will ever have, you should be at least grateful for what you DO have, even though it may not be much, but its better than nothing. Keeping one thing at least, like eating the food, knowing the language, or following the customs will help you learn about your background..and if you don’t know everything (again, know about the food, speak the language, etc) it’s totally fine and shouldn’t be problem :). Afterall, it’s the individual themselves who can identify who they are, not really their parents although it’s good that the parents familiarize their kids about their cultural background. However parents should not strictly force it on them. Anyway, interesting read.

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  80. This page iswhere I got the most useful information for my information gathering. cheers for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject?

    • MB says:

      If you’re talking about the subject of Hmong, then you can simply google “Hmong,” and many websites will pop up. I am not aware of any other bloggers or websites that post on the subject of keeping one’s language, although I’m pretty sure there are plenty out there.

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  90. minmin says:

    That’s so true! Many Asian Americans are ashamed of their own culture because they have no idea of where they’re coming! They are stuck up toward people just recently moved to the country. They hate it when they don’t know how to speak English. I’ve seen that a lot. Many of them who grew up here think they’re white, better than others. I’m Chinese. Wherever I go, however you talk shit about me or my culture, I’m still proud of what I’m n where i come from.

  91. Great blog. I’m Hmong & White. My father is Hmong and my mother White. Hmong was my first language due to living with my grandmother for the first 5 years of my life, then I moved in with my mothers side of the family and started school. That is when I had to learn English. Since then I have lost my Hmong tongue. I am now 28 years old and don’t know how to read, write or speak Hmong anymore. I wish I had never gave up my Hmong language. I would love to re-learn Hmong and become fluent again. I applaud you for teaching your kids the roots and language of our people.

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