Mi Tes Mi Taw (Hands and Feet)

I felt a lot of emotions watching “Mi Tes Mi Taw” directed by Porsha Phoua Chang. She did a wonderful job telling a story that many of us can identify either with the son, daughter, mother, or daughter-in-law.

One of the themes of this short film is gender roles within a traditional Hmong family. I’ve blogged about gender roles many times and you all probably know where I stand. What you see in the film is what we experience or what our culture tells us we have to do. The daughter of a family is viewed as an outsider once she gets married and leaves her family’s home. The son is expected to show filial piety and care for his aging parents until they pass on.

Sometimes, because of traditions and customs, it’s hard for the married daughter to take care of her birth parents when her brothers cannot or will not. Much of what she can do is stand by the sideline and hope that her brother(s) will love her parents. Additionally, for the same reason, the brother feels obligated to do everything for his parents, putting them above all else. You can imagine what a burden it can be for him. The parents feel hopeless and rely on their sons and daughters-in-law. And because she is not her birth mother, a daughter-in-law may not be able to show love to her husband’s mother as how society wants her to even if she is doing her best.

In this day and age, traditions and customs should not hold a daughter from loving her parents. I have heard many sisters tell their brothers and sisters-in-law that there’s nothing they can do about their aging parents because of Hmong traditions. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s truly the case or if it’s just an excuse.

It can be overwhelming for a man when he is given the responsibility of being the the head of the household. He feels obligated to care for his parents, siblings, wife, and children. And in a family where there’s many differences, he may feel torn. He loves his wife, but he also loves his parents. It’s unfair to him when both sides are pulling at him, making him choose between the people he loves. And with no one to help him, he will tire, leading him to make “bad” and “selfish”choices.

Mi Tes Mi Taw Screenshot
Screenshot of “Mi Tes Mi Taw” by Porsha Chang.

The idea of putting one’s aging parents in a nursing or retirement home is unheard of. The main reason is that your parents shed flesh and blood to bring you to this world. Many families still follow the Confucian value of filial piety. You respect and love your parents. You do not—I repeat—you do not put your parents in retirement homes.

We can love our parents, but we have to be practical. First of all, I will not allow traditions to define what I can and cannot do. If my mother doesn’t have a home and she comes knocking on my door, I’m not going to say, “Sorry, Momma. Due to Hmong traditions, there’s nothing I can do for you.” If I truly don’t want her in my home, I should be honest with her and tell her that I do not want her there, not because of some traditions that were put in place thousands of years ago. Sometimes I feel many people use tradition as an excuse for their behavior. They use traditions at their discretion and convenience. Blah for them…

And of course, there is the issue of kev cai dab qhuas, wherein a married daughter worships different ancestors from her parents. This can be a problem if two people with different dab qhuas (ancestors) live under one roof. But it’s not a big deal unless you make it one, am I right?

Secondly, if things come to a point where I feel taking care of my sick mother is affecting me emotionally and/or physically, I’m going to get the best care for her. Professionals are more apt to care for aging parents than I would ever be. Just because I put my mom in a nursing home, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love her. I know my limits and care enough to know that my mom will receive better care with professionals. I would feel more at ease knowing that there’s someone there for her throughout the day, than to be constantly worried when I’m at work 8 hours a day.

As a parent, I do not expect my children to care for me when I’m old and wrinkly. When the time comes that I need assistance, I will find professional help, not burden my adult children. The only expectation I have of them is if they do decide to become parents, to show their children unconditional love and be the best parents they can be without expecting anything in return.

Sometimes parents expect too much out of their children that they do not see how their expectations affect them. Do we love our children enough to give them their own lives and space? Did we give them life so they can care for us or so they can have life?

Screenshot from "Mi Tes Mi Taw" by Porsha Chang.
Screenshot from “Mi Tes Mi Taw” by Porsha Chang.

We live in a world where we no longer have to follow traditions, where we can make our own traditions. Traditions were set during a time when it was needed. Gender roles made a household functional and efficient. However, we now live in a world where there is help if we need it, where we don’t have 10 children, where we don’t work long days in the fields, where aging parents have a place to go.

What are your thoughts? Do you still believe in traditional roles of siblings as stated in “Mi Tes Mi Taw?” What do you think about putting the elderly in nursing homes? Would you expect your children to care for you during your golden years?

Revisiting “Why Some Hmong Girls Do Not Date Hmong Boys”

AHW-WSHGDNDHB

On April 30, 2014, I read 3 emails commenting on a blog post I wrote 2 years ago titled “Why Some Hmong Girls Do Not Date Hmong Boys.” The first one commented on how she was hesitant to read my post because she thought it was one to bash Hmong men only to find out that she appreciated my objectivity on the topic. To you, I thank you for not rushing to conclusion without reading the full article.

The second one was from a man in France stating that this particular post was absurd because of my generalization of Hmong men and that the reasons I stated were irrelevant and disappointing. I appreciate that this man was commenting on the article and not attacking the person.

The last one was very angry and abusive. This particular person’s argument was ad hominem; calling me names, cussing me out, and just being plain vulgar. Obviously, he did not read the full article or my comments thereafter. To you, I have some words of wisdom: In order to prove someone wrong, you do not go and act in accordance to what that person believes. When you behave like an immature uncivilized person, it just proves the point as to why some Hmong girls do not date Hmong boys.

After reading these emails, I thought, “Hmm… Something must be going on that I do not know about.” So, I logged into WP and what a wonderful sight! My stats shot up to 3k! I looked at where all this traffic was going and sure enough, it was going to “Why Some Hmong Girls Do Not Date Hmong Boys.”

It seems someone shared this particular post,  and it must’ve created some heated discussion, leading others to share it as well. By the next day, my stats jumped up to a whopping 8.5k. It was showing that thousands of people were sharing my blog entry all over Facebook.

More emails came in. Family and friends started sending me links of people’s comments on this topic. Many agreed with my observations. Many others disagreed. Some disagreed with a lot of anger (both women and men).

To be honest, I had forgotten exactly what I wrote, so when I read the comments about how I negatively stereotyped Hmong men or how I had no right to bash them, I went back to read my blog post. I could see how people would think I was bashing Hmong men, but wasn’t I clear that not all Hmong men are like so? Aib ya! Ua li cas es Hmoob es….

Anyway, I feel as if those who attacked me and/or disagreed with big emotions with what I wrote did not read my blog in its entirety. And if they did, they missed my point altogether.

The purpose of “Why Some Hmong Girls Do Not Date Hmong Boys” was to shed light on why some Hmong girls do not date Hmong boys. It was not a post to “bash” Hmong men as many believe so. I thought I was clear enough. Apparently not.

Prior to writing this article, I had been observing in my community and reading a lot of comments online about why some Hmong women have married their non-Hmong husbands or why some Hmong women refuse to date Hmong men. I have also observed the Hmong community ostracizing women who have made this choice. So, I thought, if I could try to explain, maybe the Hmong community would have a better understanding. Maybe it would generate conversation about this and maybe create change—even minor changes make some difference.

I was very clear to state that not all Hmong men are lazy bums and that not all Hmong families would treat their daughters-in-law horribly or work her to death. I was very clear that I was generalizing the negative stereotypes of Hmong men. However, many just read over it and made their assumptions.

And I will stress this to all of you who say, “Hmong men are not the only lazy ones! You can find that in almost any ethnic group.” Ding! Ding! Ding! You are correct! However, that is besides the point because even though you may feel that way. it’s not about you but about how these women feel about Hmong men. Like I said in my disclaimer, “the reason why I may only be referring to my culture is because this blog is about my experiences, my personal observations, and opinions on my culture.”

I am married to a Hmong man. When I first heard a Hmong woman tell me that Hmong men are lazy and uneducated, did I take offense? No. Because I knew that she was generalizing and it’s not true for all Hmong men. But that is not to say that I undermine the experiences she has had with Hmong men. They are true and she has experienced lazy Hmong men whose families expect her to be a super woman. And if she doesn’t want to be a part of that, then that is her choice. There is no right or wrong answer. To each their own whether I agree or disagree. And with that said, I still believe the validity in the reasons I explained as to why some Hmong girls do not date Hmong boys.

I never realized that an article I posted 2 years ago could still generate so much conversation. Ahh… the wonders of the world wide web. I love it! Anyway, keep on reading and conversing.

Asian American Heritage Month

MBRefugee

Hello everyone!

I am part of a team working on a project about our Hmong generation (relatively 17-30 years old) who were born in the refugee camps in Thailand and immigrated to the United States. We are collecting refugee photographs (like the one of Baby MB above).

This collection of photographs will be featured on Exhibit 75 for Asian American Heritage Month in May. If you are interested, please contact our team at exhibit75@gmail.com.

We would need the following:

1) Name
2) Age
3) Year that you came to the United States
4) Your refugee photo showing your registration number.
5) A current photo of you to show the difference from then and now.
6) A short narrative. It can be anything: a memory from the refugee camp, an experience in America, or something that you want to share.

It’s okay to take a photo of your photo like I have (refer to Baby MB) above.

Please keep in mind that by sending us a copy of your photos, you are giving us consent to post and share them on our website.

Website will be up shortly. If you have any questions, please ask away.

Thank you!
MB

A Hmong Wife’s Role

I came upon this scan of a Hmong text in a forum.  The original poster had stated that this reading material was used in a Hmong class at Washington Tech High School in Saint Paul, MN. It created great dislike within this group of Hmong women.

Ib tug niam tsev Hmoob lub luag hauj lwm.
Ib tug niam tsev Hmoob lub luag hauj lwm.

Translation:

A Hmong wife’s responsibility is to oversee everything in the home. She needs to make sure there are groceries (water, rice, veggies) and that the home is kept clean and there are plenty of pots and dishes.

A Hmong wife’s responsibility is to take care of the children. It is only for the duration of a month after she gives birth that her husband provides chicken (boiled chicken with herbs soup for postpartum care) for her. After the month is over, she would need to cook for herself and care for others in the home.

A Hmong wife needs to pack lunch for her husband to take to work. It has always been that the husband never packs lunch for the wife nor does he do her laundry because he “lost” money to marry his wife, and the husband has more honor than his wife. The wife needs to do everything for her husband that he desires and asks of her.

This is the first time I’ve read something that provides a guideline on how a Hmong wife should behave. Growing up, I’ve always heard others tell me how I needed to act to become the “ideal” Hmong wife and be the “perfect” Hmong daughter-in-law. When I tell other Hmong individuals my experience, some tell me that it’s not Hmong culture; it’s just my family or the people I am around with. Seeing this on paper, or on screen, validates that it is real. That it’s not just my family who believes a Hmong wife should behave this way.

While I read this, I thought, “Okay. This is doesn’t really work for all families today, but if it works for you, then go for it.” There are many stay-at-home moms who do embrace the role of being the nurturing wife and mother, who do not have an issue with following the traditional gender roles of a Hmong family structure. And I, myself, do care for the home, make sure my family is fed, and my children are well taken care of. Nothing wrong with that.

And then I got to the last paragraph.

I wonder who wrote this text to include that a man loses (yes, the term  this person used was “xiam” which translates “to lose” so don’t give me crap about how I’ve misconstrued the meaning of the text) his money when he marries his wife and because of that she needs to do everything he wants her to.

The discussion of the bride price has always been a controversial topic within the Hmong community (online and offline). Many understand how it perpetuates violence against Hmong women because it creates a setting where money is exchanged for a woman.

Others argue that it does not—that feminists are just making a big deal out of a harmless tradition that actually puts value on marriage and a woman. Despite the arguments, reality is many Hmong people (not all) do believe that because a man gave money to the bride’s family for her hand in marriage that she belongs to him, as stated in this reading material.

My question is, what was the purpose of this reading assignment? Was it to compare and contrast an old-world view and modern view of a Hmong wife? Or was it just to practice reading in Hmong? If it is the latter, then other reading materials would’ve sufficed.

So, what’s the big deal? It’s just a piece of reading paper!

It is reading material for high school students. Teachers need to be aware of what they’re teaching their students. I would not like it if my kids came home and told me that their teacher had them read about how to be a Hmong wife. And being a responsible parent, I would discuss with my children about the ideals of what was written in this reading assignment and how it may not relate to modern all Hmong women.

Even if parents teach and talk to their children about these things, is it still appropriate for a teacher to assign such reading materials? Does it make a difference if the teacher’s purpose was not just to read the text, but to discuss its contents and how students believe it does or does not relate to Hmong women today? It seems to me as if this is really outdated reading material. Just imagine how long this text has been circulating since publication and how many people it has influenced to believe that since a husband exchanged money for his wife, insinuating she is his property, she needs to do as he desires.

Nkauj Hnub thiab Nraug Hli

Sun_and_Moon_by_daydreamer_art
Sun and Moon by starwoodarts

I found this beautiful paj huam (Hmong poem) that Nujtxeeg posted on the Hmongza forum, telling the story of Nkauj Hnub (Maiden of the Sun) and Nraug Hli (Man of the Moon). This story describes the tragic love story of Nkauj Hnub and Nraug Hli, who will forever yearn for each other’s love and are only allowed fleeting moments together. It is also an origin story of how the Sun and Moon came to be and why we have solar and lunar eclipses. If you do not read Hmong, you can scroll past the paj huam to my English summary below.

Ntuj tsim teb raug txheej thaum ub
Muaj Hmoob ib leej ntxhais hu ua Nkauj Hnub
Ntuj tsim teb raug txheej thaum i
Muaj Hmoob ib leej tub hu ua Nraug Hli

Ntuj tsim nkawd los nphau tej roob tej toj
Kom haiv Hmoob thiaj tau lub chaw mus zoo ua noj
Ntuj tsim nkawd los pheev lub ntiaj teb kom tiaj tus thiaj dav
Kom haiv Hmoob thiab tau lub chaw mus zoo ua hnav

Lub caij nyoog dhau lawm tej sis niab
Nraug Hli pom Nkauj Hnub zoo zoo ntxim nws lub me siab
Lub sij hawm dhau lawm tej sis zawv
Nkauj Hnub pom Nraug Hli zoo zoo ntxim nws lub me plawv

Nkauj Hnub thiab Nraug Hli thiaj tau los sib dag mus sib deev
Nkawd tseg ncua lub ntiaj teb tsis muab los pheev
Nraug Hli thiab Nkauj Hnub thiaj tau los sib deev mus sib dag
Nkawd tseg ncua tej toj roob tsis muab los nphau kom tag

Toj roob hauv pes tseem siab siab nkhaus niv nkhaus nom
Haiv Hmoob tsis tau lub zoo chaw mus vam khom
Lub ntiaj teb tseem ti ti nqaim nqaim ua dej ua hav
Haiv Hmoob tsis tau lub zoo chaw mus ua noj ua hnav

Lub Ntuj thiaj muab Nrauj Hli mus txia lis zoj ua lub hli
Lub Ntuj thiaj muab nkawd sib faib kom tsis muaj hnub nkawd yuav sib ti
Lub Ntuj thiaj muab Nkauj Hnub mus txia li nkaus ua lub Hnub
Lub Ntuj thiaj muab nkawd sib cais kom tsis muaj hmo nkawd tau sib hlub

Lub Ntuj kom Nkauj Hnub tawm tuaj pom kev ci lis zoj
Haiv Hmoob thiaj pom kev mus ua hnav thiab ua noj
Lub Ntuj kom Nraug Hli tawm tuaj pom kev ci li thav
Tej qoob loo nroj tsuag thiaj txawj hlob thiab txawj hlav

Nkauj Hnub nim nco nco Nraug Hli tuaj nraim nws nruab plawv
Txhua hnub nws lub kua muag nim tawm teev si lis zawv
Nraug Hli nim hlub hlub Nkauj Hnub tuaj nraim nws nruab siab
Txhua hmo nws lub kua muag nim tawm teev si li niab

Lub Ntuj thiaj tso cai zoo caij mus haum hmo nkawd mam rov tuaj sib ntsib
Tab sis cia seb haiv Hmoob puas tseem yuav xib
Lub Ntuj thiaj tso cai zoo nyoog mus haum hnub nkawd mam rov tuaj sib hlub
Tab sis cia seb haiv Hmoob puas tseem yuav pub

Zoo caij mus hawm hmo Nkauj Hnub ncig li yeev tuaj ntsib Nrauj Hli
Haiv Hmoob nim tias yog lawm dab yuav mus noj hli
Lawv nim qw npuaj teg ntaug taw tsis pub nkawd mus sib ti
Nkauj Hnub tsuas tau tuaj yuj ntsia me Nraug Hli ib me ntsis

Zoo nyoog mus haum hnub Nraug Hli thiaj khiav lis zoj tuaj hlub Nkauj Hnub
Haiv Hmoob nim tias yog lawm dab yuav mus noj hnub
Lawv nim qw ntaus nruas tua phom tsis pub nkawd mus sib hlub
Nraug Hli tsuas tau tuaj ncig ntsia me Nkauj Hnub ib me ntsug

Nkauj Hnub tsuas pom Nrauj Hli ib me muag
Nws kua muag ntws yaws lub siab quaj ntsuag
Nraug Hli tsuas ntsib Nkauj Hnub ib me pliag
Nws kua muag ntws yees lub plawv quaj nrhiav

Nkauj Hnub kua muag tau poob ua huab ua nag ntub haiv Hmoob
Yog hnub twg tshav ntuj tshav teb zoo
Haiv Hmoob siab nyob tsis qab lawv yuav mus hais kwv txhiaj nrog qwv nplooj
Lawv thiaj mam paub txog me Nkauj Hnub txoj kev mob siab thiab nroo

Nraug Hli kua muag tau poob ua huab ua cua ntub peb saw daws tag
Yog hmo twg qaim hli lam lug hli nra
Peb sawv daws plawv nyob tsis tus peb yuav mus tshuab ncas nrog tshuab raj
Pej thiaj mam paub txog me Nraug Hli txoj kev ntxhov plawv thiab mob ntsaj

Nkauj Hnub thiaj Nraug Hli txoj kev nkauj kev nraug tau muab faib cia rau haiv Hmoob
Txoj kev lwj siab ntxhov plawv cia haiv Hmoob coj mus tsim ua noob
Nraug Hli thiab Nkauj Hnub txoj kev sib hlub sib nco tau muab faib tseg rau Peb Hmoob
Txoj kev kho siab mob plawv cia Peb Hmoob mam coj mus qhoob

Nkauj Hnub thiab Nraug Hli zab dab neeg cia los xaus li no

I will not translate this paj huam because there are some Hmong words and phrases that have no equivalent English translation. And I feel as even if I try to translate it, no matter how good I could be at translating, it would not do justice to the beautiful storytelling of the poem.

I will summarize the story.

The_Picture_of_Sun_and_Moon_by_chiwayu
The Picture of Sun and Moon by chiwayu

Long, long ago, in the beginning of the world, there was a Hmong maiden named Nkauj Hnub and a Hmong son named Nraug Hli. The Heavens created them to carve the hills and mountains, to flatten and widen the lands so that the Hmong can have a home to farm and live. Time went by and Nraug Hli and Nkauj Hnub saw each other. They fell in love and neglected their duties. The Hmong didn’t have land to farm or a home to live. So, the Heavens separated them and turned Nkauj Hnub into the Sun and Nraug Hli into the Moon.

The Sun appeared during the day to give light to the Hmong so they can go about their daily lives, and the Moon appeared during the night to help in nature’s growth. The Sun and Moon missed each other and cried every day and night. The Heavens took pity on them and decreed that the Hmong would decide the fate of the lovers.

During an auspicious day, the Sun flew by the Moon. However, the Hmong screamed that a monster was eating up the Moon, so they clapped their hands and stomped their feet in disapproval. Because of this, the Sun only saw a glimpse of the Moon. The couple tried their luck again on a different day. The Moon flew by the Sun. Again, the Hmong screamed that a monster was eating up the Sun, so they beat their drums in disapproval. Because of this, the Moon only got to embrace the Sun for a little bit. They tread forever apart through the sky and only meet a couple times a year.

It is said that Hmong women will feel very lonely and sad in the fields on a sunny day. In feeling so, they will leaf blow love songs to call out to their lovers. During a full moon, Hmong men will feel the sad and lonely urge to play on their mouth harps and flutes in the moonlight to capture the hearts of their lovers. The Sun and the Moon were separated for the benefit of the Hmong, so it is the Hmong who will carry on the burden of heartache and sorrow of the lovers.