Tag Archives: Hmong

A Hmong Wife’s Role

13 Oct

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.

Hmong male privilege in the fight against domestic violence

14 Sep

Stop Abuse Against Hmong Women

On September 7th, 2013, a Hmong domestic violence (DV) forum was held in Sacramento. This forum was 1 of 4 held simultaneously across the US on the same day as a memorial service for Pa Nhia Vue, a domestic violence murder victim, and to bring awareness about DV in the Hmong community. I was unable to attend the Sacramento event due to work, but I did read about it in an article in the Sacramento Bee and heard about it from some of the attendees.

I have to admit that the only source I have of this forum is from this particular article and from conversations with some who attended. I understand that words can be taken out of context and manipulated to suit the objective of the writer or speaker. This blog entry is not to stand against this movement. It is constructive criticism.

First, I would like to say that I am impressed that Hmong men have joined in on the conversation of DV. This event is a historic landmark in the CA Hmong community, as it is the first big forum to discuss DV. I don’t know how I feel about that. Happy that we’re finally talking about it, but somewhat sad that in the 30+ years the Hmong have been in the US, this is the first time we have addressed Hmong DV issues in California as a group.

I am going to concentrate on one particular quote in the article mentioned above. I believe it is imperative that we discuss about the issue of male privilege, particularly Hmong male privilege, when we talk about taking action to stop domestic violence.

What is male privilege? This article on finallyfeminism101 discusses it well.

Before discussing “male privilege” it is first important to define what privilege means in an anti-oppression setting. Privilege, at its core, is the advantages that people benefit from based solely on their social status. It is a status that is conferred by society to certain groups, not seized by individuals, which is why it can be difficult sometimes to see one’s own privilege.

In a nutshell:

Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.

[Betty, A primer on privilege.]

Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being read as male by society, benefits from male privilege.

Mr. Neng Chu Vang was quoted to say, “As of today, Hmong women have the same rights as Hmong men; we have to respect them! We have lived in the US for 30 years, and this is the day we must stand up together and solve the problem of domestic abuse… If there is a problem, call me and I’ll step in—don’t be afraid of the men. If I were you, I would have stood up to them long ago.”

Mr. Vang is probably not aware of the privileges he holds as a Hmong man in our community. He most likely does not realize that life for Hmong women and the struggles that we go through are so very different from his. And for someone to proclaim that “as of today” men and women are equal and for us to have stood up to men long ago just doesn’t sit right with me.

Hmong women have been standing up to Hmong men. Hmong women have been fighting domestic violence. We have advocates all over the US who have been working (in Hmong and mainstream communities) to combat violence against women and children. We have grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, and friends who have stood up against the Hmong patriarchy in public or in the privacy of their homes. Most of these attempts to solve domestic violence have been unheard because we do not have the privileges of Hmong men. Mr. Vang makes it sound so easy and yet here we are, still doing our part to fight domestic violence. This quote, whether or not taken out of context, undermines all our struggles as Hmong women and the hard work we have done and are still doing. The fight against violence against women is not as simple as not being scared of men or standing up to them.

I am not picking on Mr. Vang as I know that many of our Hmong men who are standing up against domestic violence may also not be aware of their male privileges. I am using his quote from the Sacramento Bee article as an example to start this conversation, and hopefully we can be better informed and more mindful of how our privileges can either benefit or deter this movement to end domestic violence.

Another issue: Do the male leaders truly understand violence against women?

Previously to this, many elders and community leaders (all men) have spoken up on domestic violence in various Hmong communities around the US. And that was all that they did. Actions taken to prevent violence against women is minimal to non. The focus is always on female victims in preventing abuse or seeking help from the clan leaders. Very rarely are abusers punished for their acts. And in my opinion, clan council meetings to try to mediate domestic violence does not work.

The problem lies with these leaders not understanding the dynamics of domestic violence. That abuse is not the victim’s fault. That it is not caused by mental illness or alcohol or drugs. That it is not caused by the influence of Western American culture wherein women are gaining more freedom and men are scared of losing women to freedom. The root cause of this pervasive problem within our community is our patriarchal culture. We put emphasis and value on our fathers, husbands, and sons. Women are often viewed as second class beings. The bride price plays a huge role in perpetuating abuse on Hmong women. The denial that our culture causes domestic violence. The list goes on.

I am not saying we don’t need men in our fight against domestic violence. Of course, we need men. We need allies. But these allies need to be educated on the dynamics of violence against women and be aware of the privileges they hold as men in our community. When they are mindful of their male status, they can readily help us instead of telling us, “You can do it because it’s so easy!”

Desensitized to racism

13 Sep

white people only

During a workshop on diversity, the facilitator put everyone into groups and asked us to discuss our most recent experience of racism. Everyone in my group was stumped. We could not think of a time when we felt someone was being racist towards us.

I thought out loud to the group, “Maybe we can’t think of a situation or experience because it happens so much that we have become desensitized to it.”

Most nodded their heads in agreement. But as I said this, my conversation in line at the grocery store came to mind. And I shared it with the group.

I was in the check out line when the White woman behind me complimented me on the Hmong bag I bought from the New Year almost 3 years ago.

“That’s a nice ethnic bag!” she exclaimed.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“So, where are you from?” she proceeded to ask.

“I’m from [...], but just moved here about 2 years ago.”

“No, I’m not asking where you live. I’m asking what nationality you are.”

“I’m American.”

The lady paused, looked me over, and said, “Honey, you can’t be American. You’re not White.”

I was blown away by her comment and looked at her blankly, trying to form words to reply back to her.

But I am American, I thought to myself. Even though I wasn’t born in the US, I have lived here almost all of my life. I am a naturalized American citizen. How can I not be American? Are White people the only ones privileged enough to claim to be “American?”

“So, what country are you from?”

I replied that I am Hmong from the United States. That did not satisfy her.

As I’m paying the cashier, the lady says to me, “Young lady, you need to be proud of where you come from. Don’t say that you’re American when I can clearly see that you’re not.”

I didn’t reply, grabbed my cart, and went outside.

Am I proud of my history? Am I proud of being Hmong? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t claim to be American as well. And who is to say those of us who are yellow, brown, black, green, or blue cannot be American? What defines America? And why do many people, especially White people, believe that only the Whites can be American?

Several years ago, I was hooked on this MMO called “Perfect World International.” As always, people are interested in where you live or what your race/ethnicity is. I joined a group during a quest and this man from Italy started a conversation with me. He asked what my race is. I told him I am Asian. He asked what country I am from. I told him I’m from the US. He then proceeded to tell me that I am not Asian as I claim. For me to be Asian, I need to be from an Asian country. Since I am from The US, I am considered American. WOW, really! A White American doesn’t consider me American and an Italian man doesn’t consider me Asian, but American.

I have come across so many people being racist—blatantly or unknowingly—that sometimes I question if they know they’re being racist. And because it happens so often that sometimes I do not realize it is racist until afterwards. Is there such a thing as being desensitized to racism because we are exposed almost daily to racism?

In my group during the diversity workshop, I was the only one who came up with an example of racism (after much thinking). Maybe the other participants were too shy to share or were afraid of offending others with their stories, I don’t know. Or is it that racism no longer exists in this oh-so-wonderful country of the USA that no one has any experience to share?

Nkauj Hnub thiab Nraug Hli

22 Jun
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.

Reflections and afterthoughts: 16th HND Conference

6 Jun

I spent the first weekend of April in Fresno at the 16th Hmong National Development Conference (HNDC). Two days filled with people (majority of them Hmong) from all over the United States and China. I attended workshops, met many interesting people, had great conversations, and built new friendships.

I heard about the conference two years ago (yes, I have been living under a rock) and took the opportunity to go when I found that it would be held in Fresno this year. The registration price was quite steep for me, but I applied for the HNDC scholarships and was awarded. Such awesomeness!

I was filled with anticipation and anxiety as the conference date approached. I had never attended a convention/conference by myself. I was going to venture into something that I had only heard about and—above it all—do it alone!  But I felt I needed to go to better myself as a Hmong individual: to seek my own personal growth and learn more about the Hmong community.

A rash broke out on my face Thursday, so my face was hot and itchy during the whole conference. I was thinking, “I’m not going to know anyone there. My face has a rash that irritates me so much that I don’t think I can pay attention to anything else. Is my weekend going to get any worse?” Well, it got better. I was relieved to find out Friday that many people I knew were there, especially some of the women I’ve met from an online Hmong women group. It’s nice to find friends when you least expect it.

The conference was a pretty amazing experience. I met many inspirational people doing wonderful work in the community. Everyone at the conference probably had excellent resumes and experiences and for a brief moment, I felt insignificant and out of place.

There are so many people committed to helping our Hmong community that it was just mind-blowing. I come from a laid back, conservative town where you don’t hear much about Hmong individuals or groups actively advocating or organizing to help each other. Or maybe I’m just not paying much attention to the ongoings of my little community. However, to see so many individuals come together to discuss the future of the American Hmong community is an experience in itself. My mind was brimming with ideas and inspiration when I left Fresno Sunday morning.

Mee Moua, former MN State Senator and currently President and Executive Director of Asian American Justice Center, was a panelist for Friday’s afternoon plenary. The topic was to discuss how we can advance our Hmong community. Mee Moua’s closing speech left me speechless. She encouraged the Hmong youth to leave their comfort zone, to leave the Hmong community and make friends with other people so they can take in perspectives of other groups. This resonated so much with me because I wouldn’t have a broader understanding of life and built on my identity if I hadn’t stepped out of the Hmong community for a while. Life has not looked the same since. I only wished all youth could’ve heard what she said.

I have grown more appreciative of my culture and our Hmong people after this conference. I know I’ve said this several times in this blog post, but this was an amazing experience. I encourage everyone to attend. Don’t let the pricey registration fee stop you. There are means of funding your way to this conference: scholarships, fundraising, asking your organization or school to pay for registration. Trust me, you will leave the conference with a whole new outlook and appreciation for the Hmong community and its people.

I took a few pictures, but not enough to showcase the conference. Thanks to Andre Yang for giving me permission to post some of his photos up. He is a very talented poet from Fresno and a founding member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. Enjoy them! You can view more of Andre’s 2013 HNDC photos on his Facebook (must be logged into FB to view).

Hmong wife vs. Hmong girlfriend

1 Jun

domestically disabledI have been noticing a trend as friends and family are getting married over the recent years. I have observed that it is completely okay for a girlfriend to lack in the cooking, cleaning, and other “womenly” duties department, but once she’s married, she is expected to conform to traditional roles.

What is the difference between a girlfriend and a wife? Why does a man not expect his girlfriend to cook for him, do his laundry, take care of him and/or his family until he has married her? Even if they had lived together before marriage, she is not expected to uphold these responsibilities until after marriage. If he expects his future spouse to be a certain way (heaven forbid), why not inform her so she can run for the hills if she needs to? Why wait until after marriage?

This subject is for the girls to think about as well. Why do you feel the need to all of a sudden, change your habits or conform once you’re married? Familial obligations?

Like most Hmong girls, my mother was grooming me to become the perfect Hmong wife. She didn’t teach me how to cook and clean; she expected me to learn by observing and doing. And she reminded me every single day that I needed to be perfect or no Hmong man would ever marry me. I didn’t do much observing nor practicing. My interest was in school. And I also was very open about my domestic skills. “I am lazy,” I told Mermaid when we were dating. “I can’t cook. I’m a messy person. I’m not wife material.”

And although Mermaid didn’t expect much from me when we got married, he still expected some. And I did try to do it initially, but I got tired of not being genuinely me. We both fell into doing what we thought was expected of us: Him being the “husband” and me being the “wife.” But somehow, these roles didn’t work very well for us. And as we grew together as a couple, we shifted things around so that our household would work… for us.

But why do we feel the need to conform? For me, I did it because I thought I had to. This was what I had been told all my single life. The focus was to be a good Hmong wife—not girlfriend.

 

The Journey Forward: The Next Chapter of Hmong Americans

10 Feb

HNDC-2013-FB-Banner2

Hmong National Development, Inc (HND) is a non-profit organization based out of Washington DC. Its mission is to empower the “Hmong community to achieve prosperity and equality through education, research, policy advocacy and leadership development.”

HND hosts a conference every other year to bring together leaders, educators, professionals, advocates, and individuals to celebrate and discuss about the many facets of the Hmong community. This year marks the 16th HND conference and is also HND’s 20th anniversary. The theme surrounding the 16th HND conference is “The Journey Forward: The Next Chapter of Hmong Americans.” The focus will be the issues we face as a community and what we can do to progress.

The conference will be held in Fresno, California at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center from April 5-7, 2013. Registration for the conference is open. I encourage all to attend as there will be over 70 workshops, forums, and round table discussions (You do not need to be Hmong to register). The topics range from professional development, advocacy participation, to youth, education, and culture. Don’t let the price of registration deter you from going. Apply for HNDC scholarships and volunteer positions.

Early registration closes March 1, 2013. Early registration has been extended to March 15, 2013, midnight Central Time.

If you would like more information, please visit the HND conference page on their website or Facebook page.

HND is also honoring 5 individuals who are making a difference in the Hmong community during the conference. Please take the time to vote for HND’s 2013 Impact Awards. For a description of the nominees and voting directions, please click here. Voting will close on February 14, 2013 at midnight, Central Time.

HNDC 2013

Hmong talk

23 Dec

“White people don’t know anything about ethnicity. They think all orientals are either Japanese or Chinese. You see, I’m half Black, and White people do not pick up on that, but Blacks and other people do.”

She looked at me intently for a few seconds.

“I know you’re Filipino.”

I smiled and shook my head.

“You’re not? You must be Japanese,” she sat back and smiled.

“No,” I replied.

She sat up in shock. “Chinese?”

I shook my head.

“You do look Filipino.”

“I get that a lot, but I’m not.”

“Well, are you mix?”

“No.”

“No?! You’re 100% whatever it is you are?”

“Yes.”

“Well then, what are you?”

“I’m Hmong.”

“Oh, you’re Hmong! I know what Hmong is.”

I didn’t respond. I wanted to hear where she had heard of the Hmong. Probably Gran Torino.

“Do you know that Hmong are mix?”

I gave her a confused look.

“Hmong are part Mongolian,” she continued.

I shook my head.

“Yes, you are. You are mix. I learned that in history class.”

I didn’t even bother correcting her and continued to smile and nod during our short conversation about ethnicity.

My new friend

10 Oct

It’s October!  And I finally have time to sit in front of my computer to blog.  Because it is October, I will be sharing stories of the supernatural.  These are stories that have happened to either myself or friends or family.  Most of them are not scary, although they may make you stop and wonder if spirits really do exist.  Please enjoy my first story.

 

Every summer, my family and I went to a river in NF, CA (about 20 minutes from the town we lived in) to barbecue and play in the shallow waters.  This happened when I was about 8 or 9 years old.

My step-grandfather (father’s step-father), his 2nd wife, and their children had just arrived to the US.  One weekend, my parents decided that we all would have a nice family barbecue in NF.  They also invited many Hmong families from our neighborhood.  It was going to be an unforgettable day for me.

There were kids splashing around in the river when we arrived.  My aunt (7 years old) ran into the water without waiting for any of us and plunged right in.  The next minute, she was flailing her arms, her head bobbing up and down in the water.  The only sound we heard was her gasping for air every time she came up.  My uncles ran to get her.  We couldn’t understand why she would drown when 3 feet away, kids were playing cheerfully in the water.

Why, just right next to the shallow part of the river, the bottom dropped down to a depth of 7 feet or more.  And then 3 feet down the river, it was shallow again.  To protect the little kids from going into the deep part, my father and uncles used big rocks to block it off.

The part of the river where we were playing was very narrow.  And because it was shallow, there was an island in the middle of the river.  All day long, brave little kids would wade to the island and back at the shallow parts of the river.  Of course, no one went near 3 feet stretch of deep water where my aunt almost drowned—no one, except for the older kids who knew how to swim.  The tree branches from the island hung over that part of the river, making it shady and dark.  The island gave me a creepy feeling.

My siblings and I, along with my cousins and aunts and uncles, had fun, wading and splashing in the shallow water.  I even made friends with a 13 year-old Asian girl.  My new friend and I hung out all day long.  We talked.  We went hiking down a trail.  We picked flowers for our hair.  On several occasions, my new friend would swim to the tiny island and back at the deep part of the river.  She would wave at me to follow her, but every time, I shook my head and said that I didn’t know how to swim.  “It’s so easy,” she said, and showed me how to kick and stroke.

The day went by and 5pm came around.  The Hmong adults started packing everything up as the kids dried themselves.  It was time to go home.

All of a sudden, we heard a woman crying, “I need to find my key.  I lost my key.”  So, my uncle said that since we didn’t have anything to do, to help the poor lady look for her key.  We looked in the grass and sand for her key, but we couldn’t find it.  After 15 minutes, she finally said, “I lost my key.  My poor key.  She was swimming in the river and now I can’t find her.”  The woman had a heavy Asian accent and had meant to say “kid.”  That was when the police were called.

By dusk, law enforcement found the lost kid.  It was my new friend.  She had drowned in the deep part of the river where she kept swimming back and forth to the island.  Her body was tangled in the roots of the trees near the island.  No one understood why she had drowned because she swam back and forth so many times without any problems.  Her family said that she was a strong swimmer as well.  With so many people around that day at the river, no one heard or saw her drown.

I didn’t see her body, but the Hmong adults who did see it said that there were perfect dark rings or bruises around her ankles.  It was as if something had grabbed a hold of her and held her underwater.  Dragons, they whispered.  And that was the last time we ever went to NF.

Hmong Beauty

27 Jul
Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

One question  I get asked a lot growing up is, “What is Hmong?”  It was annoying, but I have grown to live with it and answer it accordingly to how I feel at the moment and by whom.

Another question I get asked as much is, “Are you really Hmong?”

The former is asked by those who do not know about the Hmong.  The latter is a question posed by those who know just enough to have formed a negative opinion on Hmong beauty, or lack thereof.  Let me explain.

I don’t remember how this conversation started, but in college, a male classmate ranted to me about how ugly Hmong girls are.  “They’re short, fat, and dark.  They have pig noses and chinky eyes.”

Hmmm, I thought to myself.  Am I going to let this go?  I looked over to my friend.  She smiled because she knew what I was about to do.

Being the witty person that I occasionally am, I asked, “Are they all really that ugly?  All of them?”

“Yes, all of them.  I have never seen a pretty Hmong girl!”

“So, do you think I’m pretty?”

“Oh, you’re more than pretty.  You’re beautiful.”

I giggled.  This is going to be good.

“Are you being completely honest right now or just trying to flatter me?”

“Why are you changing the topic?  I am not lying to you; You’re beautiful.  If you weren’t married, I would’ve made my move on you already.”

“Just so you know, I am Hmong,” I said as I sat back to wait for his reaction.

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

He was completely blown away.  He didn’t believe me.  He kept insisting that I was lying to him and kept on asking what ethnicity I really am.  He thought I was Chinese.  Chinese women are beautiful, he said.  I have to be Chinese.  He asked my friend if I was Hmong.  Yep, she’s 100% Hmong, my friend replied.  And then my classmate remarked, “You’re too beautiful to be Hmong.”

I don’t know about you , but this comment gets to me.  The person stating this is complimenting you on your beauty.  Take it as it is or—if you’re like me (and some others)—take it offensively.  Why?  Because this comment implies that Hmong people (or Hmong women, for that matter) are too plain or ugly to be considered beautiful, and you are the exception.  But why should you be offended?  They’re telling you that you’re beautiful.  I know, but they’re also implying that my ethnic group, as a whole, is ugly.  I don’t know where they’re looking, but I know and see many many beautiful, gorgeous Hmong women (and men).  We are not ugly.

One of my dear friend’s father was shocked when he found out (after 7 years of us being friends) that I am Hmong.  He said, “You’re not like the Hmong people I see.  They’re short and hunched back because they have to carry the bamboo baskets on their backs.  You’re tall.”  Not really; I am only 5’3″.

With all the comments I’ve received over the almost 3 decades of my life, I’ve compiled a description of how a Hmong woman should look like: short, fat, dark-skinned, hunched-back with a porky nose and chinky eyes.  This is the epitome of Asian ugly, isn’t it?  If you ask any Asian what it is to be physically ugly, most likely they would say one or all the characteristics mentioned above.  So does that mean that the Hmong is the ugly of the Asian race?

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

While searching the WWW to see if I can find an article on this topic, I came across Elmo Lee’s Hmong Beauty Project.  Elmo is a beauty and fashion photographer, known as Huenha Photography.  Her artwork is stunning.  I remember I started following her and her sister, Milly, way back when I was still on Myspace and their photography was called NaturalBlush.

The Hmong Beauty Project is to show people that Hmong women are beautiful.  Elmo states on its website that:

It’s not uncommon to hear Hmong women being told they’re too beautiful to be Hmong or that their beauty resembles another ethnic group.  My response to that is that Hmong women are as beautiful as any other ethnic group and none of it is a coincidence or an accident.  This in essence is the motivation and purpose of my photoshoot which showcases the beauty of Hmong women as individuals whose beauty is unique to herself.

I agree.  Hmong women are as beautiful as any other Asian ethnicity.  It does not do us any justice when others say that we, as a whole, are ugly.  We’re all individuals, and although we may have similarities, we’re beautiful in our own ways.

With Elmo’s permission, I have posted some of the Hmong women she has photographed on here.  This is a new project, which started at the beginning of this year, so it only has 8 women so far.  I cannot wait to see how it develops.

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

When I asked Elmo what sparked her Hmong Beauty project, she replied:

Whenever I stumble onto a pretty girl’s picture, it’s never a surprise to see at least one comment like this: “You are so beautiful. You look like a Thai/Korean/etc girl;” “You are pretty for a Hmong girl.”  It’s a compliment, but at the same time, it’s an insult; as if looking Hmong or being Hmong is a bad thing…. Just a few weeks ago, one of my cousins met my friend from out of state.  My cousin thought my friend wasn’t Hmong simply because she thought my friend was beautiful and that she doesn’t look Hmong.  This is exactly why I did the project.

I want to point out that I hear this “You’re too beautiful to be Hmong” remark within our Hmong community as well.  Growing up, I have heard too many comments on how Chinese women’s beauty trump Hmong women.  My father used to always say that Chinese women are the most beautiful in the world.  And it wasn’t uncommon to hear from other Hmongs—especially the older generation—that a Hmong woman is as beautiful as a Chinese maiden.  Elmo stated the same thing, “Zoo nkauj li nas ej Suav.”  I feel that this comparison has a lot to do with our not-so-good history with the Han Chinese.  My father used to spill Hmong propaganda that the Chinese kidnapped all the beautiful Hmong women to be their wives and that was why the Chinese are more beautiful than the Hmong (Really, Dad?).  And then, there is the media.

Elmo stated that she has made similar statements and feels guilty about it.  “Why do we think like this?” she asked.  Her conclusion (it’s not silly, Elmo) is:

We don’t have Hmong celebrities or “beautiful” popular Hmong idols to reference to.  Look at it this way, we don’t have our own country.  Before coming to the USA, we were simply farmers.  The Hmong entertainment industry isn’t like the mainstream here or anything near kpop/jpop.  We’ve only been in the United States for 35-40 years.  Our skills/expertise in whatever area are still poor. Yes, we’re improving, but we have a long way to catch up…. We have talents and skills.  We’re just not there yet because before all this, all we knew was farming, how to be a wife, have kids, dedicate our life to our in laws, etc.

It hasn’t been until in the past decade or two that the Hmong entertainment industry has immensely progressed.  With the help of technology and education, Hmong film-makers have created dynamic movies that have gained a lot of attention within the community.  And with this comes Hmong actors and actresses.  We now see beautiful Hmong women on-screen—something we have never seen before.  Additionally, many talented Hmong bands and artists have also emerged.  Hmong non-profit groups, such as CHAT are empowering individuals to express their artistic  and creative sides.  Hmong community events (that I can think off the top of my head), such as the Hmong Music FestivalFresh Traditions, and Revived, have showcased talented and beautiful Hmong people.  Prior to this, besides American celebrities, we had Asian stars to idolize.  We’re getting there, but are we there yet?

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

According to my observations, personal experiences, and what I hear from other Hmong women, I agree with Elmo that we still have some ways to go.  Society still believes that Hmong women are ugly and to be beautiful must mean that we are not Hmong.  How long will it take to have society realize our beauty?  How much will it take for the Hmong to embrace and claim the beauty of our women?  We are Hmong beauty.