Tag Archives: Hmoob

Asian American Heritage Month

16 Apr

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

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.

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.

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 American Education Fund

6 Feb

This isn’t a regular blog entry. I just wanted to pass on the word for all undergrad students out there.

“The Hmong American Education Fund is pleased to announce that applications are currently open to Hmong students seeking a scholarship to fund their education. Please visit the website http://www.thehaef.org/scholarshipsservices.html for more information.

We have several scholarships available targeting a range of students, from those who are finishing their senior year, recently graduated, or have their GED to students who are currently enrolled in a technical college or university. Additionally, please connect to our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thehaef to get updates and connected to our organization.”

If you haven’t already, please check them out.

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.

My Mermaid (Part 5)

26 Jun

This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to previous posts:
Introduction
Prologue
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

miss pupik on Flickr

I was 19 years old, going to be a sophomore in college. I thought about how a child would affect my life and that of my boyfriend’s. What am I going to do? How am I going to tell him? But my biggest fear was not knowing how my mom would react to the news.

I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Every waking hour, I thought about my pregnancy. After thinking long and hard about my options, I finally made my decision. I was ready to tell him.

“I’m late,” I said.

“You mean your period?”

“Yes. And I took a pregnancy test. It came back positive.”

“Are you sure?”

“The nurse at the junior college confirmed it.”

We didn’t say anything. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was not going to keep it. I didn’t know what he thought of the pregnancy or of abortion. I didn’t know if he’ll accept and respect the decision that I had made without him.

After a few minutes, he said, “If it’s a boy, I’ll call him Junior.”

“Junior? Eww, no,” I replied. Although I was happy to hear him take responsibility, my heart also felt very heavy. How was I going to tell him now?

The next week came and he didn’t visit me as he usually did. I called him, but he didn’t pick up. And when he did pick up, he didn’t want to talk. He was fishing—fishing all the time. I tried to talk with him about what we were going to do now that I was pregnant. “I don’t know” was his answer each and every time.

I was angry, frustrated, and heartbroken. How dare he ignore me when I was most vulnerable? How dare he say he doesn’t know what to do now? He said he cared, but his actions contradicted his words. I didn’t have the patience to wait this out; this was an urgent matter. I was pregnant, scared, and lost. Who knows what my mom would do if she were to find out. If he didn’t want to be around during the time when I needed him the most, so be it.

So, I called to tell him it was over between us. He came over within 30 minutes. He wanted to talk. I didn’t even look at him. It was too late. We were over. He stayed for 15 minutes, silent in the living room while I ignored him in the family room. Then he left.

And that was the last time I saw him. It has been 20 years and although I am married with children now, I still think about him from time to time.

Just kidding! And here you thought the story ended. We’re almost done though.

The next day, I received an email from him.

“I went driving Thursday night to wherever and almost got into an accident. It made me think that you and my little junior are important. It’s just that I have a lot of stressful things on my mind right now. That’s why I go fishing a lot. It helps take the stress away. Hopefully you are understanding what I’m trying to say. If not, then I guess I can understand. But please just give me a call. I know we can work this out. We have been through many harder situations. Love you…”

I thought that if he was as stressed out as I was about this, then why didn’t he come to me? We’re in this together, weren’t we? And even if he was worried about other things, I’m his partner, so why not share his struggles with me?

His last two lines echoed in my mind. I know we can work this out. We have been through many harder situations… I thought about how much we had endured ever since our first meeting. We finally conquered the prejudice that my mom exhibited toward our relationship. Was I really going to throw it all away? I cried my heart out that night.

The next day, I called the abortion clinic and made an appointment.

My boyfriend kept emailing me, asking me to call him, to give him another chance. He didn’t ignore me on purpose. He was having family problems at home. It wasn’t the pregnancy that’s keeping him away. He wanted to work things out. He had a plan. He was going to quit school and work two jobs to support us if he needed to. He wasn’t ready to let me go.

I drove to his house. I wanted to talk about our relationship and about the pregnancy. But every time I opened my mouth to speak, the words clung to my uvula. All I could do was let out a sigh each and every time. We sat in separate couches in his living room like strangers. We couldn’t say anything to each other. After 30 minutes, I went home.

He emailed me that night and told me that if it’s easier, we could talk through email. I replied by telling him how hurt I was. This was when I needed him the most and he wasn’t around. He apologized. Then I told him, I had decided to get an abortion without letting anyone else know. I also told him that I still loved him.

He was happy that I still wanted to be with him. However, he was sad to hear that I was going to get an abortion.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be like with a baby or how hard it will be, but I really want to keep it. However, if you feel you need to get rid of it, then go for it. I support your decision.”

I was really sad to hear that, but I didn’t change my mind for many reasons. Fear of my mom was one of them. She must not know about this or I’ll receive something so much worse than what I’ve experienced so far. I was at the edge of breaking. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep myself together if my mom were to confront me about anything at this point. And another reason was that I wasn’t emotionally or financially ready to take care of a child. I wanted to be secured enough so that my children will grow up in a stable home. I have received tremendous criticisms about my decision from the Hmong community, especially from anti-abortion people, but it has never bother me. I do not regret this choice I’ve made.

My boyfriend and I didn’t tell anyone about what we did. We knew the repercussions. If we weren’t forced to get married, he would be “fined” and have to “fix” me. Then we’d probably never be allowed to see each other again. These were the Hmong traditional ways of handling a pregnancy and abortion. It was either marriage or you cut ties all-together. We were not ready for marriage. We were stuck in a lose-lose situation and secrecy was the key to preventing these traditions from taking over. However, my efforts to keep my abortion from my mom was all in vain. And when she did find out, the marriage my boyfriend and I tried to avoid was inevitable in our eyes.

My sisters and I were not really close growing up for many reasons. I was 3 years older than the oldest of them. Three of my younger sisters were only 1 year or less apart in age, so they shared many interests and had a sisterly bond. Additionally, because of the things I was going through with my mom during adolescence, I had distanced myself from them.

My sisters found out about my abortion by reading my diary and going through my discharge paper work from the clinic (Yes, very stupid of me to have not thrown them away immediately). And because I wouldn’t take them with me that fateful day to my boyfriend’s house, they ratted me out.

As I expected, my mom was angry. I had ruined her reputation by getting pregnant. And not only that, but I had gotten an abortion and came back into her house. This was the ultimate shame any unmarried Hmong daughter could bring to her family and ancestors.

My grams was over and she jumped in as well. With two people telling me how wrong I was and reminding me of every single mistake I’ve made until then—in addition to realizing that my sisters didn’t have my back—I went berserk. I screamed and shouted and my mom did the same. I took off running because I couldn’t stand my mom berating me for ruining her reputation. I didn’t even stop to put my shoes on. I ran barefooted across the busy street a block from our house. A car whizzed passed me, nearly missing me by inches. My boyfriend caught up to me and with tears in his eyes, he yelled at me, “Did you know that car almost ran you over? Don’t you do anything stupid!”

He pulled me into his arms and it was then that I calmed down. I always felt the safest and most secure in his arms and so I just closed my eyes and let myself cry.

My boyfriend wanted to take me home, but I told him I did not want to go. I was afraid of my mom and angry at my sisters and myself. I needed time. After a few hours of driving around aimlessly in town, he received a phone call from his brother. My mom had contacted his older brother and let him know what we did. The voice message on his phone said, “You either marry your girlfriend or ‘fix’ her (ua neeb kho).”

That night, we talked about our relationship and our future. Do we love each other? If so, how much? What were our options? No, we didn’t have any choice because we are Hmong.

I had always tried to run away from the cultural traditions that I despised so much, but in all my effort, I never got far. In the end, I was very much tied to these traditions. No matter how much I ran, I couldn’t escape that I am Hmong. I was a helpless young Hmong woman whose fate was already sealed the minute she got pregnant and had an abortion. There was nothing we could do at this point, we both thought. And so, I went home with my boyfriend that night.

Of course, we were pressured to get married. But that didn’t matter. We never talked about marriage, but we knew in our hearts that we were going to marry each other some time in the future. And even though this was not how or when we wanted to get married, we felt we had no choice. My mom set our wedding date for June 26th.

There were a lot of tears during my wedding. I realized that day how strong my mother’s love was for me and how hurt she was that I was getting married. Despite her pain and anger, she cared so much about me that she didn’t make the wedding negotiations hard for my husband’s family. I was thankful. I cried tears of regret for putting her through so much. It was the words she said to me during my wedding that made me realize she was more disappointed than angry. She was disappointed at the fact that our relationship had deteriorated so much that I couldn’t go to her when I was in trouble. “Why didn’t you come to me for help when you were pregnant?” Why didn’t I? Because, Mom, we had such a dysfunctional relationship that I didn’t see that as an option.

Today marks my husband and my 8th wedding anniversary. It has been 13 years since I met this boy in baggy clothing. I may never know why he decided to retire his gangster ways. He won’t tell me. I like to think that I had something to do with it (yes, he didn’t see a good future with me if he continued his bad ways), but I would be giving myself too much credit. Ironically, he is now a juvenile probation officer, working with teens like his adolescent self. My mom is a proud mother-in-law.

Even though my mom and I still have our differences in opinions and beliefs, our relationship is a lot better. We are still mending it and we have some ways to go. Living apart from each other has improved our relationship immensely. I doubt we will ever truly get to a place of complete mutual understanding because culture is the biggest barrier. I truly love, respect, and appreciate her—more-so now that I have children of my own. Additionally, I know my children and I have a long hard road ahead of us. I don’t want to treat them the way my mom treated me. I am already establishing open communication with them so that we will always have dialogue. I appreciate everything that my mom has done for me, and I hold no grudge to what we went through during my teen years (I don’t condone child abuse no matter what the circumstances and my mom had no right to treat me the way she did, but I have forgiven her).

Class of 2009, Cum Laude

In fact, my mom is the person who planted that feminist seed in my mind with her refusal to remarry and her fight for respect from the Hmong community. Despite her traditional values, she has influenced me indirectly with her actions. She taught me how to be a strong Hmong woman and stand up for my rights. Hmong females are taught from an early age to listen and honor our parents, and one way of doing so is staying silent. I have broken down that barrier with my mom and now I’m not afraid to voice my opinions.

My partner stood by me through so much. He had the choice to leave and not go through the verbal abuse that my mom put him through year after year. He could’ve said, “Fuck this shit. I’m out of here.” But he stayed with me. And I’m really grateful for him.

Even though my Mermaid and I have been together since we were very young, I believe our relationship was mature beyond our years. We had to endure so much from my mom that we didn’t have time to put ourselves through other stuff. We built our relationship on a foundation of trust, honesty, respect, communication, and compromise. But most importantly, we were real with each other. We never made silly promises like we’ll love each other forever. I truly believe that promises only create unrealistic expectations in any relationship, and we never had any of that. We just lived in the moment and took everything as it came because we didn’t know what tomorrow will bring us.

My Mermaid dropped out of college to support me through college. We both value higher education, but since it wasn’t feasible for the two of us to be working and going to school, he decided it would be best for me to finish college. Why would you want your wife to be more educated than you, others have asked. Aren’t you afraid she’ll run off with a more educated man? Well, I’m still here, aren’t I? No other man can ever take the place of this mermaid.

My Mermaid and I share parental and household responsibilities. We are not bound by traditional gender roles. He helps cook, clean, and takes care of the children. Heck, he encourages me to have time to myself. It doesn’t affect him when other men criticize him for “allowing” me to be an equal. And ever since I started volunteering and working with victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, I have come to appreciate him even more. He may not be a perfect person, but he is perfect for me in every way.

Some would only speculate that after this many years, the fire must’ve died down. Sorry to disappoint my readers, but the fire is very much alive and the butterflies are still fluttering. Of course the dynamics of our relationship has changed with the addition of two gargantuan balls of energy, but the essence of the relationship we have built is still there. He still looks at me the same way as he did 13 years ago. He still makes me feel tingly and warm inside with either just a look, a kiss, or a touch. I am still very much in love with him and I know that he loves me even more. We also haven’t stopped communicating through notes, although nowadays, it’s more in the form of emails and text messages.

My views on love and marriage has changed over the years, but some things stayed the same. I am still not a hopeless romantic: still don’t believe in love at first sight, a soul mate, or happily ever after. Love is not destined or fated. To me, love is something one must put effort into if one wishes to see it last. It’s not an easy task and there will be times when you feel as if you just want to give up. In order to live “happily ever after,” one must do the work.

I have always been fascinated with mermaids. To me, they are mystical creatures that represent something beautiful, rare, and uneasily attainable. Is it possible for a creature to have the body of a human and tail of a fish, breathe underwater and sing on land? Is it possible to find love at such a young age? Is it possible to fight for something only you see the value in? My husband is the mermaid I caught from the sea. He is my impossible turned possible and I’m truly blessed to have him in my life.

They say there are many fishes in the sea.
I don’t want a fish.
I want to catch a mermaid, and when I do, I’m never letting go.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, MERMAID.

My Mermaid (Part 4)

21 Jun

This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to previous posts:
Introduction
Prologue
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I was studying for finals.  My mom was gone the whole weekend and when she came home, she complained bitched about the house being a mess.  She yelled at me for not being like other Hmong daughters and keeping the house spotless clean.  This was not the first time and I knew it wouldn’t be the last.  I was tired of her comparing me over and over again to these Hmong girls in town whom I had no desire to be.  I yelled at her to stop comparing me because I am my own individual and it hurts my feelings when she does so.  “How would you feel if I were to say that you don’t love me the way I see other mothers love their daughters?”

My mom was furious.  She yelled obscenities at me, calling be a bitch and a slut.  Then she grabbed my hair and dragged me around my room.  She pushed me here and there, still holding on to my hair.  For 3 years, I had endured my mom’s physical abuse without ever hitting her back.  This time I had enough and I fought.  I grabbed her hair and pulled it just the way she was pulling mine.  I even punched her a few times so she would let go.

My mom’s boyfriend saw what was happening so he tried to break us up.  He pushed my mom off of me, grabbed me and held me to my sister’s bed.  My mom took advantage of him holding me down and sat on me and started to strangle me.  She said she was going to kill me because I was a disappointment to her.

My mom’s boyfriend pushed her off of me.

He stood between us and tried to reason with her, “Puas yuav zoo koj siab yog tias koj muab nws tua tuag kiag lawv ma (Will it really please you if you killed her)?”

Kuv yog nws niam.  Kuv yug nws thiab tus nws loj hlob li no.  Nws txiv khiav mus tso nws ua ntsuag.  Tsuas muaj kuv xwb, kuv thiaj li ua rau nws noj thiab nws hnav.  Kuv xav hais tias thaum loj hlob tuaj es yuav hlub kuv no.  Niag maum dev ntawv tsis hmloog kuv lus.  Tseem muab kuv piv rau lwm tus thiab.  Kuv tua nws lo tsis ua li cas.  Kuv yeej tsis cia nws ua li no rau kuv li (I am her mother.  I gave birth to her and nurtured her.  Her father left her an orphan.  It was me who fed her and clothed her.  I thought that once she’s older, she’ll love me.  That bitch doesn’t listen to me.  She dare compare me to others.  It won’t matter if I kill her.  I won’t let her do this to me).”

I was torn—completely confused and frustrated.  My heart ached for my mom.  I realized what a failure I was as a daughter when I heard these words.  I had hurt my mom so deeply that she felt the only way to solve our problems was to kill me.  However, a part of me felt that it wasn’t right.  I should be allowed to be myself without worrying if I’ll measure up to someone’s expectations.

Anger took a hold of me.  I had had it.  I ran to my bed and grabbed the glass lamp on my nightstand.  I didn’t know how to cope and couldn’t deal with my mom anymore.  So, I hit myself on the head with the lamp.  It didn’t break.  I did it over and over again until my mom’s boyfriend stopped me.  He told me to calm down and talk with my mom.  I sat on my bed, looking down at the floor.  My head was throbbing, but I couldn’t feel the pain.  I didn’t know if it was bleeding and I didn’t care.  I was numb.

Kuv tsis xav nrog nws tag.  Txij hnub no mus, koj txhob muab kuv hu ua niam lawm.  Koj yuav mus hu leej twg niam los kuv tsis khe (I don’t want to talk with her.  Don’t call me mother from now on.  You can go call someone else Mom for all I care),” my mom shouted at me and left my room.

My mom’s boyfriend spoke to me for a minute, trying to make me understand my mom’s actions.

“You know that your mom doesn’t like your boyfriend.  She doesn’t want you to make the same mistakes she did when she was young.  You and I both know that he is a nice person, but she doesn’t see it that way.  However, she is your mom and she loves you.”

“We weren’t even arguing about him,” I cried.

After he left, I just sat there in the room that I shared with my sisters and cried.  No one loved me and the one person who loved me I’m not even allowed to see.  When I stopped crying, I went to the bathroom to wash my face.  To my horror, there were bruises of my mom’s hand prints all around my neck.  I cried even harder.  I was so depressed.

I couldn’t call my boyfriend, not after this fight I had with my mom.  I also couldn’t call any of my friends because none of them knew what was going on at home.  Friends at school saw me as a cheerful girl who didn’t have to try hard to get good grades.  They didn’t know about the struggles I was going through or how I would change for dance class in the girls’ restrooms to hide my bruises.

There are many ways teens cope with their problems.  Some turn to drugs or alcohol.  Some join gangs.  Others cut themselves.  Me, I self-medicated.  Whenever I felt too depressed to the point of not knowing how to cope, I gobbled down acetaminophen or ibuprofen and went to sleep.  It temporarily took away my pain.  This time, I wanted to take all my pain away for good.

I walked to the kitchen and opened the cupboard where my mom stored her medicine.  Death was the only solution I saw.  I was looking for the acid she used to wash Hmong silver coins, but it was not up in the cupboard.  My mom had a new bottle of ibuprofen, 500 ct.  I took almost all of the bottle.  Why not all, you may ask.  Because I was worried that if I took all of the pills, my mom may not have any pain medicine after I was gone.  After gulping down a cup of water to wash down the pills, I calmly walked back to my room.  I laid down on my bed and awaited my death.

To my disappointment, I awoke the next morning.  I hadn’t died.  Instead I had this HUGE headache and I couldn’t concentrate.  I don’t know if it was from the ibuprofen or from my fight with my mom.  I also had a bump on my head from when I hit myself with the lamp.

I thought, why didn’t I die?  If I had died, I would’ve been free.  Everyone would’ve been free.  I wouldn’t be hurting like I am.  My mom wouldn’t have to deal with a useless daughter like me.  My partner wouldn’t have to deal with my mom.  He would move on with his life and find someone whose mother adored him.

It was a miracle that I didn’t die from taking almost a bottle of ibuprofen.  No one could’ve survived taking that many pills.  I  truly believe that my guardian angel was watching over me that night.  A few weeks later, I saw my mom take out the acid from its usual place in the cupboard to test a new set of silver coins she bought.  Why didn’t I see it when I was looking for death?  My guardian angel had protected me.

I thought I should get ready for school since I was still alive.  I would kill myself that night after everyone went to sleep.  To hide the bruises on my neck, I wore a piece of cloth as a choker necklace.  I didn’t tell anyone about my attempted suicide and have never until now.  Many years after I had gotten married, I found out that my mom suspected it because she saw the almost-empty bottle in the cupboard.

There was nothing to do during dance class because our annual performance was done and over with.  Mrs. Coito was the kind of teacher who deeply cared about her students and took the extra effort to inspire them.  We would regularly have exercises of self-reflection, self-care, and motivation.  That day, she handed out a manila envelope to every one of her dancers.  Inside it were various items to remind us of all the wonderful things life has to offer.  Although I no longer have the manila envelope, I can still remember what was inside:

Eraser: A reminder that we all make mistakes, but we can wipe the slate clean.

Penny: Save this and you will never be broke again.

Marble: To keep you rolling along.

Rubber Band: To keep you bouncing back and flexible.

Candle: To light up the darkness.

Tissue: For drying your tears.

Toothpick: To pick out the good in others including yourself.

Cotton Ball: For the rough roads ahead.

Confetti: To add some sparkle to your life.

Lifesaver: To remind you of the many times others need your help and you need theirs.

Rainbow: A reminder that after every storm comes a rainbow.

Paper Clip: To hold everything together when it falls apart.

A Hug & Kiss: To remind you that someone cares about you!

Thanks to Mrs. Coito, for it was this activity that prevented me from attempting another suicide.  One of these days, I will go back to my high school where she still teaches and personally thank her for saving my life.

The bruises on my neck were so bad, that two weeks later, they were still there.  And so, I attended my boyfriend’s high school graduation without the consent of my mom, with my homemade choker around my neck and a smile on my face.

I was so happy to see him as a graduate, walking on that stage.  The delinquent that my mom belittled had graduated from high school.  She was wrong after all.  However, my happiness was short-lived.  By 7:30 that evening, my mom had already called my boyfriend’s sister-in-law.  She demanded that I come home straight-away or there would be consequences.  And so, my boyfriend drove me home.

I saw more and more of my boyfriend after he graduated from high school.  He attended the local community college, majoring in criminal justice.  And because he now had a car, he was able to come see me more often.  Although my mom and I still had our arguments, she was no longer tripping as much about him as before.  She never looked at him, greeted him, or spoke to him when he came over to visit, but it didn’t matter to me.  It was okay for us to be together now.

Although I was accepted to a few universities, I made up my mind to attend community college after high school.  I was undecided on my major and career goals (all I knew was that I wanted to make a difference).  A community college would help me save money while I shopped around for inspiration for my major and career goals.  Things were looking better.  I was chasing my dreams of going to college.  I was finally able to be with the person I love.  Life was looking good… until I found out I was pregnant.

Click for the next part in this series.