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.
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.
I hear many people talk about love as something to fight for. We see it and hear it everywhere: the media, online, friends, family, quotes. If you search online for inspirational love quotes, you will come upon a feast of them. Love is battlefield. It’s us against the world. Nothing can come between us.
If you’re in a healthy relationship, and you love that person, then by all means, fight for it. Go against society and traditions. Stand up for your love. Do whatever it is you feel you need to do to make it last and worthwhile.
However, people tend to take these concepts of fighting for love and incorporate them into abusive relationships. They may not be aware that they’re in an abusive relationship. They tell themselves that love is a battlefield and if they fight and hold on to that person who mistreats them, everything will work out in the end. My abuser will change; it’s just a matter of time. And when friends and family try to intervene, they may see it as meddling (because their abuser says so) and then isolate themselves from their support system.
You deserve happiness. You have the right to be treated with love and respect. You have the right to love someone who will love you back and not abuse you. When you come to love yourself, you gain so much.
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).
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.
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.
I couldn’t tell him face to face what happened. So I left him a note in our locker. “My mom hit me last night. It wasn’t because of you.” I lied about the latter.
When I went to the locker at the end of school, he wasn’t waiting for me as he usually did. Instead he left a note addressed to “Innocent Barbie (He called me Barbie back then).” “Nobody touches my girl,” the note was written in furious handwriting. We didn’t see each other that evening. The next morning at school, I found another note from him. This one was a lot calmer. “When did your mother start abusing you? If you don’t want to answer, it’s okay.” I never told him.
Life at home started to become unbearable. In addition to the arguments about my boyfriend and the beatings I went through, because I was becoming of age, my mom was trying to groom me into the ideal Hmong daughter: submissive, cook, and keep the house clean. My high school had the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) and I was enrolled in it part time, taking IB English and science classes. The IB program had a strong and challenging curriculum, so it was a struggle to juggle school with the domestic demands at home. My mom and I were constantly arguing over me being lazy and not behaving like other “good” Hmong daughters.
I wished to participate in extracurricular activities, but my mom wouldn’t allow me. She stated that a girl’s role is in the home, not out running around like the boys. So, I did what I needed to do; I lied to her when I joined the dance production team my sophomore year. Instead of taking conventional PE classes for graduation requirement, I chose dance because it would be easier, I told her. (It was partly true. Dance was a PE option, but that wasn’t the reason why I wanted to join). And that was how I got into Company MHS—my only active extracurricular activity throughout high school.
I knew my mom was being very strict on me because she feared I was walking down the same path as her when she was my age. My mom was also afraid I would shame her. The Hmong community was already expecting me and my siblings to fail. I am the oldest of 7. If I fell down a destructive path, my siblings would follow suit. My mom didn’t want people to talk any more than they were. So, she thought that by restricting our freedom, we would be “good” children and not ruin the tiny shreds of reputation she was clinging on to.
However, I didn’t care about gossip, reputation, or saving face. I only wished that my mom would just trust me and my judgment. So, the more restrictive she became, the more I rebelled against her traditional ways and stood up for myself. Our frequent arguments and fights pushed me further and further away from my mom and my culture.
I wasn’t the only one affected by my mom’s urgency to control her children. My younger brother ended up moving to live with our father for a couple of years because of the disagreements between them. My younger sister attempted suicide and spent 72 hours in a behavioral center years later.
My boyfriend became my pillar of support. He was there for me when I needed someone. I hardly spoke about what went on at home because I was embarrassed and ashamed. He probably knew what was going on behind closed doors, but never mentioned anything to me. We had a nonverbal understanding that it was not something we both felt comfortable talking about. I’m not sure if he ever blamed himself for the things I was going through with my mom, but I never blamed him one bit. I was actually grateful to have him in my life. Spending time with him kept my mind off of the turmoil I was feeling inside. He made me laugh and smile every single moment we were together; he brought sunshine into the darkness I was in. He made me feel really good about myself. By the end of my sophomore year, I was madly, head-over-heels, in love with him. Nothing my mom said or did was going to tear us apart.
The Hmong adults started saying that he—the delinquent—badly influenced me. I used to be such a “good” girl, but after I met him, I started being “bad.” I didn’t understand why they were saying these things because I wasn’t a “bad” girl. I stayed in school. I got good grades and almost-perfect attendance. I wasn’t doing drugs or drinking (I actually didn’t have my first alcoholic beverage until I was 19). I didn’t stay out late. I wasn’t involved in gangs. I didn’t get into fights. I didn’t sneak out at night. I was a homebody. The only reasons that I could conceive as to why they believe it was so was because I stopped conforming to the traditional norms, was being more verbal about my opinions, and seeing a boy who didn’t have the best reputation in the world.
You would think that if I had just ended my relationship with my boyfriend, my mom would stop beating me. To me, it was more than just this boy. I had finally discovered that I can be myself, have my own beliefs, and build my life on my principles—and I wasn’t going to back down. My mom was pushing her beliefs on to me. She wanted to mold me into the “perfect” Hmong woman: domesticated, silent, submissive, and obedient. If I had given into my mom, that meant that I had given up on myself because I didn’t believe in what she believed in. So, no matter how much my mom verbally, emotionally, or physically abused me, I stayed stubborn and fought.
Not only was I fighting for my beliefs, but I was also fighting for something that my parents never showed me was possible. Despite his looks and reputation, my boyfriend treated me with so much love and utmost respect—so differently from how I saw my father treat my mom. My boyfriend never hit me. He never put me down. He supported me. Even though my mom was a total bitch to him, he never said anything bad about her. He respected my decision to wait on sex until I was ready. Of course, I gave my virginity to him later on, but he never pressured me. We made out so many times, but whenever I stopped him from going further, he would without questioning me. No pressuring, begging, whining, or guilt trips. And I stuck with him despite all the abuse I endured with my mom because of his show of love and respect.
I never thought I was pretty enough because throughout my childhood, my family called me various nicknames to imply that I was ugly. My skin tone was darker than what the Hmong would consider beautiful, thus I was called “Pog Qhab Meem (Miss Cambodian)” or “Poj Nplog (Miss Laotian).” My family used to make fun of my full lips and very big round eyes—asking why I have sausage lips like Black people from Africa and saying that my eyes are eerily round like an owl’s. Standing at 5’3”, I was taller than the average Hmong girls in town. My family called me Olive Oil and Daddy Long Legs and commented that I would never find a tall Hmong husband. I hated all these attributes of myself. But to my boyfriend, I was the most beautiful girl in the world. He loved everything about me, despite what negative reputation I carried in the Hmong community.
He was my first—first real boyfriend, first kiss, first sexual experience, first love.
We both moved away to different parts of town during the latter years of high school. My partner and I saw less and less of each other. I thought that by not seeing him that often, my mom would stop her bickering and yelling at me. It didn’t stop. Our arguments became more frequent. And we argued about the same things. If we were not arguing about my boyfriend, then we argued about my role as a Hmong daughter and saving my mother’s face. It was driving me crazy! I felt as if I was on probation and house arrest all the time. I didn’t even have an opportunity to go out and ruin my mom’s reputation if I wanted to.
The things that were important to me were nothing to her. I also didn’t see the importance in her Hmong values. We lived in two very different worlds and there was nothing that could bridge this gap between us.
At the end of my junior year, I felt so lost, confused, and out of place that I no longer knew what to do. We rarely argued about my boyfriend; it was constantly about me now. Always how I was not good enough. The arguments between my mom and me escalated to the point of my mom almost strangling me death. Even though I don’t think much about that day, I still remember it very vividly.