How Racism Looks Like for a Child

Wood figurines of different nationalities.
Wood figurines of different nationalities. |

My evening conversations with my children consist of the usual: How was your day? How are you doing? A few weeks ago, while we’re sitting on my bed, Little Mermaid told me that Aiden made fun of her at school.

“Mommy, Aiden called me Chinese today,” she broke into tears. “I told him that I’m Hmong and he said, ‘No, you’re Chinese. Ha! Ha!’ It really hurt my feelings.”

She climbed into my arms and I hugged and comforted her.

This is the second time this has happened. The first time was last year when a student from another class made fun of her because she is “Chinese.”

Both times, the teachers didn’t seem to take it seriously. The first teacher said that the student probably thought Little Mermaid was Chinese because they had just discussed about how diverse the classroom was. Little Mermaid’s current teacher punished the student by having him pull a card with no conversations around why it’s not okay to call someone “Chinese” when they’re not.

How would microaggressions as this transgress into as a child grows older? What would happen if no one had conversations with said child that it’s not okay to disregard or invalidate a person’s experience based on their race? Some would argue that it’s no big deal, that children don’t know what they’re saying, that it was a joke, or that they didn’t intend to offend or hurt anyone.

Kids used to call me and my friends “Chinese,” “Chink,” “Ching Chong,” and other racial slurs growing up. It wasn’t just White kids, but kids of color as well. We would insult them back, “You’re stupid! We’re not Chinese!” or “Are you deaf? That’s not how we talk.”

For a very short time when I was 10 years old, we had a Black family as our neighbor. We lived in a duplex and the two master bedrooms shared a wall. My sisters and I shared the master and it seemed the children next door shared the master bedroom on the other side. It started with the other kids making fun of the way we talk. Whenever we had our bedroom window open, we would hear them shouting out their bedroom window, “Ching chong ching chong! You guys talk funny,” followed by a burst of laughter.

When we told our mom about it, she simply said as she always did, “Just ignore them. We don’t want to have any problems with anyone.” And so, we ignored them as much as we could and it escalated to include name-calling. My sisters and I started telling them they’re stupid and that their words don’t hurt us. “Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us!” we would chant back to them every time they said something mean to us.

This continued on for months. And then one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. So when I heard someone say, “You suck Chinese dick, you dog-eating Chink,” from next door, I ran to the window and said, “Shut the fuck up, N-word!”

Yes, I did. That was the first and last time I ever called someone that name. I didn’t feel any remorse at that time. I do now, but at that time, I was proud of myself  because the name-calling ended.

Later that evening, we were visited by the mother of the family next door. She confronted my limited-English speaking mom about one of us calling her children the N-word. I spoke for my mother and told our neighbor that her children started it and they had been calling us names for a few months. Our neighbor said she didn’t appreciate us using that word and left. They moved out shortly after that. And that was when I started to understand the deep negative impact that that particular word has on Black people. It was not okay for the kids next door to make fun of us or call us names based on our skin color, but that didn’t justify me calling them a derogatory name in return.

My kids haven’t fully grasp the concept of racism. We have had conversations and teaching moments about race and diversity. They know that it’s wrong to dislike, judge, or discriminate someone solely on the color of their skin, their gender, the way they speak, their sexual orientation/identity, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, or their abilities/disabilities. They’re not perfect and I don’t expect them to be. It will continue to be a learning process for all of us, but I feel better just knowing that we’re having conversations around race, appreciation of diversity, and racism.

Even though my children do not have a deep understanding of racism, microagressions or even blatant racism, they are still impacted by these every day.



Say What?! Feminism is Veganism

Being feminist means being vegan. You can’t be a true feminist if you’re eating meat.

I read this comment on Facebook and it hit a nerve with me. My first reaction was, “Why should people be telling others what to eat and what not to eat?” The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me for many reasons.

The argument is that being a feminist means addressing all forms of oppression, including oppression of animals. The animal agricultural industry exploits animals. Female animals are forced to breed through artificial or manual insemination. Their youngs are taken from them prematurely. Female chickens are debeaked and grow to be too big for their legs to carry them. Pigs are penned in cages too small for them to move. The theory is that exploitation of the female animal reproductive system is very relevant to feminists fighting against the patriarchy and fighting for human female reproductive rights. Oppression of animals should intersect with oppression of women.

When vegans or feminists make statements like mentioned above, it can come off as very Western-centric, classist, and elitist.

Photo by Masahiro Ihara via Flickr
“Vegetables in Whole Foods Market” by Masahiro Ihara via Flickr

I’ve never felt like going vegan or vegetarian, not because I didn’t understand the plight for animal rights, but because it is something I can’t identify with.

First and most importantly, Hmong culture is a very big part of my identity, and food is Hmong culture. We (family and friends) gather around food. Food is served at birthday parties, religious ceremonies, celebrations, and even during short visits to family. Food is part of family life.

So, why not substitute meat ingredients with vegan products?

Our ancestors cultivated the lands of Laos, Vietnam, and China for farming and livestock. We brought our culture with us when we immigrated to the US as refugees of war after the Vietnam War.

Religious ceremonies, like hu plig (soul calling), require eggs and the sacrifice of chickens and roosters. Other ceremonies involve sacrificial cows, pigs, and sheep/goats. We need chicken’s blood and feathers for the New Year to create a new shrine for our xwm kab. So, how should we perform or practice our religion if we go vegan? What about the cultural custom of dieting only on boiled chicken and herbs 30 days postpartum?

Meat has always been very precious to the Hmong. We don’t waste anything, so the dishes we cook during feasts are from the meat of the animals we sacrifice for religious ceremonies. Food we eat throughout the year are leftover meat from the same animals.

Vegans telling me to stop eating meat is like them telling me that I should not practice my culture or religion. Very White-centric and maybe even racist.

Secondly, I’ve always identified veganism with White hipsters. Just like how White feminism isn’t inclusive of the struggles of people of color, the LGBTQ community, or those with disabilities, just to name a few, veganism is very exclusive to those with privilege.

Many feminists in the non-profit sector (myself included) do not make a lot of money. My priorities are not to search for non-GMO, organic, whole foods, fresh produce and cruelty-free, vegan products or merchandise. My priorities are to make sure I can stretch my dollars to support my family until payday. Additionally, many people live in food deserts where healthy fresh food is not locally available. Who are we to judge?

There are indigenous people from all over the world whose survival relies on hunting, especially those from the Northern Hemisphere where the weather does not permit agriculture. These people live conscientiously and make less of an impact than vegan food being processed, packaged, and transported to sell at Whole Foods. Thinking back on my Grams telling tales of how my ancestors respected the earth and only took what they needed really hones in that not everyone who eat meat are exploiting animals. Not only that, but there are communities of non-indigenous Americans who live off the land responsibly and sustainably.

Additionally, there is a growing trend of vegans (not all) appropriating ethnic food and culture and claiming it as “hip” or “vegan.” This is more of an issue for me as an ethnic minority whose history is full of political and social oppression, colonialism, and war.

Lastly, I do not oppose veganism, but I am against vegans who think their way of life is better than someone else’s without understanding the person’s life dynamics and culture.

It’s not okay to judge or attack anyone whose lifestyle choices are different from ours. Whether someone chooses to abstain from meat due to religious or ethical reasons is up to them. Whether someone chooses to eat meat or doesn’t have the privilege to choose not to eat meat is also none of our business. Not everyone can afford to eat healthy. Not everyone’s body can thrive on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Many do not have the choices most with privilege do.

To say that a feminist is not a “true” feminist if they eat meat is counter-intuitive of feminism isn’t it? Let’s just tackle the problem of exploiting farm laborers before saying that going vegan is more ethical than eating meat.

I’ll Be Seeing You

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
— Marcus Tullius Cicero

My maternal grandmother passed away on April 1, 2015. She was 75 years old.

When I received my aunt’s phone call that morning at work, I thought, “This must be a joke. It’s not funny.” When I called and texted my family, they all thought the same. Well, my sassy grandmother did have a sense of humor; she passed away on April Fool’s.

As I sat there looking at her lifeless body, I kept thinking that she was just going to wake up and greet me as she usually does, “Mev Npauv  (Her nickname for me—a play on the English pronunciation of my name), koj tuaj los (A general Hmong phrase to welcome someone into your home)?

I knew she wasn’t going to wake up, but a part of me was in denial. She was going to greet me and then scold and nag at me for whatever reason, like usual. My dear grandmother couldn’t have possibly left. I still needed more time with her.

Grams knew she didn’t have a lot of time left. I always took her to withdraw her monthly SSI check. And each month, because she knew I would refuse the money she tried to give me, she would hand me a $20 bill and tell me to split it for my two children. However, in March, she handed me two $20’s and said, “Muab ib daim rau koj muab faib rau koj ob tug me nyuam. Daim no kuv muab rau koj saib ua dab muag cia (Split this one for your two children. Please keep this one as a memento of me).” Maybe I knew she was going to leave too, because I accepted it without resistance.


For as long as I can remember, Grams has always been a second mother to me. When my father left when I was 12, she helped my mother nurture and take care of me and my 6 siblings. She was the voice of reason when my mother was being unreasonable. She loved to sew and passed that love down to my mother and then to me. My grams was also a woman of tremendous knowledge, despite being illiterate. She had a profound knowledge of Eastern medicine and grew many medicinal herbs in her backyard. She was a mother and played her role with great wisdom and a big heart.

Grams suffered greatly the last couple years of her life. Her heart was broken when someone very close to her betrayed her trust. She was struggling with mending the relationship, her resentment, and broken heart when, a year later, she was diagnosed with cancer. She told me that although she didn’t want to die, she just didn’t have the energy to hold onto life anymore. Thus, we watched helplessly as she withered away.

I’m glad I got to spend as much time as I did with her the last 2 years. I got to know my grams on much deeper level than I could possibly have. I got to know Sao Vang, the Hmong woman who never wanted to marry but was bride-napped; the Hmong woman who lost a husband and braved the Vietcongs and Pathet Lao and brought her family to Thailand; the Hmong woman who suffered from the injustices of the Hmong patriarchal system.

It has been almost 4 months since her passing. Struggling with the loss of a loved one is hard. There are moments when I miss her terribly, and today is one of those days. But I do find solace believing that she is in a better place, watching over us.

Niam Tais, peb nco nco koj heev. And as Frank Sinatra sings, “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…

Children and Children

Rainbow Dash Mini Mermaid told me the other day that she wants to get married in the future but does not want to have any children. This isn’t the first time she has informed me of her choice to be child-free. She is going to marry at age 29 to the person she loves and likes. She doesn’t want any children because she doesn’t want to take care of them. “I don’t want to feed it, wash poop, and wake up at night time,” she said. This child will be 6 in a couple of months.

Besides marriage, she wants to be a rock star with a cool electric guitar like Rainbow Dash, a firefighter, and a police officer. Her favorite superhero is Superman and favorite Disney princess is Queen Elsa.

What does a parent do when she hears that her child doesn’t want any children? You accept it and let it be. As she grows, she may change her mind or she may not. Regardless, it is her life and her decision and in no way should I do anything else besides support that choice.

It is hard for me to be silent when Mini Mermaid tells other people this and they don’t agree, but I do just let her talk. She can stand her ground when talking to adults about this topic. Why she has to defend herself on this topic, I wonder. I mean, she’s just a child. Her worries should be kindergarten, playtime, and friends. It makes no sense for me when an adult tells a child they must have children when they grow up and they need to want it now.

My family gives me a lot of pressure to have more children.

“You have to have more!”

“You must have at least a son.”

“You can’t stop at two.”

“What does your husband think?”

My family wants me to have at least two more sons. Again, the issue of sons. Sometimes, these conversations make me feel as if it is my sole duty as a woman to only bare sons. I pick and choose my battles on this topic. If I have the energy, I tell them no way; I will not have any more children and argue my point. And other times, I nod and say, “Okay, we’ll try to see if we have any more children,” just to appease them for the moment.

When my daughters were babies, I used to wonder if they will get the same pressure to have children, to have sons. After seeing that people are already telling the one who doesn’t want any children that she must have children, I no longer wonder. Even my older child who says she wants to have only one child will probably get pressured to have more children. It just doesn’t stop.

Online Social Networks

I have a Facebook page for A Hmong Woman. Not only do I update there when I post something here, but I also share articles, links, thoughts, etc. If you’re on Facebook, like my page.

I am also on Instagram (@yangmb). I have been getting questions about my personal life; who I am, where I live, what my interests are, etc. I am really not that interesting, but if you want, you can catch a glimpse into my personal life on IG.

I started a new project. It’s a blog called “Ordinary MB Adventures.” I started this blog to document my excursions. You can check it out if you like.

And lastly, I am also on Twitter.

And that is it! Connect with me.

(Updated on 11/22/2015)