March is Women’s History Month in the United States. This month, we acknowledge and celebrate women who have made extraordinary impacts in the political and social spheres in the past and present. Feminists.
Besides it being Women’s History Month, today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a global holiday celebrating the economic, political, and social achievements of women all around the world. Feminists. Today I am honoring the first woman who made the biggest impact on my life: my mom.
Growing up in a patriarchal culture where women are suppressed by thousand-year-old traditions, I’ve always felt I was “different.” However, I never could express it in a single word. (Feminist/Feminism wasn’t in my dictionary until later on). I didn’t start questioning Hmong culture and traditional norms until I was 12 years old. My parents did a pretty good job of sheltering my siblings and me. I had Hmong friends, watched Hmong movies, and did “Hmong” stuff. I learned how to be a decent Hmong girl, preparing myself to be the “perfect” Hmong wife. This was the only world I knew, that is, until the day my father left. The world as I knew it flipped upside-down.
I felt ostracized by the Hmong community because I no longer had a father–a male role-model, a patriarch. Hmong adults whispered hurtful words, assuming and predicting my future failure in life due to the only fact that my father was absent (because without a man, nothing else matters).
Although I didn’t know it at that time, my mom is the first feminist I came to know. Of course, I learned about notable women in history later (Susan B. Anthony, Alice Walker, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, and more), but my mom is the first woman who planted that tiny seed in my brain. My mom did things that defied Hmong social norms and she received criticisms from the Hmong community. However, that didn’t stop her.
It is the norm for Hmong widows and divorcees to remarry, regardless of gender. A man should have a wife to care for the home and children. A woman should have a husband so she can have someone to make decisions and financially care for her. My mom refused to remarry (she’s still unmarried today). I always thought a family needed a father in the home. That was the way it was with Hmong families I knew. As the years passed, I saw that our family was just fine without a man. I realized that we didn’t need a father to survive this harsh world after all. Staying unmarried was the biggest decision she made that shaped my life.
Since my father was no longer in the picture, my mom had to make all the decisions in the house. Of course, many Hmong people couldn’t believe she would do such unorthodox things! She did jingle-bell parties and weddings (it’s usually the patriarch who are in charge of such ceremonies). She talked with elders in the community when there was a problem. She stood up for herself when other women accused her of flirting with their husbands. She demanded respect from the community, and although it took years, she gained it.
My mom may not be a feminist who openly seek political, social, and economic reforms, but she still is a feminist. She went against traditional Hmong norms and showed me that life doesn’t have to be the way people thousands of years ago proclaim it to be. Standing up and fighting for women’s rights, even if it’s just tiny steps, go a long way.
I shall quote Feminist Activism: “In honor of International Women’s Day, don’t buy a woman you love flowers, show her you really care and STAND UP FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS!“