This blog post is part of the My Mermaid series.
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My father was abusive, so it was bittersweet when he left. I was 12 years old. I thought life would be better now. Little did I know that was just the beginning.
Without a father-figure in the home, the Hmong community looked down on my family—my mom being a single mother, taking care of 7 children. The Hmong friends I grew up with started shying away from my siblings and me, more-so the girls in the family. At first, I was confused with the changes in demeanor of these people (children and adults) whom I had grown up with. It wasn’t until I overheard one of my best childhood friends’ mother telling her to never bring me over again because nws niam thiab txiv yog neeg tsis zoo, nws yog lawv noob, yuav phem ib yam li lawv (her parents are bad people, she is their seed, she will be just as bad as them). Although my childhood friend didn’t listen to her mother and continued to talk to me until she moved to a different part of town, the damage was done. My feelings were hurt by an adult—someone I believed should have been wiser and understanding—and I avoided my friend’s house as much as I could because I knew I wasn’t accepted.
Hmong women started accusing my mom of trying to “steal” their husbands. Because my mom was divorced and in her mid-20’s, Hmong women feared that she would steal their husbands away (Somehow, in their crazy minds, they believed their husbands were the only men left on this planet). There was one particular woman whose husband would constantly pretend to come over to “look” for his daughter. Even when my sisters and I told him that she wasn’t over, he demanded to look in each and every one of our rooms. He would quickly glanced into our rooms, but lingered in my mom’s. Sometimes, when we didn’t open the door for him, he would walk around to the parking lot and peek into my mom’s bedroom. His wife hated it and gossiped about my mom all over town. The Hmong women stigmatized and ostracized my mom and the Hmong men viewed her with no respect and simply as a target for their lust.
So, while my mom was working hard to gain respect from the Hmong community, I was liberating myself from the constraints of the patriarchal culture. We clashed a lot. She didn’t believe girls should participate in sports or attend school dances. So when I signed up for the girls’ basketball team tryouts both years in junior high school, my mom refused to take me. I even lied to her once that I had to stay after school for a class project when I attended the annual back-to-school dance. My middle school participation in choir, the talent show, and the annual drama production was something I fought really hard to get into.
It was during this stage of my very early life that I met someone who would be the pivot of my search for individualism, where I would find love, my voice, and stand up for what I believed in.