Monday, March 5, 2012
Finding Your Voice to Speak Out
My first encounter with finding my voice happened when my dad married a second wife. My dad had been cheating on my mom for a couple of years. On the day that he and my mom were supposed to drive me to college, my dad married his second wife without telling my mom or my siblings. Prior to my dad marrying his second wife, my siblings and I staged many interventions with my dad and pleaded with him to stop cheating on my mom.
Because I went away to college, I was glad to physically be away from home because I no longer had to “deal” with my parents. During my four years in college, my siblings and I never once utter a negative word to my dad about his marriage to his second wife. At the same time, my siblings and I tried hard persuading my mom to leave my dad, and because she refused to leave my dad, I became more upset at her than at my dad. Looking back now, I understand that my desire for her to leave my dad was selfish, and at that time, I did not fully understand the cultural implications or repercussions my mom would face if she divorced my dad.
After college, I moved away to the east coast, and after two years, I returned home. Although I knew how difficult life was for my mom, it was not until I returned home and witnessed her struggles and mistreatment by my dad and his second wife. I knew that she felt her life was not worth living, although she remained strong, resilient and persevered through this difficult time.
I had to say something because we tolerated my dad and his second wife’s ill-treatment for far too long. I found the courage to confront the mistreatment by my dad and his second wife. I spoke up and spoke out. My aunts and uncles immediately sided with my dad and accused me of stirring up trouble. This got to the point where my dad’s relatives called a meeting to mediate between my dad’s second wife and me. When the mediation took place, I spoke the truth. I believe that when you speak the truth, the truth can set you free.
During this process, I learned I could be my mom’s voice, because I had nothing to lose. I knew when I stood up to my dad and his Yang clan relatives; I was speaking up for my mom and my siblings. I can choose to remain silent; however, I cannot dismiss my values, morals, and beliefs. When something does not feel right, a person must stand up and address the problem.
This was the most difficult time in my life so far because I felt powerless and useless. Having courage to voice your opinion and knowing that it could cause backlash is the hardest thing to do, especially if you are unsure who will stand by your side. I did not know and did not have the words to explain this back then, but now I know I was a leader standing up to the injustice done to my mom. This process taught me skills, and empowered me to believe that we must stand up and speak out when our morals and values are challenged.
I share this story because I am still my finding my voice on so many different levels. I truly believe that we are all leaders, but we just don’t know it yet. Leadership can happen at different points in our lives.
This is a life lesson that I carry with me into my professional career working in higher education.
I openly share this story with the young Hmong women I have had the chance to mentor because my story illustrates courage and the power to believe. The story is about finding my voice to speak out against unfair cultural practices and learning to choose my battles wisely. I believe we can be the voice for our mothers’ generation and help each other discover our true authentic self so we can find our own voice."