Friday, September 13, 2013
Ode to the Hmong Man in My life
As I work on being a catalyst to improve the lives of Hmong women in Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together, I can’t help but reflect on the events and the people who were the catalyst that propelled me to be who I am today, one of whom is my older brother Lee.
My brother Lee is among one of the youngest members of the leadership team of the Yang clan. He became active in the Yang clan several years after he and my sister-in-law started having children. To my family, Lee represents more than just a member of the family clan. In fact, by being a member of the leadership team he helps manage, resolve and is privy to family issues like marriages, funerals and how the clan uses money that is collected from clan family members. More importantly, he represents the voice of my immediate family. You see, my father died a long time ago and since his death we have not had a seat at the table, so to speak, where the elders make decisions about our community. Before Lee was considered mature enough to be invited to the leadership table, my mother was not included in clan level decisions. In fact, my family moved from Nebraska to Wisconsin just to be in proximity to the next of kin elders from the Yang clan.
However, to me he was a leader before he became part of the Yang clan. He was instrumental in helping my mother and I listen long enough to shift our perspectives in order to better understand one another. As a Hmong girl growing up in the midst of mainstream culture, I struggled with who I was as an individual versus who my mother wanted me to be. When I wanted to go to college far away from home and my mother said “no” because I was a girl, it was my brother who helped me understand that I didn’t need to go 2-3 hours away from home to go to a great school, learn, and explore who I want to become. When I would come home late and get scolded by my mother who was waiting up for me, my brother would help my mother understand I needed to study at the library. Lee, thank you for helping to keep the peace at home.
Growing up, Lee knew how hard life was for our mother, who was raising us up by herself. He knew how little voice and respect my mother had because there was no “man of the house.” Even as a high school student, to me he was half brother, half father figure. I didn’t know when and how his role started to transition from just being a young man to being involved in clan leadership, but it seemed to happen over night. I believe he just started to step up because no one else was stepping up. My mom needed him to step up to represent our voices and like it or not he did. Lee, thank you for carrying the burden of our entire immediate family on your shoulders.
Lee, thank you for being the Hmong man that you are. You are always an advocate for the Hmong women in your life. Thank you for encouraging me through college. Thank you for believing in me when I have felt I could not continue. Thank you for helping me understand Hmong culture more. Thank you for being you: compassionate, patient, thoughtful, reflective, an ally, brother, father, and inspiration.
You are the wonderful Hmong man in my life. I could not be here today without you.