Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the blog posts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together.

Friday, December 13, 2013

FInding love in unusual places

By Blia Yang

I never approved of any Hmong person going overseas to marry someone. I always believed that those marriages were just a way for people to come to America. I also believed that people who married ib tug neeg nyob tebchaws vam meej no xav thiab ntshaw lub neej vim txoj kev muaj nyiaj ntxiag xwb. Cov neeg nyob tim ub lam txias nyiaj yeej tsis muaj kev hlub kiag. The thought of international marriages only brought out negative thoughts. Why would someone want to marry overseas when they can find someone who is educated and knows the language to start out a better life? Luag tej yeej hais tias ua li cas yus xav yug ib  tug neeg es tsis paub ntawb paub ntawv. Tsis yog hais tias yus ruam thiab tsis zoo nkauj es thiaj nrhiav tsis tau ib tug nyob tebchaws Ameliska no. I used to believe in all of that. But now my view has changed because I am part of it.

I hesitated to tell my story because I’m scared of what others might think. I was afraid to be judged the way I used to judge others. But after much thought I decided I needed to share my story. I was once in your position.

In 2009 I just graduated from U of M in elementary education and was about to pursue a masters program in curriculum and instruction. My parents suggested I take a break and travel to Laos to visit relatives that I have never met before and to finally see the land they have been talking about. We arrived just in time for the Hmong New Year in Xieng Khouang. The land was beautiful. The scenery and mountains were breathtaking! The breeze was not like any others. Huab cua txias zias laj siab tshaj plaws yuav tsis muaj dabtsi los piv tau.

I met Nhia during the Hmong New Year. We threw a few balls, smiled and walked around the field. I actually treated him to a bowl of pho. He showed me places around town and some tourist sites. I loved everything about him including txoj kev hais lus qab zib. I love the way he respected elders. I loved the way he talked to his parents. I even loved the way he chopped meat. He was attending law school. He was ambitious. He knew where he was going in life without anyone telling him how to get there. Before I knew it I was falling in love with this guy. Nws tsis hau yuam yeeb, tsis quav cawv thiab tsis twv nyiaj txiag. Tsis tag li ntawv thiab nws paub txhoov tau hau npua.
We shared a lot of memories together. In no time he asked me to marry him. I said no. It was too soon. We had only known each other for a month. He asked me again, I said no. For me going to Laos and meeting him was just a blissful vacation. By the fifth time he asked me to marry him I finally thought long and hard about it. I agreed to get engaged.

Many people strongly disapproved the engagement when I announced it. I was lectured by many about the “mistake” I was about to make. Feelings were hurt all around. But I was lucky to have my parents by my side and I received their blessing.

When my month long vacation was over I came home to Minneapolis and left Nhia behind. Because it was an engagement I was in no rush to get him here. In the back of my mind I also believed that Laos was a country where one could fall in love easily. So, I wanted to see if my feelings were still there. We continued to stay connected through Skype, emails, and numerous phone calls.  My feelings and love did not change one bit. In fact, I only grew to love him more.

After a good five to six months I started the paper work. Fast-forward another fives months I went back to Laos and we both spent time together. We stayed in Vientiane and he totally serenaded me. We decided to take the bus to Luang Prabang. I enjoyed being with him on the long bus ride, the time we were together overlooking the spring water, and the night shopping. I enjoyed being sick to my stomach because of the food poisoning and he took care of me. What I loved the most was our motorcycle rides. We still reminisce about many of these memories today.  

In no time my husband was here despite the fact that there was a winter storm in Minneapolis and he was stuck overnight in Atlanta, GA. When he finally arrived in Minnesota he touched snow for the very first time!

Muaj ib qho kuv ntshai tshaj plaws thaum nws tuaj txog yog txoj kev thuam ntawm tib neeg pej xeem. But I learned to not let that get to me because in the end they are not the people who matter most to me. We gained the love from the ones that disapproved of us.  I would love to assume that they finally see what I saw in him. He’s a great man. He’s respectful.

I understand the negative thoughts and views of international marriages. But every story is different. I want to thank my Hmoob Yaj (7-13-3) side of the family, kuv cov neej tsa, for being so supportive and for loving me so much along with my husband.  Trust me, you don’t know how supportive they were. One relative sang us a song and another one played a musical instrument to bond our love stronger. The list goes on. I also want to thank my husband’s pog and yawg  (tij yug, kwv yug) that welcomed us with open arms.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Learning to love my father's new wife

 By Destiny Xiong

It is so easy to look at someone and point out all the reasons you don't like them for a decision that your father made. It's even easier to ignore that person. But let's face it-that doesn't make the situation better nor does it make you a better person.

So, who is this other person? Let me tell you.

My mother lost her life after battling cancer. It was probably the most difficult thing I've had to deal with in my life thus far. I lost courage, I lost faith, I lost hope, and I lost myself.
Shortly after she passed my father remarried a woman that everyone thought was perfect for him. She was close in age with him, she was a mother already and could be a mother to us and she knew how to cook.  Needless to say that marriage didn't last very long. For whatever reason it was better for them to part ways.

My courage, my faith, and hope was not yet recovered. The journey to who I was began because I didn't have a mother to tell me who I should be.  I had to look deep within myself to remember the things she said that really makes me a better a person.

My father lost love, courage, faith, hope and himself too when my mother passed away. He never recovered. In his journey to find himself he went back to Laos.  Before he went, I recall saying, “Dad, don't go marry someone who is younger than us.”  He laughed.

Upon his return he showed us a picture of a young woman that he said he married. The anger and the disappointment I had was beyond words. The man that sat in front of me was not the same man that I remembered holding my mother in his arms as she began to wither away.

This young woman, who I called, "Kuv txiv tub poj niam," came to the United States not knowing that hell, in the form of me, my sisters, and the world that she knew nothing about, was waiting for her.

I avoided her as much as I could. When she spoke to me I responded in a single word or in English knowing she wouldn't understand me.

I saw my sisters doing to her what I did and in that moment I realized my anger and frustration is not because of her but because of myself.  I let myself become who I am not.

So, let me ask all of you the same questions I asked myself and of my sisters,
Do want a better life for yourself or your family?
Do you want to be happy?
Do you want friends?
Do you want an education?
Do you want to be loved?

In those questions I realized she is no different than us. She is a woman with hope, courage, faith, and while she may not know who she is she too is on a journey to discover who she is.  

I began to talk to her more. I let her get to know my children. I found out that she too like me tends to put a lot of salt on her boiled chicken that she packs for someone who is on a long journey.

So what now? While I still do not condone the act of marrying young women from other parts of the world regardless of what culture you are from, the fact is they are here and they need to be empowered to become successful in their journey.  They need English skills. We encouraged my father to talk to her in English. We talked to her in English so that she can gain the English skills she needed to buy groceries, to have conversations and to gain meaningful employment.

They need to be able to socialize with others besides their husbands. We encouraged my father to help her find employment. She is working now and probably understands 50 percent of what I say if I'm not speaking jargon.

They need to have their own identity and have fun being themselves. We encourage my father to allow her to be herself and not be someone she isn't or a person who my father thinks she should be. And guess what? We learned she likes to bowl and go cray fishing.

I remember the first time she hugged me and said in Hmong to me, "I don't know if you American children like hugs but I am going to give you one anyways." I realized that she truly wants the same things that I do too.

If we turn our backs and ignore these women who are coming here without an understanding or the opportunity to be empowered what happens to them? They fall into this system of oppression. And if we simply ignore them or only point out their faults we perpetuate this system.

So I ask you, how many of you know a young woman in a similar situation? What are you going to do? How have you identified yourself to being an ally to them? And what are going to say to their husbands? And lastly, who are you in your journey? We all have to take personal accountability in reducing oppression within our community.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stay-at-home Dad

By Anonymous

My partner and I are becoming more serious and thinking about our future. For the past few months, we've been talking about marriage and our thoughts on starting a life together. One day, as we're having our usual conversations, without thinking or properly framing my thoughts, I blurted out, "I want you to be a stay at home dad!" As I watched his eyes bewilder and confusion spread across his face, I realized this was more threatening then what I really meant. 

As supportive, progressive and understanding as he can be, staying at home and taking care of our child(ren) is still very much a women's job. It took two different conversations to help him see where I was coming from and be comfortable enough to support my suggestion of our roles. Even though he initially didn't receive the idea very well, he was completely on board after our talk. He even volunteered himself for all sorts of household responsibilities. My partner was more ecstatic than I was about taking care of kids and doing house work!
You see, the expectations from cultural and patriarchal systems was instilled so deep in him, his aspiration was never explored or flourished. As I give him a supportive space to share his thoughts and ideas on family planning, I'm realizing what a great partner he is and a much better "stay at home parent" than I can ever muster up to be! Upon our conversation, I learned that he's very creative, discipline, family-oriented and has a strong desire to be more than the financial provider for our child(ren). It was interesting to me, watching him carefully unravel his family planning ideas as he also tries to balance the stigma and compromises he would have to make with his masculine image.
Of course, I also compromised and offered him my support by validating that he is still "working" and contributing to our family even if he's not the bread winner. We don't know what our future holds and what situation we may come across but at the moment, this family plan seems to best fit us. If anything shall arise and the situation flips, where I need time at home and he needs to go out and work, we're also willing to do so. I'm so thankful he can see pass the expectations and willingly take up a bigger role. His willingness and unconditional support is the kind we need from more partners.

I don't believe women are better housewives and my partner is one example of many. I can't help but wonder, how many male partners would be comfortable with the idea of being a stay at home dad if they were given a system of support? How many women would be supportive of their partner if they wanted to be the stay at home parent instead?

I'd love to hear other thoughts! 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ode to the Hmong Man in My life

By Nou Yang

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.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Strength of a mother

By Maly Lee

Imagine learning that your only two children have been diagnosed with an incurable genetic disorder. Now, imagine both of them developing leukemia and needing bone marrow transplants at the same time. This is the reality of Mai Nhia Moua. Until one year ago, the name Fanconi Anemia wasn't even in her vocabulary, but now it's a nightmare that she is unable to awaken from.

Her oldest child, Dakota, had always dealt with bloody noses. These were not your everyday bloody noses. Dakota's nose would bleed for hours on end until she was bleeding from her eyes as well. More than once she needed blood transfusions from losing so much blood all due to a bloody nose. Wanting more answers for their daughter, Mai Nhia and her husband sought a genetic test. It came back positive for Fanconi Anemia.

The parents were in shock after researching more about this illness. Why them? Why their children? What did they do for this to happen? Questions weighed heavily on them.
They soon found out that Peyton, their younger child, also had Fanconi Anemia. Peyton's dad is in the Army and a few times was not able to be with them during this hard time so Mai Nhia felt alone. She had a very supportive family, but no one who truly understood what she was feeling and going through. Yet she persevered.

She sought and advocated daily for the best treatment for her children in between working as an elementary teacher. Many were telling her to continue to ua neeb, but she knew her children needed more than spiritual help. There were days that she couldn't keep her eyes open and days where it seemed they'd never dry from all the tears she wept.

Earlier this year, after Peyton's bone marrow biopsy, they learned some horrific news. Peyton needed a bone marrow transplant immediately. Before long, they were engulfed in the transplant process. Not too long after, Dakota had a severely bloody nose. Her blood counts had dropped far below comfort. She, too, would be in need of an immediate bone marrow transplant. Their parents were heartbroken, but determination and hope was on their side.

To the present: Peyton had his bone marrow transplant almost two months ago and Mai Nhia was by his side. He's doing remarkably well and was even walking just a few days after his transplant. Now it is Dakota's turn and, like the loving mother that she is, Mai Nhia shaved her head for her daughter.

Mai Nhia and her family's story will not be over when Dakota is healed from transplant. Fanconi Anemia has no cure and there's no telling what it will throw at them next, but I have a feeling they'll stand up to fight again and again and never give up.

Mai Nhia, you're one of the bravest mothers that I know. You have a lot of strength inside you and your love for your children should be written in textbooks. Don't let your mind ever start to make you doubt yourself. I love you all!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Courageous Woman Award - Bo Thao Urabe

Congratulation to Bo Thao-Urabe for winning the Augsburg College Courageous Woman Award.

Watch and read her acceptance speech.

Acceptance Speech for Courageous Woman Award - Accepted on Bo's Behalf, her sister May Thao.
April 4, 2013 at Augsburg College, Minneapolis, MN

I am sorry I could not be there with you all. I am incredibly honored and humbled to be named as a Courageous Woman Award winner, because throughout my life there have been many moments when I did not feel courageous.

When I cried in the jungles of Laos even though my mother told us to be still and quiet fearing we’d be discovered by Communist soldiers and killed. When I came out of school one day only to discover that someone had painted “GOOK” all over my car bumper; I was angry but didn’t report it. When my aunt came over to my home many years ago for safety with fresh fingerprint bruises on her throat, but I did not call the police because it was my uncle who did it.

These types of experiences have shaped me and have helped me to understand that unless I act and do differently things are not going to change.

I can say that as I reflect on my own life so far and that of my community, I know that it is the strength of women that have made survival possible for many. But surviving is not thriving. And today, so many women and children are not thriving in our communities. I look around and those who are poorest, least valued, and most oppressed are women and children. Why is this?

I ask myself, “What can I do today to change conditions for women and children? How can I help meet the needs, but push for a future that I’ve never known where women’s gifts, talents, and leadership are developed and fully embraced?”By honing in on these questions, it’s allowed me to act more quickly and to keep going no matter how hard because that which I dream is yet to be realized.

So, thank you to the Augsburg Women’s Resource Center for this recognition. While it feels strange to be awarded for merely doing what I can when so many are suffering, I accept this award because I now know I have your support and together we can build bridges that will help us make greater progress for all women.

I also want to thank my husband and family for their support, as well as thank Kaohly Her for nominating me. Her support and friendship through the years has been a gift, and now her leadership as the first Executive Director of Hmong Women Achieving Together must be supported by all of us.

Again, thank you.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Are you having a boy or a girl?

As a Hmong woman, this incident was so normal that I didn’t think to share it at all but when I shared it with my non-Hmong friends it completely shocked them. Since we have many non-Hmong readers I thought I would share this very ordinary encounter.

I was at my nephew’s birthday party when my sister’s mother-in-law asked me whether I was having a boy or a girl. I told her we’ll find out in a few weeks. I already have two daughters so she told me that if this baby wasn’t a boy, there are Hmong herbs I can take to guarantee a boy the next time around. I told her this was going to be the last baby, whether it’s a boy or a girl. She said, “If you don’t have a boy your husband will go marry a second wife”. Statements like these don’t personally bother me so I simply said, “That’s fine” and ended the conversation.

My non-Hmong friends asked me if it was even possible for a Hmong man to marry a second wife. Yes, it is.

Rather than educate the mother-in-law on the scientific details of how the sex of the baby is determined or argue with her (at my nephew’s 6 year birthday party) I chose to ignore her statement and show her that the possibility of having another baby girl or my husband marrying a second wife does not intimidate me. To women who may not be so confident, it’s a reason for them to keep having babies until they have a boy or to be open to the idea of their husband marrying a second wife.

Hmong women can be the harshest critics of Hmong women. This is just the way we were brought up. I try to catch my sisters, my friends, and myself when I resort to these types of statements but it takes an enormous amount of awareness to catch these statements-they’re so ingrained in us. If we tried a little harder to avoid degrading statements that put down our self-worth, we can all take a step closer to empowering ourselves and our fellow Hmong sisters.  

Mai Vang