AAPI LGBTQ Pride: To Be Me

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Growing up in a Hmong family with 3 other brothers and 1 sister was a real struggle to get by as my parents and close family members expected so much of me to succeed just like my uncle. I was born the second son in our family of 7, including my parents. Here is my story… Ever since I could remember, my family had always praised me to be the brightest, and a person who would always listen to their parents. With this in mind, I couldn’t bear to disappoint them by telling them that I like boys. I, along with close family members and friends, had always knew that I was different.

Having only one sister in the family, my mother had always spoiled her since she was the only daughter. My mother was always buying her pretty dresses, jewelry, makeup products, and all the accessories little girls loved. Of course, you can pretty much guess how jealousy had just taken a hold on me. So, I questioned myself about why I felt this way. I hated myself and I wanted to cry because being a boy, I can’t have girly things.

 

During second grade, I knew I had feelings for other boys in my class. I wanted to only hangout with them, to be put in the same group as them, and wanted to spend my entire day with them. This was all I could ever think about. Sadly, I didn’t understand my feelings at the time and I kept thinking to myself if this sensation of infatuation, only  a phase. I thought I was living a normal life. As I got older, I understood the term gay and that was when I started to label myself as gay. Although, I was still unhappy with the term gay because it didn’t suit me well. I hid myself in the dark corner of my mind and even persuaded myself that I was not gay. Afraid to be known as feminine, I would exclude myself from society and my classmates throughout my entire grade school education. Every friend I made, knew or assumed that I was gay due to my feminine voice, while at that time, I never knew that I wanted to become a woman.

When I was 20 years old, I was introduced to the term transgender and increased my vocabulary to define myself. The moment I heard the word, I immediately searched and googled the term many times. The feelings I received from knowing transgender was so overwhelming and I couldn’t wait any longer, because that was the day my life as a boy ended. From there on out, I considered myself as a woman and I have been living as a woman since that day.


Kimora Cha is 26 years old and identify as a Hmong transgender woman from Sacramento, California.

 

 

 

 


Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE 
Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

 

 

 

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AAPI LGBTQ Pride: I Am My Father’s Son & My Mother’s Daughter

TOU FONG LEE

My secret dwelled deep. I asked myself if I could live in my secret forever. I am a Hmong gay man and a Hmong Drag Queen. I am my father’s gay son and my mother’s drag daughter. I am both a man and a woman and at the same time neither a man or a woman. I do know that I am Hmong, no matter if I identify as a man, woman, or neither. My gay identity made me “less” of a man, according to my family and my culture.

As the oldest son of four children, I was told that Hmong men are expected to grow up, attend college, get a career as a doctor, marry a wife, and raise a family. I was expected to carry on the family name and become a role model to the rest of the younger generations. I have lost count to how many times my father and uncle told me to “man up.” I was expected to be the leader of my household and one day have beautiful kids to carry on my family name.

At age 18, however, these expectations became a great failure to my parents. On graduation, I revealed my biggest secret to my parents that I am gay. I was known as the “lady boy” of my community. Gay to my parents, and perhaps to many Hmong parents as well, meant that I was transgender, confused, a prostitute, and it meant a loss of hope. To them, being gay meant that I want to be the other “gender.” The only definition of what my parents know to be gay was what they heard and a few times seen growing up as kids in the country side of Thailand. To them, I defied the Hmong culture. I went against every hetero-normative belief and I went against the only life they ever knew, the life of Hmong. To them and to everyone else before them, I was known as the sick and a sexual “lady boy”; someone who they falsely think is cursed and preyed on young boys, capable of converting people to my “lifestyle.” On coming out as gay, Hmong people think I will never have a family, a career, marriage, and life. This my parents feared.

Before coming out, I never knew how much my Hmong identity and my gay identity would conflict. All of a sudden my sexual identity became the only identity Hmong people saw me as. I faced great hatred and prejudice from my own culture. I faced racism from non-Hmong people and discrimination and prejudice from my own people, my own family, and the rest of the community. I present myself as a Hmong man, not a gay person. When I put on heels, makeup, and perhaps a dress to imitate the art of drag, I become my mother’s daughter, my brother’s sister, and another Hmong person to challenge the authorities of what “men” and “women” ought to do and not ought to do.

At age 19, I became one of the few Hmong Drag Queens in America. I can literally count on two hands how many Hmong Drag Queens there are in this country. I go to school events in drag, I volunteer in drag, I speak to groups in drag, and I am in drag when I do classroom and university workshops and discussion. I started my life as a Drag Queen not because I identify as transgender but because I identify as myself.

The first time I started drag was the first time I felt so free and so liberated. As a kid I knew I was gay. As a kid growing up in a house with girls, I was always fascinated with how my sister did her hair and how she wore pretty long dresses in the summer time. I always loved how my mom had flowers in her curly hair and the way her eyelashes were bridge long. I started drag as a way of entertainment. Soon enough it became a stress reliever. The way I transformed myself into a different character leaves behind the challenges I faced as a Hmong gay man. It delivered me from the stressful daily tasks and stresses I remember from school and work. However, it was not long before I wanted to be more than entertainment. Being a drag queen meant, to me, being my mother’s daughter. I suddenly became the daughter my mother never had and for a moment in my life it felt acceptable. It felt acceptable to be in drag and to “feminine” household chores. When I put on that wig and transformed myself into an Asian lotus flower, the gay son she so felt bad for was gone.

My identity means more to me than some funky drag show with a few dollars to tip for the night. My identity as a drag daughter is a political symbol, it is a way of self expression and a way for me to bend the gender binary that so unfortunately still exist in both my Hmong and American identity. The art of drag is to imitate the gender norms of the other “gender.”

When I come across other Hmong people I get treated differently. Hmong men do not want to talk to me in fear of association of being gay and Hmong women only talk to me because of my “gay” or “drag” status. I become a sick fantasy for some women to have a need for a “gay” best friend. You see, to my friends I am their “gay friend.” To my cousins I am their “gay and overly feminine” cousin. To my community I am an embarrassment. I come to embrace all parts of my identity and no longer have time for shame or embarrassment. So I like to wear a dress. Some say I enforce the social construction of gender expectation in the Hmong culture. Some say I fight against it. I say, I fight for me.

I am my father’s son and my mother’s daughter. I am just his gay son and I am just her drag daughter. To my parents, I am just their child. No labels, no hatred, no prejudice, just simply their kid.

 


Tou Fong Lee is currently a Junior at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee pursuing a double degree in Psychology and Religious Studies with an interdisciplinary in Hmong Studies. Tou’s primary emphasis is in clinical depression and how external and internal factors influence the way we perceive ourselves and the world. He uses pronouns he//him/his and uses pronouns she/her/hers when he is in his drag form. Tou serves as the Executive Assistant and Pride Discovery Camp Coordinator for the UWM LGBT Resource Center and is participating in a research team. Tou created his university’s first Hmong Safe Space Training Program and is currently working on a project to create a Hmong Queer Campaign to raise awareness to target the Hmong queer stigma. He plans to graduate from his undergraduate studies and pursue his graduate and doctoral work. You can contact Tou Fong Lee on Facebook.

Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

AAPI Heritage Month: I Write from the “We” that is Erased by Assimilation

 

Film Screening: Hafu: the mixed race experience in Japan. Source: hafufilm.com/en

Growing up fourth generation, developing an identity as an Asian American has felt like something of a choice, or a process. Perhaps it was inevitable but it feels like a reaction. I think that for some folks in immigrant communities who are first or second generation, ethnic identity can involve a strong cultural experience. Not a monolithic or a static one, to be sure, but perhaps a more cohesive one. My identity is of being an American, but a racialized American. Which is also a cultural experience, just an American one.  I’m mixed, with a Japanese American father and a European American mother. My grandfather’s family were Buddhist missionaries who migrated to Hawai’i and helped found a temple there. I grew up in suburban Illinois without much of a community that looked like me or came from similar history.  Coming from a family that was more or less assimilated, sometimes I think I grew to identify as a Japanese or Asian American based on the negative aspects of being a racialized person, rather than the positive aspects of identity, culture, or community. My choice to identify as such was and is a reaction to the self doubt, in/visibility, and microaggression that people of non-European descent experience in America.  Ultimately I see this as a blessing because of the community and history I am still discovering, but also because it provided me with the earliest seeds of doubt about a racial system that I could not name but was keenly aware of.

I write from the “we” that is erased by assimilation.

I am decided by the fact
That our people came here to work in the sugar cane fields
That we came here to minister to those who worked in those fields
That we came here to get rich quick
That we died trying;
That we succeeded and forgot our mother tongues,
That we burned photographs and letters,
That our children would look at us as the enemy;
That we came here to live in segregated neighborhoods,
and that we did business in further segregated neighborhoods
That we came here to move to the suburbs
That each generation was foreign to the one that preceded it;
That our children would resent us for not teaching them who they were;
That we defined ourself against whiteness, while we craved whiteness,
while being used as a wedge against blackness,
That as we lost the our mother culture, we became something else entirely,
That we we were forced, coerced, encouraged, and then rewarded for assimilation;
That we came to sit in furious silence, or to laugh in self-hate,
when our American friends mocked our parents,
That we were still not American even after four generations,
That as mixed kids, we were Asian when you wanted to laugh,
but white when we challenged your racism, no matter where it was directed
That when we grew up, we died a little bit everytime we passed,
That when we grew up, we realized:
We would not be followed in the grocery store, but
our fathers would be followed home from the train station by boys calling them chink;
That our mixedness would be celebrated–
That they would offer our own bodies back to us as currency,
That this currency would only be of value when positioned against a backdrop of white power,
That the outsiders who celebrate our mixedness do so at the expense of our browner cousins;
That whiteness wants to extract the part of us that is not itself, both to taste it and to extinguish it;

Source: eclecticshaman.com

Source: eclecticshaman.com

That we are not the sum of our parts, that we are neither of our parts;
That those who want to consume us, and sometimes do-
Spit us out as not their own,
Swallowed us and owned us, unaware we are
Both/and neither
That the nature of life is dualistic, not binaristic–
That the roots of the family tree divide infinitely in half

 

 

 

 

 

 


10077_4340851356467_1874550948_nSusan Kikuchi works as a labor organizer and currently lives in Minneapolis. She is constantly having the same conversations over and over with herself, using new vocabulary each time.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

AAPI Heritage Month: Where Do I Start?

Where do I start? Writing a narrative is a bit challenging. I do not know where and when I should start my narrative. I mean, I have erased my sentences a few times, and just when I thought it was a good start, I erased it all over again. Was I too blunt and in your face? Am I taking too long to get to the point? Gosh, how about I start in the middle? My narrative here, what I want to talk about is my traumatic experience of being a victim of a sexual assault and my seasonal depression.

I didn’t noticed my seasonal depression until recently when someone close to me had mentioned that I maybe experiencing this every year at this time. I did not want to believe it but my trauma was more than enough for me to believe it. It is hard for me to talk about this traumatic experience. Even now as I write, I am reminded of the time, feelings, thoughts and struggle that I went through. I first came out about being sexually assaulted to a couple of my closest friends from high school. When I told them of my experience I thought that I would be more emotional and vulnerable, but I felt nothing of that sort. I felt numb. I gathered my emotions and got the courage to talk to them about my trauma, but that was it. I thought that it was enough that only two people knew. I did not want anyone else to know, especially not my family.

When I came back home from the trip I went with my co-workers and employee I was scared that my family would find out about the bruises–or in this case, hickeys on my neck. And they are not just your regular hickeys; they were huge and covered the whole front side of my neck. I panicked about what to do if my parents see this, if they saw the bruised-like hickeys on my neck. I had to cover it up with something and the answer was make-up; more precisely I used foundation to cover up my neck and it helped calmed me down. For a whole week I applied on the foundation until the bruised-like hickeys could no longer be seen. After my traumatic event, I tried to forget, but it never really went away and I was just lying to myself that it was not a big of a deal. I went through a whole year of keeping my traumatic event to myself without telling my parents. I pretty much do not remember what I did or how I did it so that I can keep my mind off of what happened to me.

I struggled with being a Hmong daughter and at the same time a victim of sexual assault. As a child, I was always warned to be careful around boys–and this was through the stories of girls being kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and/or raped. I thought “this will never happen to me,” because I know that I have been warned, thus I am careful around those who I interact with. I always think about what my mother has told me when going to someone’s house who I did not know, especially being careful of the drinks, because you never know what they could have put in it. In the stories my mother told me, these Hmong women were always portrayed as helpless beings or persons wanting to look for the attention by the way they dress and act. They were always with men who they did not know and were blamed for consequences as if they were seeking for it. This in turn has made me believe in a stereotype about how sexual assault and rape happens. In the most common myth, you are at a place far away from home, with some friends. You are probably having fun and staying out late at night. These guys who you do not know came up to you and offered you some drinks. (Be mindful that these drinks were already pre-ordered and not ordered in front of your face.) You drink it without knowing if it was drugged or not, and then, BAM! Next thing you know, you wake up in bed with a total stranger not knowing what happened. Although it was just a story, this myth was repetitively reinforced to me again and again, so I started to see; it became my reality. I have mentally prepared myself that if I shall ever come across this scenario, I’ll know exactly what to do.

In the communities we participate in and at home, we have gotten so worked up telling and preparing young girls about this horrid situation, which we seem to have dismissed the fact that it is not more than just a myth. In reality, it is NOT SOMEONE whom you DO NOT KNOW that will inflict this gender-based violence to you, but it is someone whom you personally know and have built a trusting relationship with, who can willingly commit gender-based violence to you. As a society, we always tell young girls not to take drinks from strangers or go out alone, but at the same time, we neglect to tell young boys not to rape. Socially and culturally, men and boys are not taught to respect women and girls’ bodies nor how to negotiate consent and not take advantage of women and girls as objects. This needs to change for the better.

After a year of suffering from this trauma, I came to understand that the reason why I am still having nightmares and trauma over this was because I was socialized and felt pressure to be silent about traumas regarding gender-based violence experiences. With all the stories my mother had told me, it had not prepared me for anything. All I learned was to avoid getting sexually assaulted and if it did happen to me, I must have done something to deserve it. This story my mother had told me, had taught me to be silent, just like her, and her mother, and her mother’s mother, and all the Hmong mothers before her. There was no outlet for me to speak out until I finally got a hold of my voice. This voice had came out to my own brother about my trauma and with this voice it had helped me to reflect and write about my lived experiences. Afterwards, I adopted the identity as a Hmong Feminist. I started to learn about the harm of rape culture and how to address it through a Hmong woman feminist lens. It is still difficult to write and talk about my experiences as I have only begun, but I will continue challenge this notion through critical conversations and will continue to seek a deeper understanding of how to heal, while renewing the meanings of my relationships with the people I interact with.


Nplooj Siab is dedicated to youth organizing and has a life-long goal to write a book.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


AAPI Heritage Month: I was Out, Proud, and Did Not Care what I Had to Lose

Guinness World Records largest human rainbow held in Philippines from Polytechnic University – Source: noypicollections.blogspot.com

I am a queer, Filipina womyn of color. I was born and raised 17 years of my life in the Philippines and migrated to the United States in 1999. During my college years in 2002, I realized I was attracted to womyn and identified as a lesbian. Having the language, such as the word lesbian enabled me to talk and explore my sexuality and humanity.

In my time, the Filipino culture at large considers being LGBTQ or homosexual a taboo and was not talked about, and religiously considered a SIN. At the same time, we are also accepting of the Gay (men) community such as gay men fixing our hair and beauty or butt of the joke. There is also the notion of, “If it’s not in my family then it’s okay.” The Philippines was colonized by Spain from 1521-1898 that lead to the introduction of Catholicism. I too was Catholic and I had to denounce my religion because it doesn’t match with my values and have done harm to my humanity and relationships.

I realized that to fully embrace my sexuality, I had to prepare myself to accept that I will lose my family, my Filipino community, and my religion in the limbo. I was out, proud and did not care what I had to lose. Those who care will be there from the start or join you when they’ve grown up spiritually and realize they’ve pushed you out for ignorant reasons.  

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Further critically reflecting and exploring my sexuality, I have realized that this attraction started when I was in sixth grade. Ms. U was my English teacher and I always sought her attention. I was happy to see her and I volunteered with whatever she needed help with. I had a huge crush on her. Then my sophomore year, I felt the same way with my neighbor that was seven years older than me. Besides the physical attraction I was attracted to her fierceness as a womyn. A womyn with her own car, professional image, serious attitude and stature, and not caring of what people think about her. That was admirable to me and I was just happy and content to look at her from a far. Junior year, I attended a martial arts club called PHICKAJU (Philippine Combat Karate Judo) and there was a senior student that was so talented with her martial arts skills. It was the same feelings and attractions. No sexual thoughts involved, just being around the presence of these womyn made me happy and tugging at the strings of my heart. Through these past years, learning about my sexuality lead to the realizations of my humanity and these previous experiences and emotions towards womyn.

In 2002, my sister ousted me to my mother that was still in the Philippines. She added additional versions and stories that were not true. Stuff that enraged my mother to not accept me. At that time, I didn’t have the chance to tell her my story, my truth… my very personal experience and dignity that no one else have the right to tell. In 2009, I welcomed my mom to live with me and I was able to tell her my side of the story. She told me that, “No matter what you’re still my daughter.” Four of my siblings are accepting of me, one of my brother even told me that, “I already knew you were a long time ago.” I chuckled and jokingly said, “You mean I’m the only one who did not know I was gay?,” but this was with an all honest statement.

In 2008, I joined the Military to see the world and for it’s benefits and opportunities, but now I’m in a process of understanding this experience, politics and my role. At that time, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy (DADT) was alive and was the suffocation on what’s left of our, my human emotions and rights. Being in the military, you sign up your being, mind, body and transform yourself to act and be the defense and offense for government, nation and people. Regardless how much I embraced my lesbian sexuality, I felt that I had no choice but to go back into the closet because of my fear of the “what ifs”? What if I lose my job, benefits, home, citizenship, what if I can no longer take care of my family, and what if I can’t get a job elsewhere if I got reported and discharged with dishonor?” With this policy, very few selected people knew of my sexuality, because I didn’t feel safe and limited my friendships within military and my environment in San Antonio; which was made up with large military bases. Then in 2011, DADT was repealed after all the hardwork of ex-military members, family, friends, activists, and some politicians. DADT has been an oppressive policy led by homophobic, religious conservatives and their dehumanizing agenda. This has caused me struggles and barriers to find acceptance of who I am by being Out as a civilian then as an active duty service member, having to silence my dignity and go back into the closet for three years. I thought a lot about what freedom meant, because the values of protecting and serving the US are based on freedom, but I still did not feel free. I saw my family and friends who are LGBTQ, not free from from violence and discrimination, especially if they were Asian and from Communities of Color and Indigenous people. They suffered more harshly due to institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism. A part of me was still in the closet, traumatized with the situation, and constantly battling with myself on how I should act and be. These type of violent policies does an excellent job of making us and our community police each other and how we, specifically how I should act and feel as a person. I definitely couldn’t show simple acts of affection or introduction of my partner of 3 years to anyone.

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

The 2012 election was the very first time I voted, and my first time marching in Minnesota’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride parade. Being our Commander in Chief is President Obama, I felt so liberated and powerful holding a sign that said, “Obama Pride, LGBT for Obama.”

I learned that VISIBILITY is key, and when more people empathize with our stories, experiences and struggles, more people will understand us and shift away from oppressive and conservative belief and policy.

Having to constantly come Out, constantly struggle internally and externally, constantly learning, constantly embracing the self, constantly critical thinking, constantly advocating, constantly staying involved in activism and community, constantly being informed and educating. These are some of the “CONSISTENCY” that I go through being a queer, Filipina womyn of color.


 

2015 - Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

2015 – Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

Maica is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a new MN resident. She is a full-time student studying Biomedical Engineering and transitioning from a military into civilian life. She is also rooting herself into the world of activism and social justice.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com

 


 

 

AAPI Heritage Month: Equity for Hmong Women and Girls is Still Out There

Kabo Yang3In 2014, I was asked to be the keynote speaker to open for a conference led by and for Hmong youth.  The theme was “Beyond the Horizon.” As I thought about what I would say to them to inspire them that day and going forward, I had to bring myself back to their age, when I was a teenager twenty years ago. I was a Hmong daughter. My dad was a shaman, bounded to tradition.  My mom was the good Hmong wife, nurturing and devoted. I had two older brothers and a younger, American-born brother.  I lived in Frogtown among friends and enemies; friends encouraged me to explore who I wanted to be and enemies told me who I would become.  I was a Hmong girl trapped in an American woman’s body.

 

My parents inevitably struggled with parenting a Hmong girl in America.  While they expected me to learn the cooking and cleaning skills and timid behavior of what a good Hmong nyab would be, they also encouraged me to excel in school; even if it meant staying after school and attending social events I helped organize. However, there were certain things I was still not allowed to do such as going to the mall with friends or being alone with a boy. Yet, my dreams kept growing and I wanted more and more for myself. The biggest conflict that happened between us was their disapproval of my leaving home for college. They truly believed living on my own would ruin my reputation and increase my risk of getting married.  I compromised and got married less than two months before graduation.

I started college on my own, but also as a wife and daughter-in-law.  It was then that I really learned the delicate yet brutal distinction between being a “good Hmong woman” and an “independent young American woman.”  I went back and forth between two lives, one as a dutiful daughter-in-law spending weekends cooking and cleaning at family events (even when my husband did not attend) and the other during the week as a college student and part-time secretary in corporate America.  This type of cultural divide dominated my life for the next decade. I ended up setting goals that were more practical because I felt defeated and had lost the belief that I could chase dreams.

As time went on, I reached a goal and then I would set a new goal. I kept expanding my horizon, each time a little further.  My ambition re-emerged as I started to reconnect to who I was and the dreams my parents allowed me to explore but not pursue. I also became more comfortable being a Hmong American and aligned my two lives into one. Only then did I truly feel I was on my own, living by my expectations and beliefs. My message to these young folks was that horizons guide us; when we think we’ve gotten there, there’s a new horizon ahead. I encouraged them to view horizons as drawing us closer to our next goal and to who we really are and to always keep striving “beyond the horizon.”

Kabo YangShortly after this speech, my marriage of 18 years came to an end. He left and I wouldn’t let him back when he had no where else to go. At the family mediation meeting, where I was the only woman allowed to speak, eight men surrounded me, in addition to my soon-to-be ex-husband. For three hours, they told us how we could fix the “minor” problems in our marriage and stay together. They minimized my experiences and perspectives and defended his behavior.  Finally, with my brothers by my side, figuratively and literally, I spoke up loud and clear. I reiterated my decision and did not permit them to attack it because they don’t walk in my shoes and they don’t carry my burdens.  I have gotten to where I am by on my own merits and drive and I don’t owe anyone anything.  So if they expect me to do as they say, they can expect to never see me again as I have no room in my life to be treated with disrespect and disregard. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They did not respond directly and ended the mediation.

Upon reflection a few days later, I realized they were fulfilling their role in the game of Hmong cultural politics.  But when I didn’t play my part of accepting my failure as an obedient and submissive wife and daughter, there was no alternative than to end the game.  Since then, I continue to be delightfully surprised by the support and encouragement from family and friends; maybe because I expected blame and shame or maybe because change is actually happening.

I may never know and will always just suspect why my divorce didn’t outcast me as I thought it would.  Did people know my marriage was doomed and were just waiting for something to happen?  Did people treat me this way because of my academic status or professional standing? Do people not care about me because I am an orphan? Do outsiders keep quiet because my family has accepted my decision? Or has the attitude started to change and a woman’s voice and choice are valued and appreciated?  Whatever the answer or answers may be, I embrace my situation. I won’t take it for granted but as motivation to continue to amplify women’s voice and choices.

I have no parents; I have no husband. I am disconnected from lineage but am connected to my heritage. I continue to look out onto the horizon.  I do not know what’s beyond this next horizon but I know that equity for Hmong women and girls is still out there.


 

Kabo Yang2Kabo Yang is an independent consultant and doctoral candidate.  She is the principal consultant of Legend Consulting Services, a firm she founded to provide management and leadership consulting to nonprofit organizations.  Kabo is an active community member and currently serves on four nonprofit Boards and three committees. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Metropolitan State University, her Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from St. Catherine University and is a doctoral candidate in the PhD in Human and Organizational Systems program at Fielding Graduate University. Her community and research interests are women, migration and integration.  Kabo’s dissertation topic will be on the social capital of refugee women.  You can connect and follow Kabo on Twitter and Facebook.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

AAPI Heritage Month: I Don’t Have to Be Out to Create Change

Studying abroad experience in Minnesota, the U.S., starting from 2011, has given me countless opportunities to find myself. It was a random place for me at the beginning. I did not have proper research on the school nor the area. I was too excited to start my ‘American Dream’ in the U.S. and the place did not matter. I loved the nature, the weather, people, and their warm hospitality. Literally, I was enjoying ‘Minnesotan Nice’ welcoming as an international student from Korea.

Since English was my second language, I had to put triple efforts to follow the class while double majoring in International Relations and Gender & Women’s Studies. Each time, I challenged myself to get out of the comfort zone, which means I took classes to learn and grow myself. I was sometimes overwhelmed at the class when everyone could understand the American jokes, but not me. Even the humor based on the American culture was what I had to learn. Luckily, I met one Hmong gay friend at the Gender & Women’s Studies. He has provided me unconditional love, caring, and offering as if I have known him for a long time. He treated me as a person, regardless of my backgrounds, including my Korean nationality.

Source: www.kqcf.org - Korea Queer Festival

Source: http://www.kqcf.org – Korea Queer Festival

One day I shared my uneasiness of having Korean community on campus with him. I told him that being Korean is an obstacle to figure out my sexuality. I came to the U.S. to be free from the stereotype of being Korean. However, I could not even walk by the LGBT center on campus, concerned of being judged by other Koreans. After my minor complaint, my gay friend replied, “For me, I wish I had my own nationality like you. Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., I got questioned a lot on where I am from. The U.S. is my home country but I guess I am not fully accepted to the community here.” I have never thought about what I have considered as an obstacle could be a desire for someone. After the conversation with him on nationality and navigating my sexual identity, I realized that I have used my nationality as an excuse to stay with the majority.

Recently, starting from January 2015, I moved back to Korea. Honestly, if I had a chance to stay legally, I would have stayed longer in the U.S. However, having an F-1, a degree seeking visa; therefore, it did not give me many options other than studying to get a degree and getting an internship experience related with my major up to 1 year. As the memories with my friends in the U.S. are fading out, I felt uncomfortable to stay in my HOME country. As one Chinese American who I got to know in Korea recently said, I was too Americanized to live in Korea. Christianity is what I cannot erase in my life, even though I want to. I grew up with Sunday schools, Jesus summer and winter camps, and religious family background. I feel frustrated with this, the ultimate answer is always in God’s hand, no matter if it is about friendship, financial problems, etc. When I was young, around 16 years old, I was told from the preaching that being homosexual is not what Christians do. I wanted to have community where I was accepted. Since I knew I cannot avoid my family and people from the church, I decided to bury the questions about sexuality which only left me confused. I pretended to be the type of good daughter and kind girl they won’t outcast.

 

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-kiss-korean-drama-sparks-debate-025213890.html - An episode of Seonam Girls High School Investigators

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-kiss-korean-drama-sparks-debate-025213890.html – An episode of Seonam Girls High School Investigators

Korea is one of the countries where fashion trends change quickly. It is totally acceptable for girls having short hair and wear gender neutral clothing. However, traditional gender roles and the expectations from the society are harsh to girls, at the same time. My short hair has never given me the embarrassment or confusion on my sexual or gender identity in my life. Regardless of the length of my hair or the way I dress up, I accept and love myself as I am, being a lesbian. One day, I was on the Seoul metro heading to a dinner appointment with a lesbian couple (who I met at the English Conversation group), I was wearing olive colored pair of jeans, a light brown round neck sweatshirts, a black coat, and a navy beanie, with a little makeup on my face. After a while, I noticed a heterosexual couple whispering some words while glancing at me. Eventually it turned out that I looked like a gay guy who was too girly for them. As a woman, I don’t want to conform to the ideas of how I should look to prove to society that I am a woman, their ideas of a woman, which is to fit into a traditional dress code of wearing skirts, high heels, and putting a heavy makeup. Instead of spending their time hating and enforcing ignorance, they should focus on loving one another and accepting people’s differences. However, I cannot deny that I was hurt and felt insecure just like when I was young and attending church.

It is true that homosexuality does not match with a traditional marriage and a lifestyle in Korea. Especially when you live in a country in the condition of armistice, maintaining the military force matters and the birth rates. Naturally, homosexuality has become a target to conservative groups, who justify their actions of threatening and discrimination against sexual minorities.

There are still many steps and revolutions needed in Korea to work together to conquer hate with love and acceptance. As the first step of showing the visibility of sexual minorities in Korea to others, I started to volunteer at the Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF) as a translator and an interpreter. Even though I am not able to be Out to the community where I presently live, I will not let that stop me from forming a community where people build up solidarity in working towards love and acceptance.

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I was born in Germany and spent most of my life in Korea. Even though I grew up in Korea surrounded by people with the same ethnicity, being born in a different country rather than Korea has helped me to have interests in communication, nationality, and the meaning of life as the second generation. I moved to Minnesota in 2011 seeking my undergraduate degree in Management. After I realized my desire to study in the fields of social and behavioral sciences, while navigating my own sexual identity, I chose to double major in International Relations and Gender & Women’s Studies. Observing the immigration law between the U.S. and Korea, I did not have a choice but to terminate my visa as being an international student and move back to my country.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com