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


 

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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: Staring at the Outside, Looking Through the Mirror

Everyday the world keeps turning, and the sun rises rides through the fire endlessly trying to catch the moon. In ancient times, there were countless stories and legends that began to explain the relationship between the sun and the moon. Were they lovers separated by some dismal force, hell bent on keep them apart for its own self greed and accord? They were often attributed with the female being the moon and the sun being the male figure in these legends. Yet what made these stories so memorable was the fact that they connected to our own mortal lives and our human relationships. To see that the otherworldly were in fact struggling with these social problems that existed within ourselves and our communities.

Perception is perhaps the greatest danger to any of our lasting connections and the lives that can be created from them. We see our human race and communities in two shades of colors, two halves of the same coin and two opposite but balanced force of nature. The duality between good and evil, the bond between man and woman, and distance between earth and sky. That is our perception, and the perception of subsequent generations as they have been taught and shown. If we clear out everything, there will be one thing left in the bottom of the knowledge well, which is fear. One of the greatest thing to exist in our world is the bond of love. For there is really no rational explanation but it mere is because we are. Life is forever connected with the essence of love in the universe. And in that love is a deep connection. Like anything in this world, everything is interconnected, literally, because we are all made of the same atoms and are all filled with the same kind of electrical charges keep our flesh and able bodies to live.

I want what everyone in the world wants, to feel, to be connected to those in life who we find have the best input to our output. When you are talking in layman’s terms, we can easily say that all life is equal, there is none greater nor none lesser. But as human beings, and those who are alive, we perceive ourselves as special, having walked away from the communal “we”, into the fields of the dominant “I”.

We live in a society where we all seek balance, yet astrain from it like it’s a plague, because balance does not bring comfort. And we live in this day and age in the lifestyle of comfort, and yearn for its embrace. Society talks and preaches how it takes a man and a woman to start a balance life, but look at all the lies and selfishness that leads to divorce and the continuation of kids beginning life in single family homes. We are individuals that crave and want things that we do not necessarily need, we are individuals who crave satisfaction wherever we can find it. Of course not everyone stays in that state of mind, many move on. But too many simply fall victim to that state of mind and are stuck in a society that preaches such incoherent mess as social norms.

I, like many, live in a community of my own ethnicity. In that community you are spoon fed an incoherent culture you are suppose to inherit and force fed the generational dogmas of false and one sided perceptions. It is perfectly safe to say that my culture was a male dominant way of life for many generations. We come from a culture where there are good people and bad people. In the past rich people were called good and poor people were called bad, a social dividend that still exist today.

To achieve success, and be monetarily well supported seems to be a dream of our parents. They want us to find people with “good” family backgrounds and a higher social standing. All these problems that exist solely because of the way of thinking that remains imprinted in the minds of the previous generation. In this generation, we have indeed moved from thinking about everyone to be more focused on the individual self. For we have come to see ourselves as individuals on a journey of discovery and learning. To live life you must keep moving forward. Its not that we are selfish, the problem comes from the fact that we are simply unsure. For, if you began your life and lived accordingly to a set of belief that others surround you with and suddenly woke up to seeing things clearly, you begin to have questions. Instead of outright denial, this younger generation decided to take a step back and examine in unholy commodity.

I have seen individuals unsure of who they are, wearing masks to be normal. I have friends who went about living their childhood, trying to be a good little boy and good little girl only to find themselves becoming attracted to the opposite sex. There were so much denial in their eyes, and so much sadness in their eyes. Sure they were more feminine than other boys, and they spoke in a softer tone. They hung out and became friends quickly with all the girls. There is no other reason for this other than it was because they were able to be comfortable in those social circles. There seems to be unwritten rules to being a boy or a girl, and no one seemingly wants to cross the divide for fear of ridicule and being cast aside by a group of their peers or even worse, their friends. Today these individuals possess great confident and have gone to live healthy happy lives. Here is the simple truth, its not that they became happier and a better person because they’ve learned to accept their sexuality. I see it as, they have found their confidence. The confidence to accept and love their own selves and through that meet and find people who are able to see that. And that is a beautiful thing.

Life itself is a beautiful little concoction mystery and wonder. Fear of a different idea and existence should not hinder the growth and development of life. We all fear what we don’t understand, and are uncomfortable with things that exist outside of our comfortableness, that’s perfectly fine, but that should not be used as an excuse to kill, protest and make the lives of others a living hell. I am a straight Asian man in this society, and I think the love that is growing between all individuals should not be labeled, Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Transgender, or bisexual.

We all exist as individuals living life together on a floating rock suspended in a sunbeam, lost in a galaxy that is apart in a seemingly endless universe. Because in the end, all we really have are each other.


Txoov Yaj: Residing along the shores of roads and rivers, basking beneath the shade of the quivering trees, soaking the warm light of the sun. I am.

 

 

 

 


 

 

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: Who Am I

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Minji (Left)

Grew up living in the white suburban area, I myself am really white wash. Even though I lived in a white place, my parents still expected me to carry out the traditional Hmong culture. Coming out as a gay queer cisgender male, I never expected there to be any other queer people of color. When I came out, I had the intention of my coming out experience to be more like the main stream coming out story of white folks; “Fuck this, fuck that, I’ll just live off being a gigolo.” Having this mental thought off how my coming out story will turn out to be like all these gay Caucasian, I was prepared to come out. I felt pumped, excited, and thrilled to handle the situation.

I thought I would break free from my cultural background. In reality, the truth was, my parents did take it hard like any other parents out there. My parents were mad, they were angry, sad, and lost as to what they can do for me.

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About a month later after I came out, tears cease to exist, anger is six feet down, and a rainbow shines over. My parents became aware of who I am and that they in their right mind cannot change me of who I am. But me? I wasn’t really in the same state as I expected I was to be. I thought I would be like every other white gay person who came out. That life of white liberation. But no, I still had to adhere to my cultural heritage. I still have to uphold the Hmong traditions, norms, and values. There is no escaping that part of my life being a Hmong son. The only thing that may have been lifted off from me is that I won’t be getting married to a girl, but all other still applies. I may think I am different from any other Hmong man, but in the end, who am I really? I am a son, a brother, a fluffy boyfriend, a Hmong guy, a friend, a minority, a colleague, an activist, a special person. More truly, I am a gay son, a gay brother, a gay fluffy boyfriend, a gay Hmong guy, a gay friend, a gay minority, a gay colleague, a gay activist, a gay special person. I am but a gay man.

But I still hold true to myself of who I am to them; not as a white wash man, not as a man with privilege, not as any other person, but that is to myself that I am the oldest son of a Hmong family; a gay Hmong man.


A down to earth angel with a captivating sincere aura that draws in illumination. I am currently a student studying for my Dental Hygienist Major. Am also a full time working student to be able to support myself and my family as being the oldest son. Am very outgoing and funny.Also have a hobby thing for pigeon and did I forget to say that I LOVE COSPLAY! ^.~ You can contact Minji on 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: The Windows To The Soul Has Blinds

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It is called the “mad dog” look; although it exists in many forms, aggravation, harassment, or observation, it’s simply “the stare.” It’s the stares that you get when you’re in unfamiliar situations or places, whether it’s explicit or all just mental, it’s all up to personal interpretation. It might just be admiration or someone may be interested in you, perhaps it is your outfit or your attractive appearance. The perspective from the other side of the spectrum is encountering someone with prejudice against you and “mad dogging,” provoking, or harassing you with their stares.

Gazing for a second too long at an insecure person with anger management issues within the peripheral of your vision can be problematic. Daydreams and wandering minds must be kept under control, because in the unlikely event that a tumbleweed starts rolling and guitar and trumpet music starts playing, mad dogging situations can turn into a standoff between the good, the bad, and the ugly like classic western cowboy duels in the movies.

You can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your family – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird – Source: fidelialam.com

In some cultures, it’s impolite to make eye contact, an inherited trait from animalistic behaviours. In other cultures, it’s a gesture of endearment and engagement; by focusing all attention to the person that you’re speaking to, you’re showing them respect. But the concept of “it’s rude to stare,” or so we were taught, discourages us from observing people with our eyes and initiating constructive conversations with our mouth and mind. So is it rude to develop observation skills? Isn’t that how prejudice and rumors fueled by incorrect implications and ignorance spread? Growing up, I have had my share of awkward stare downs. Being labeled “guilty by association” by society and being a member of such a small population, it’s like the quote in To Kill A Mockingbird, “you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family,” it couldn’t be helped having certain family members who were friends with people who pledged allegiance to certain colors or cliques.

As much potential hostility as my own community posed, I grew up well aware of clothes and colors I can wear, the perimeters of where I can travel, and which areas with people to avoid due to my skin complexion, melanin composition, and religious practice, but being in unfamiliar areas, the unknown threat from strangers fueled by hearsay and racism motivated by prejudice and ignorance will always have a more paranoid feeling.

Always being cautious, prepared, and ready to react created a shield of anger, “What are you looking at” attitude, and “don’t disrespect me” mentality that was toxic. It not only created a hostile situation for everyone everywhere I went but it also prevented me from meeting genuinely good people. In order to cure the negativity around me, I decided a long time ago that peace, happiness, and equality was worth a life living, not one where prejudice and negativity dictated everything I did. Forfeiting my ego in order to be happy and enjoy the simple things in life was better than constantly being angry and looking over my shoulders for problems. A tap on the shoulder from a friend to say hello will always be better than a cheap shot. So in order to minimize the toxicity in my life, I had to start with changing myself and treating others right. Plant the seed of peace within yourself, then share the fruits of its labors with others.

The process of changing yourself is deeper than simply changing your outward expression and physical appearance. One of the recent memories that I still think back to was from a particularly sunny day during the beginning of spring while I was still an undergraduate student. The warm and refreshing weather that followed the uncovered blanket of winter made a lot of us students unable to stay indoors. My mind was racing with ideas, my heart wanted to pour itself out into words on paper, and my body was aching for sunlight. Before dashing out the door after class and driving to the pond at a nearby park, I neglected to wear my socioeconomic mask and costume. The clothes branding myself as a college student was heavy so I didn’t wear them and my slicked back hair felt more free than the molded comb over so that was how it was left. I went out of my apartment that afternoon as myself; my pants were baggy, my white-t was oversized, and my shoes weren’t polished; I was just my comfortable self, not a fictitious middle-class, law-abiding, and submissive Asian-American college student.

When I got out of my car and started making my way from the parking lot towards the lake, I noticed two men having a conversation and sitting under the pavilion along the path to the pond. As I got closer to them, our eyes locked, their conversation came to a pause, and their attention seemed focus on me. All sense of rationality seemed to leak out of my mind as my optimism wrestled with what appears to be my survival instinct. My fingers went limp as they tightly hugged my palms, my knuckles raised and hardened, and my whole body flexed itself into shape. The angry inner city teenager, whose only priority was survival, overpowered and possessed me for a second. Though the immediate anger and adrenaline stiffened my face, my learned-instinct fought its way to form a smile at them. I continued walking past them to my usual meditation place, the pier by the pond. I wrote my poems and they continued their conversation. Half an hour later, they left; another half hour after that, I left. I left with a few pages of poetry and a head full of thoughts.

Was it racism or just my own delusion? It didn’t help with the fact that a historical Klansman gathering site was not too far away from there, nor did the fact that the site of the largest mass execution in the US (Dakota War of 1862 that led to a mass execution of 38 Dakota Men on December 26, 1862 under President Abraham Lincoln’s order) was located only 5 miles away. Despite preaching peace and actively striving to fight for equality, was I still a wolf in sheep clothing, subconsciously flaring my animalistic strength? Were there still toxic residue from the years of racist encounters and different cultural clashes? It’s amazing how simple eye contact can potentially cause chaos, yet a simple smile can clear minor paranoid misconceptions.  The opportunity to learn from our observations shouldn’t be discouraged, especially among strangers or unfamiliar subjects.


 

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Steven T. Vang is a self-proclaimed nerd for words, writer and activist from the Twin Cities.

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

 


 

Happy Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

We Will Not Be Silent - #Asians4BlackLives MWSM marching in MN Rise Up & #ShutItDown with Baltimore

We Will Not Be Silent – #Asians4BlackLives
MWSM marching in MN Rise Up & #ShutItDown with Baltimore

 

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month this May 2015, we present the sequel of our narrative series called Critical Reflections of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Midwest. Since our Raising UP the Hmong LGBTQQI Narratives launched in 2013, we’ve gotten over 16,000 views and 7,832 visitors from over 100 countries. We’ve also received many emails from readers who appreciate Hmong LGBTQQI people sharing their narratives about real life experiences, thoughts, family conversations and situations relating to Hmong and American cultures, and examples of important life changes and decisions made.

In this Critical Reflections of AAPI narrative series, we have collected a wide range of stories from diverse experiences to continue supporting and fostering the growth of AAPI Narratives in America, while at the same time, serve a purpose to counter the stereotypes, generalizations, and mis-education of AAPI communities told by mainstream.

We will be launching the first narrative later on this afternoon so be sure to subscribe to our blog, tweet us @mwsmovement, reblog us on Tumblr or LIKE us on Facebook to get updates on when each narratives are posted throughout May 2015!


Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. We are still accepting submissions so if you identify as AAPI, currently or have lived in the Midwest and want to contribute a narrative, please email all questions to Linda – linda@mwsmovement.com