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


 

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2013 Minnesota Hmong New Year Outreach

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Today at the Hmong New Year in St. Paul, our collective canvassed and outreach to over 100 people including young people and elders, and over a dozen institutions.

We handed out MWSM pamphlets, Our Narrative and Movements: Peb Yog Hmoob Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer & Transgender. The pamphlet includes common questions of ‘coming out’ for Hmong LGBTQ people, and common questions about acceptance for Parents/Family with LGBTQ children/family members. To personalize, we quoted Hmong LGBTQ individuals who have contributed their diverse experiences in ‘coming out’ from our 2013 Hmong LGBTQQI Narratives Campaign. Lastly, you can read about the resources, trainings, researches and campaigns we currently have and are working on to enable us to be equipped in supporting our LGBTQ family and community members.

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Half of MWSM members @HNY2013

Being Gay and Queer in the Laotian Community

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Check out our MWSM collective member Danny and his published piece on Little Laos on the Prairie: Being Gay and Queer in the Laotian Community

“One of the biggest thing that sets me apart from most Laotians is that I’m gay. I’m one of the few out gay Laotians in Minnesota and I don’t want it to be that way. There have been questions and curiosity if there are LGBTQ Laotians out there, and I am here to say, “Yes there are LGBTQ Laotians in the community, and yes we do exist.” We are more prevalent than the community thinks about, or are informed about internally and externally of the Laotian community.”

If Danny’s story compels you, please support his leadership and activism through donating $20, $30 or $50 to our Trans* and Queer Southeast Asian Organizer retreat Aug 17 and 18, 2013. Your donation will enable Danny, and Trans* and Queer Southeast Asian activists, organizers, and scholars in understanding the importance of social justice work, activism, and service learning in their community.

Click here to donate: Trans* and Queer Southeast Asian Organizers Retreat Fundraiser

Pride Canvassing & Trans*/Dyke March at Twin Cities Pride, 2013

What an exciting summer this has been! This 2013, MWSM decided to take a different route at Twin Cities Pride (TC Pride). We recruited a team of 10 volunteers to go out and canvass the various non-profits and churches that were present and outreaching about their mission and services. For some of our volunteers, this was their first time at Pride, and canvassing so we made sure to pair them up with someone with canvassing experience. We wanted to find out from the many organizations and churches to identify what services and programs they provided, so we know where to connect our community members to , and possibly collaborate in the near future. The whole team had long and great conversations about the services, leadership dynamics, goal measurements, how does intersectional justice look like in their work, and how do they address institutional racism, white privilege and supremacy. We talked to about 15 organizations and churches, and will be talking to more in the next month to then produce a data report Fall 2014. We will keep you updated!

Meet the team that canvassed!

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After a morning’s hard work of canvassing at TC Pride, MWSM joined and marched in solidarity with the Trans*/Dyke March.

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HAPPY PRIDE!

HND’s Top 5 IMPACT Award: Linda Hawj

2013 Top 5 HND IMPACT Award Recipient

2013 Top 5 HND IMPACT Award Recipient

 

Hmong Nation Development’s Conference Committee announced the Top 5 IMPACT Award this past Monday February 25, 2013 and we are excited that one our MWSM organizer, Linda Hawj has been selected as a recipient with other 4 Change Makers and Leaders. Thank you all for the support, outreach and votes!

The ceremony will take place at the 16th HND’s Conference – The Journey Forward: The Next Chapter of Hmong Americans, April 6. There will be over 1,000 attendees from all sectors of leadership, community, activism, academia, professionals, and elected officials.

More information about attending the HND Conference and the Top 5 IMPACT Award can be found here: 2013 HND Conference

HND Conference IMPACT Award: VOTE for LINDA HAWJ

Thanks for visiting our website! We’ve been hiatus for a while after the 2012 Election Campaign, but we’re back and refreshed for 2013. To start off, we want to invite you to take 30 seconds to support and get to know Linda Hawj a change maker in our community through 2 actions below:

1. VOTE for Linda Hawj for her Innovation, Advocacy, and Mentorship for the Hmong National Development Conference’s (HND) IMPACT Award. –https://www.facebook.com/HmongNationalDevelopment/app_162850930432266

2. If you VOTED for Linda Hawj, to ensure she is the Top 5 IMPACT Award Recipient by February 14, 2013 at Midnight (Central Time), you must help by copying and sharing the information below in the quotation marks on your Facebook page/social media:

“Never before, has there been a Hmong lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer recognized for their leadership, community organizing, art, and as a change maker in our Hmong community, nationally. Since this IMPACT AWARD is part of the biggest Hmong National Conference in history, we want to support Linda Hawj who identifies as a Hmong lesbian/queer womyn, to highlight her as an Innovator, Advocate, and Mentor. In the past 4 years, she has changed many people’s lives through courageous leadership, community organizing, commitment, and love for her Hmong community.”

CLICK ON THIS LINK TO VOTE FOR LINDA HAWJ and Thank you! :
https://www.facebook.com/HmongNationalDevelopment/app_162850930432266

* If the browser you’re using doesn’t work, try Internet Explorer or Safari. Voting from your phone will not work.

Deadline to cast your vote for Linda Hawj for HND’s IMPACT AWARD is February 14, 2013 Midnight (Central Time).”

Linda Hawj canvassing at the St. Paul Hmong New Year about the 2012 Election.

Linda Hawj canvassing at the St. Paul Hmong New Year about the 2012 Election.

Linda’s BIO:
Linda ‘Nkauj Xwb’ Hawj is a multi-disciplined Artist utilizing writing, poetry, spoken word, hip hop and filmmaking as forms of self-healing, empowerment, reflection, and to speak truths that are often silenced, marginalized or eliminated by oppressive systems. As an activist, she advocates for justice through multiple lens: gender, racial, reproductive, immigrant, refugee, and Hmong transgender and queer justice. In 2012, she was Minnesota’s St. Paul Field Organizer for President Obama’s Grassroots Campaign, and organized to defeat the MN Marriage and Voter ID Amendments.”

Thank you so much for your support and please remember to share your support in inviting your family and friends to vote for Linda Hawj via Facebook!