For Hmong Who Has Seen Too Many Black Lives Taken

Photography by Patience Zalanga

Photography by Patience Zalanga

I am a queer Hmong American refugee, whose shared experiences and encounters with white supremacist violence has compelled me to rise in solidarity with Blacks who are currently facing a very dire situation in this country. I am wondering, why are Hmong Americans not showing solidarities with Blacks? We see too often the anti-Black racism spewed out by members of our own communities and families, and we do nothing. We often hear our own friends say that Black people deserved to die, or that they are lazy, good for nothing, thugs. We are scared that our Black neighbors will beat us up or rob us at night. We live among Blacks in North Minneapolis, Frogtown, or East Side St. Paul, and we bash them for being bad neighbors. We are scared of living in the “ghetto” with them. Yet, not only do we fail at being good neighbors, but we have (un)consciously internalized anti-Black racism as well. I hear Hmong Americans around me justify police violence by saying Black people do not work hard enough, are loud and obnoxious, and are criminals, so they deserve to be shot.

#API4BLACKLIVESAs we know by now, Black people are being killed all across the U.S. I have lost count of the number of victims. Furthermore, queer people of color, and especially Black transwomen, are much likely to be arrested, left homeless, and killed by police.But let me now focus on Sandra Bland, a Black woman who was arrested and died in police custody in Texas. I have no doubt that police murdered her. She was murdered because she was Black, and she was knowledgeable about police brutality. The police do not want us to fight back, to educate, or to rise up. Some Hmong are openly supporting police, and even justifying police use of force. Yet, these same individuals fail to explain the systemic ways Blacks are disproportionately facing police violence.

You may ask why Hmong Americans should care about this issue. I say, we must not forget our past. We too bear the brunt of white supremacist, colonial violence. We too were forced out of our homes and our lands. We too suffered death in warfare. We too were once being killed in the jungles with no one noticing or caring about our unjust deaths. It was a Secret War after all. As we remember Fong Lee, a Hmong teenager who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, let us remember that we too have seen, feel, and known injustice in our communities.

#API4BLACKLIVESHowever, Hmong Americans also perpetuate anti-Black racism. In the early 20th century, Asian Americans tried to lay claim to legal citizenship through saying they are “white.” While this did not go in favor of Asian Americans, it shows how whiteness plays into the lives of Asian Americans. Many Hmong Americans are now millionaires or have secured high-level corporate positions. In this vein, we have been able to help other members of our communities. However, we must not allow ourselves to be tricked that we have all “made it.” We have achieved a level of success that perhaps puts us in line with other Asian Americans as model minorities, but we by no means have achieved racial or class justice. It is precisely because some Hmong have become model minorities that they see Blacks as lazy, obnoxious, and criminal, thus deserving death.

Let us not forget that all these achievement that we have made success in would not have been the slightest of our imagination if it were not for the struggles and successes of our former Black brothers and sisters in fighting for the rights to education, voting, and citizenship. These are things that Hmong Americans today in the US have taken for granted; thus, we need to be conscious in ways how the treatment of Blacks will reflect in the treatment of how Asian Americans will be treated in the future.

#API4BLACKLIVESThe current movement around #BlackLivesMatter should inspire us. I have seen many Hmong fall into the trap of “#AllLivesMatter” or “#HmongLivesMatter.” By doing so, we either enhance white supremacy, or we fall back to centralizing Hmong lives, and thus fail to be allies to other communities apart from our own. At the current moment, we see that Black lives are being taken from us on a near daily basis. There was a time when Black people were only considered 3/5 human, not fully human. That should teach us that Black lives were never considered lives to begin with. Many Hmong Americans are ignorant or indifferent to the histories of slavery, segregation, and lynchings that Blacks know all too well. Some institutions such as the prison and the police are born out of slavery and racism. Blacks and people of color make up the overwhelming majority of people in prison, while the crimes they commit may actually be the most petty. We must dismantle and constantly criticize these institutions of power, although sometimes they may seem like they exist to uphold law and order in society.

To stand with #BlackLivesMatter does not mean we are against other lives. In fact, part of social movements and social justice is to validate and truly understand the suffering of others that you yourself do not experience. With that, we must believe in and stand beside, and be engaged with #BlackLivesMatter. Until Black lives matter, we truly cannot uphold the value that all lives matter.

Photography by Ho Nguyen

Photography by Ho Nguyen

I am by no means saying that we must divert the attention to Hmong American communities. In fact, I am saying the opposite. We must understand our position as Hmong Americans in this country, in order to understand how we have benefited at the expense of Blacks. We also perpetuate hate against other communities, who are classed, gendered, sexed, or raced differently from us. To say that Hmong Americans exists outside of Blacks is completely wrong and ignorant. We have benefited from decades of civil rights and social justice struggles by Blacks, American Indians, Latinos, gays, lesbians, trans, and other Asian Americans. We share the experience of racism, death, war, and racial stereotyping with Blacks, and we cannot and should never forget this. We must let go of our own anti-Black racism and prejudices and we must truly understand that Black lives matter. We can do something!

[This article was published as MidWest Solidarity Movement’s stance on supporting #BlackLivesMatter]

More images from #API4BlackLives at #BlackFair:

Photography by Pashie Vang

Photography by Pashie Vang

#API4BLACKLIVES

Photography by Pashie Vang

Photography by Pashie Vang

Photography by Pashie Vang

Photography by Pashie Vang

Photography by Pashie Vang

Photography by Pashie Vang

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Photography by Patience Zalanga

Photography by Patience Zalanga

Video from API4BlackLives @ #BlackFair:


About the author:

Kong Pheng Pha

Former MidWest Solidarity Movement collective member, Kong Pheng Pha is a PhD candidate, historian, and researcher at the University of Minnesota. His research interests lie at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, queerness, and refugee migration. His activist work centers around these topics, and he has presented his research and activist experiences all over the U.S.

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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


 

 

 

 

AAPI LGBTQ Pride: My Difficulty in Coming Out

msmadge.blogspot.com

msmadge.blogspot.com

My parents are old-fashioned Filipino Christians. They are not so open-minded when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer sexuality. Although I was raised by them in this hetero-normative belief, I realized I liked boys at a very young age, which was around 11 years old. I knew this because I was attracted to our neighbor who was a few years older than me. While growing up with my parents, it was difficult to feel accepted. With their old-fashioned ways, they wanted to be the one who is respected and obeyed despite their children’s opinions. I love my parents and all, but they make me feel like I do not belong.

One moment that impacted me the most, was right after the 2013 fall semester finals, I came home and brought my best friend with me. During that time, he and I were dating and he was noticeably flamboyant. When my mom met him, she was really nice to him. She acknowledged that he was my best friend and accepted him the way he was. But even then, I knew that my mom was judging him secretly. I wondered what was going on in her head, because whenever she had seen a flamboyant man on television; she often said “Ay bakla!” which translated to, “Oh he’s gay!” She makes it sound like she’s disgusted too. I tend to get really irritated whenever she does this, but I understood that this was a learned belief and idea that shaped her personality. One thing that makes her that way is the fact that she is a devout Christian woman. She listens to the words of the pastor so if the pastor is homophobic, of course she and other church members will believe it’s perfectly OK to make homophobic remarks and comments. I know this very well, because my pastor does. He often comments about it usually during pride week with his joke of, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The sad fact about it was that everyone in the church laughed at it as if it was not offensive. My mom puts a lot of her trust in our pastor and I have witnessed my mom absorbed the homophobia presented by our pastor. If I was to come out to them at this moment, it might not be a very good scene.

After I had brought my boyfriend home to meet my mom, the next day, she kept asking me if he was gay. All I said was “yes,” because there was no use in sugar-coating it. Surprisingly, she was accepting of him being gay. She accepted that I have homosexual friends, however, she told me to promise that I would not be gay. It was the hardest thing for me to accept and experience in her homophobic request. I don’t understand how she can accept my friends and not me. She kept on saying that, “it is in the bible and it is not what the Lord wants.”

After her whole spiel of homosexuals being sinful through God’s eyes, she then threatened to throw me out of the window if I was gay, which I knew was just a joke. Although she could be joking or not joking, this ingrained joking-communication style that most Filipino use to cope or express with their emotions, was still hurtful. Hurtful to hear my parents or one’s parent say that your identity is sinful, and by the end of the day, I could not come out to her. I bottled it in.

This moment was important to me, because it made me realize that it is not time for me to come out to my parents. There is a good time for everything, but right now is not the right time for me. What’s important is that I have friends who care and understand me. Thanks to them, I have been able to survive living in this world while closeted from my family.

 

 


To be quick and short, I am Rio Marasigan, a 22 year old Filipino-American living in the Windy City of Chicago. I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago, which was a major place in my life where I have grown.

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 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: Citizenship In An Exiled Nation

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What does it mean to live in exile? To be a minority within a minority? To call oneself “Tibetan-American?”As young Tibetan exiles, a sense of physical security in our adopted country is almost always accompanied by a kind of emotional distance. As a people who’ve been dislocated, all we have left is the memory of our lost country.

I remember when my refugee mother once told me that her “soul lives in Tibet.” Although born in an independent Tibet, she became stateless after fleeing the Chinese invasion and occupation when the communists seized power in 1949. Forced into exile, she had to cross the Himalayas to Nepal as a child and start a new life in India. Again resettling in the US, she finally gained citizenship in a country not her own. I was born in India but had the privilege of coming here as a child and, thus, had less difficulty adapting to a new country as an immigrant. My mother may have a greater sense of freedom here, but she still mourns for Tibet. Yet, despite the severe trauma she endured, she still finds happiness in her memories of her ancestral homeland. I realize now that I was raised with a similar longing for a lost nation. The difference between my mother and I, however, is that I only know Tibet in my imagination.

image3I wanted to talk about my Tibetan-American identity at a time of increasing self-immolations inside Tibet and increasing racial tensions inside the US. In places like Ferguson and Baltimore, peaceful protests have been glossed over by the media in favor of scenes depicting graphic violence, no doubt for fleeting ratings boost. When I see such images, I can’t help but be reminded of the distorting of the peaceful protests in Tibet during the summer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The state media portrayed Tibetans as violent “thugs” targeting the dominant ethnic group, Han Chinese, in a so-called “autonomous region” that once was an independent Tibetan state.

Now scattered throughout the world due to resettlement, the Tibetan diaspora has begun an internal dialogue on issues influenced by our host countries. Reconciling such issues with our own cultural history has been the greatest challenge for many Tibetan youth like myself. One important distinction that should be made here is that as an exiled nation, our culture has become a sort of collective body of trauma. And while the first generation of Tibetan exiles may not be the last, young Tibetans cannot move forward until the world acknowledges our history and, therefore, our existence.

image2

On our part, we as a community need to admit this and encourage fellow Tibetans to seek help and engage in he healing process of dialogue when they need it. For example, there is a severe lack of culturally appropriate community health resources at the present moment. That said, these spaces are slowly growing and emerging as we engage in a larger public conversation among our communities. In the Tibetan community, this has caused fear and doubt among some—particularly the older, more conservation generations.

The existence of white privilege and patriarchy also factor into this fear of difference. Having inherited the trauma of our elders and our parents’ generation, we now carry the pain of our ancestors with us as we grow and shape our identity. But collective trauma requires collective healing. The sooner we come to realize this, the sooner we will truly be free.


11328795_10206782038535856_309932531_nTenzin Pelkyi is currently a J.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota, where she received her B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies. While in law school, she worked as a law clerk at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for Senator Amy Klobuchar in Washington, D.C. She also worked as a research assistant at the law school’s Energy Transition Lab and as a law intern for the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition to serving as president of her Law School Democrats chapter and as a member of the law school’s Diversity Week committee, Pelkyi has received widespread recognition for her advocacy, including from her university, several bar associations, and the Dalai Lama Trust.

Prior to law school, she worked in the nonprofit sector for various progressive organizations, legislative affairs at the state capitol, and community organizing in the Tibetan community. Her interests include immigrant rights, reproductive health, and racial justice. You can keep updated with Tenzin on Facebook and Twitter.

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