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

20150829_110507 20150829_121748 20150829_121806 20150829_122703

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 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

Raising UP Mary’s My Bisexual Sexuality is not a Phase Narrative

buzzfed.com

buzzfeed.com

Story #38

Mary Chang is a 19 year old Hmong bisexual woman located in Minnesota 

My sexuality was not something I could choose. I never chose it, but I found it. I knew since the third grade I was attracted to both boys and girls, but I just never knew what it was called. For a moment I just thought there was something wrong with me. I never understood who I truly was, and why I felt a certain way, and I was incredibly confused. For the longest I walked with the title “Straight Female”. I knew I wasn’t straight. But I knew I chose to be at that time.

In the third grade, I had confused feelings towards a classmate. I knew I enjoyed her presence, and I remembered constantly looking back at her as she sat by the windowsill in class. There was something about her that gravitated me towards her. Maybe it was how smart she really was, or the way she was always silent and mysterious. Whatever it was, I would always stumble and feel awkward in her presence. I always tried to make a good impression whenever we talked, but I always came off  dumb founded when she spoke to me. I remembered on Valentine’s Day, I picked out a specific card just for her. The front of the card boldly said “you wanna hear a secret….?”. And then as you flipped over the cover, it said in over romanticized cursive letters, “I like you!”. I knew it was the one for her, and so I decided to write, “It’s true, I really like you”. But I remembered looking at it again, probably realizing how pathetic and wrong I felt. I thought that my feelings towards her was not right, because in this society, there was only “straight”. I threw the letter away, because I didn’t want to be teased by her or looked down by her. I didn’t want her to judge me. A few weeks later, I stopped seeing her in class, and she never showed up again. I soon found out that she moved away to another state.

It happened again in the 6th grade. But this time, it was different. It was more obviously like a “crush” rather than a “like”. I loved everything about her. The way her hair was chopped medium length. The way she wore boy t-shirts and sweaters. She was into a lot of things like I was, especially art and mangas. We became good friends and drew pictures for each other. I would look at her when she was drawing, and every time she spotted me, she would smile, and my face bloomed like a rose. But the saddest thing was that I kept my feelings away from her. All of it. It wasn’t until the end of the year, the transition to middle school, that I had sent her a letter. I decided to describe every feeling I had towards her. And I’m glad I did, even if she responded the way she did. She was shocked and didn’t know what to say, but told me that I was just a friend to her. And that’s enough for me.

In my freshman year of high school, I was in lust. Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “I HAVE to know that person. I just HAVE to say hi”. She was beautiful. Skin so white and porcelain. Her hair, a bright blonde, and her smile was the most amazing thing you will ever see. When I first saw her, it was like the clouds parted and heavenly light embraced her. I couldn’t take my eyes off. It was around this time that I discovered the term ‘bisexual’ and realized…that’s me. I am a bisexual. It was like I found myself, and I became happier with who I became. I was no longer confused. I told my good friend about her at the time and he (a guy) thought she was cute too. The girl and I managed to become friends and talk over social media. We had amazing conversations, and then, it suddenly stopped after a few days. Then I found out that my good friend was talking to her too and managed to ask her out. I was disappointed, but there was nothing I could do.

Then junior year happened (keep in mind that in this time period, I’ve already dated a few guys). We met in french class, she was a year older than me. We were really good friends, enough were we hung out and talked about guys and sat with each other in lunch. I’ve gotten to know her so well that a lot of things about her sparked my interest. I loved how she had a big appetite and had no shame in talking or laughing with a mouth full of food. I loved joking with her and exchanging sarcasm jokes. I loved how her laugh was so loud and obnoxious, it made me laugh too. Just being around her made me like her more and more. we were close enough were we already had each other’s numbers saved in our phones. One day in class, I had an odd message sent to me from her. She was explaining to me the feelings she had for me and how much she really liked me. Oh my god I was in heaven. My heart raced, my stomach was filled with butterflies. We talked about it and I got to tell her how I felt. Though it was never official, I enjoyed every second I had with her. They way we flirted, holding her hand between and to classes. Holding her from behind while walking back from lunch. I felt empty when I didn’t have her warm hands between mines. We liked each other very much…but not enough to leave our exes for each other. Eventually her ex had come back and she decided she wanted to continue the relationship with him again. She let me know and apologized. Though this happened, we still remained wonderful friends, and I came to understanding.

thestar.com

thestar.com

The number of Hmong people I’ve met in the LGBTQ community can be counted on one hand. It’s hard to find other Hmong people residing in the LGBTQ community. I have heard of organizations such as Shades Of Yellow, a Hmong LGBTQ organization, but other than that, this website is the only website I’ve ever heard of.

When I came out, I came out only to my mother, because I thought she would be more understanding than my step father. But she just ended up telling me that it’s just a phase. I’m doing it just for attention. I’m doing it because my friends do it too, so she thought I was doing it to fit in. Then she shamed me, “what would your uncles and the elders think of you??” she said. And she went on a lecture about holding a good reputation, and being a good person. She told me that being a bisexual would bring shame to us and that I was a bad person. After that, we never spoke about it again. Even until now, I guess she’s thinking that I’ve overcome this sexuality, since I’m currently in a 3 year relationship with a man. But it doesn’t change anything. Til this day I still find women and men altogether attractive. After I found myself, I found others just like me. I joined LGBTQ clubs and found more people with similar interests and stories. I began to embrace myself and had hopes. I’m managing just fine after realizing that what people think about you, does not affect you in any way at all unless you allow it to. And if people cannot accept you for who you are, then they don’t deserve to be in your life. For anyone out there who was confused and lost just as I am, remember; you are not alone, and you will never be alone. Never let words affect you and live your life with hopes and joy.

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2015. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raising UP YPX I Want To Be An Inspiration to Hmong LGBT People

usakathoey.blogspot.com


Story #37

YPX is a 16 year old, identifies as a Gay Hmong American male and resides in Minnesota.

I notice that I was attracted to the same sex “male to male” since I was twelve years old. I felt that it was a lot of struggle for me because I can’t express my feelings to anyone or my parents. During that time in middle school, I felt really left out at school. The boys would not play with me, and say that I’m gay. I only sit with the girls but who cares anyway because I have best friends who are girls. They don’t really care or mind, and they respect me. As I am growing up, I always have this attraction towards guys because I think they are cute, handsome, and sexy.

I think one of the issues that Hmong LGBT face are fitting in at school. There were times when things come falling down on me. So I think of suicide because I feel really sad, and not happy with who I am. I was not born in the right body/person, and deep inside my heart I know who I am which really is a “girl”. Although, I didn’t end up killing myself because I think that is the not best way to solve my problems. I think that life is very fragile and competitive because you have to compete to be able to survive. I don’t ever think of dying soon. Life is very fragile and can be too short, because you don’t ever know when you gonna go today or the next. To avoid these obstacles, I watch videos of transgender people that inspires me. They give me the courage and hope that I will reach my destiny of becoming a woman, and not think of killing myself. They are my role model and inspiration..

I’ve not heard of any Hmong LGBT stories before, and I’m not really sure. Even though I don’t have much knowledge or experience in being Hmong LGBT, I would like to help and inspire others who feel different about themselves.

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2014. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raising UP JH’s Belief Of Losing Face Disempowers Ourselves And Family Members Narrative

theguardian.com

Story #36

JH is a 23 year old, identifies as a Straight Hmong American male and resides in California.

At the age of 10 years old, I notice that I only liked girls. I would not say that I am attracted to the  ‘same sex’ because I feel more like a male stuck inside a female body. Thus, it is right for a guy to like a girl. I also felt confused because how society view a “normal” relationship is a guy and a girl yet not a girl/girl or boy/ boy relationship.

I don’t know how to tell my parents, friends, and relatives. I’m scare that they will hate me forever if I do come Out. I don’t know where to begin, and I have no support. I don’t think there is any Hmong Community support for myself or other LGBTQQI people, because Hmong culture value the fear of “losing face.” They are embarrassed of having any LGBTQQI children, but it’s their fear of not knowing or maybe because they don’t want to feel blamed.

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2014. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raising UP T.V.’s I Choose To Share My Sexuality With People I Trust

Going South, 2012

Story #35

T.V. is a 20 year old, identifies as a Gay Hmong American male and resides in North Carolina.

The first time I was aware that I was attracted to boys… well I don’t remember much but if I recall, it was back when I was small like in the age of nine or ten. I would always want to feel abs from a person I was close to back then and he was a teenager. I didn’t know that I like to touch or feel his abs, but I was like so small back then, so I didn’t know better. As I grew older, I started to realize that I am starting to like other Asian men. It was hard at first, but I just kept that to myself.

In coming Out to my family and most of my friends that will be a no. I have my reason to not come Out to them, for example if I do, they might or will shun me away, and not consider me as a part of them anymore. I hate the feeling of being alone and most of all, I fear that they will condemn me. I don’t believe that the Hmong community think LGBT should never exist. In a way, I could say some of them would not have a problem with it. Yet, I am facing the fear of being shun away still and sometimes fear being lonely. I do not know any Hmong male or female that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender besides myself.

I am Out to a few of my friends. I trust them to be my friends, and they love me either way. Plus they have a kind heart and make me feel welcome. They are cool with it, and I love them because they accept me.

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2014. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raising UP Anonymous’s I Owe This To Myself, Honesty And No More Lies

time.com

time.com


Story #34

Anonymous is a 26 year old, identifies as a Gay Hmong male and resides in Washington.

I never really understood what homosexuality was when I was growing up, but all I know was that I was always attracted to other boys, and never to girls. As far back as I can remember being attracted to the same gender was when I was 5 years old. I remember when I was about 9 years old, the movie Titanic first came out, I was attracted to one of the man in the movie. It wasn’t Leonardo DiCaprio but to one of the officers who saved Rose from the water at the end. I don’t know how to describe the feelings but I daydreamed a lot about him. I would sketch pictures of him and glue it to my wall. All I know was that I was crazy about him, a British actor.

It has been a year since I came Out. I first came Out to one of my African-American girl friend because I know she was very accepting and supports the LGBT community. One of the reasons why I came out was because I fell in love with this Korean guy. First, I never thought that I could ever fall in love with someone even though I am attracted to men. There was something about him that just sparks up every time I see him around. I get butterflies in my stomach, and he was the light into my darkness. My feelings for him were hard, and when he went back to Korea for the summer, I missed him so much. I would take long walks down the beach thinking about him wishing he could be there with me, walking down by the shore. Everything I do, I always wish that he was there. The sad thing was that he was straight. When I found out that he had a girlfriend, everything came crashing down. I was so heartbroken. and I never had these kind of feelings before. I’ve had crushes in the past but it was never to the point where I wanted to be with them. When he returned back to the states, I never thought that I could receive a hug from someone who I really like. I was happy and sad at the same time, happy by receiving a hug from the man of my dreams, and sad that he will never be a part of me.

I am only Out to my close friends, and coming Out to them was a relief. I love them to death. It was as if the weight I’ve been carrying has been lifted off my back. They love me even more for being ME. I have always hated the feeling of “Pretending to be Straight.” Now I can just be myself. I have gotten much closer to my friends now than, then. I haven’t come Out to my family yet.

I haven’t heard any past history or stories of Hmong LGBT, but I am sure that there are cases back in Laos. It seems like being LGBT isn’t accepted in the past and the individual have to marry the opposite sex just to be “normal”. I think the younger generation has a more modernized mind-set, so they’re more supportive. As for the older generations, I’m not quite sure. Some believed that homosexuality is a Western thing, that once Hmong people came to the US, they started to become gay. No race, ethnicity and country is free from Homosexuality in their culture. It’s everywhere.

gayasiatraveler.com

gayasiatraveler.com

Going to my First Pride Parade this year was such an amazing experience. The streets were so colorful, and it is so nice to see all kinds of people who are the same as you. Met lots of nice people. and had the best time in my life. When you are Out, at times, you just don’t care what people think anymore. Now I am happy the way I am. Life is Beautiful.

It was hard for me to accept myself as a gay man, but the Korean guy who I fell in love with was a part of making me realize my self-acceptance of my real human emotions and feelings. He was the first one who I can picture spending my entire life with. Just sad that he will never return the feelings back to me. He was the one who made me want to be with another man. When I was still “hiding in the closet”, I was trying to picture myself with a girl to just try to be “normal.” I always had these questions popping into my mind that if I ever dated/married a woman, “Will I be happy with her? Will she be happy with me? Will I ever be able to touch her?” etc etc.

I don’t want to live a lie anymore, and just be honest with myself.

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2014. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.