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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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 MYY’s Family Is the Biggest Inspiration & Support to Coming OUT Narrative

http://www.salon.com/2005/06/17/saving_face/

Saving Face film. Photo Credit Salon.com

Story #10

MYY is a shamanist, 21 year-old woman who identifies as bisexual from Wisconsin.

The first time I notice that I was attracted to the same-sex was when I was 12 years old. I could not understand why I was feeling that way about this new girl I just met. All I knew was that I was very attracted to her and I wanted to know if she had felt the same about me. When I confronted her with my feelings, she nicely rejected and explained to me that she did not feel the same way as me. After that happened, I tucked away how I felt about girls and started dating boys. At the time, I was confused as to why I had felt that way, but I didn’t look too much into it.

Hmong Trans* & Queers Rally at St. Paul Capitol for LGBTQ Justice & Equity

Hmong Trans* & Queers Rally at St. Paul Capitol for LGBTQ Justice & Equity – Photo Credit MWSMovement.com

I’m very close to my family, so I turned to them hoping they could help me. I did not know what to expect from them because this whole thing happened so quick. Surprisingly, they were very understanding and supportive. They told me that they will always accept me for who I am, so I should accept me for who I am as well. From there, I started dating my first ex-girlfriend. My family was such a big inspiration because they were there every step of the way while I was trying to figure myself out and come out to my other love ones. It’s been four years now that I’m out and none of my relationships has changed at all. Everything is going well for me right now.

I don’t feel as if the Hmong Community is supportive of me but I don’t blame them. This is a very touchy and new subject in our Hmong community. I think with a little courage and a lot of education, we can fix that problem. I didn’t even know that we have Hmong LGBTQ organizations out there. I recently found out about an organization from Minnesota called Shades of Yellow. The Asian organization from my university invited SOY to our speak out during Asian Heritage Month back in April, and I was so moved and inspired during their presentation. I think LGBTQ does fit in our Hmong Culture but it’s going to take a lot of time before it fully fits in. I feel that we should speak out more about it and educated those who know little about the LGBTQ community. I believe that in 10-15 years from now, LGBTQ will be accepted and become a part of our Hmong Culture.

Photo Credit MWSM

Hmong queers Vote NO on Marriage Amendment 2012 – Photo Credit MWSM

One of the issues I’m facing today is deciding on which path I want to take on for the future. I’m the next one in line to get married in my family, and I’m also the only one who is not heterosexual. My family accepts me for who I am but what I always question myself if I want to marry a man or a woman, if I want a Hmong wedding, and how do I want to start my family. Yes, I understand that you can get all those regardless of your sexuality but I see the kind of a family my siblings have and that’s what I want as well. I think the Hmong LGBTQQI community is being impacted by our old traditions.

The reason I’m only out to certain people is because people are so quick to judge. All the amazing people who truly love and care for know about my sexuality, and they’re very supportive. It’s the new people that I meet that makes me iffy about if I want to share that kind of personal information with them. They don’t know me enough to understand where I’m coming from, which I don’t blame them. Plus, I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable around me.

If you’re compel by MYY’s story, we invite you (if you identify as Hmong LGBTQQI) to contribute your narrative to our collection and documenation by taking this 5 minute survey: http://tinyurl.com/HmongLGBTQQIStories

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2013. 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.