What do you identify yourself as?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Traditional Hmong Food

I came across this video of a Hmong woman making ncuav--the sticky rice kind. She reminds me so much of my mom. In fact, I've been thinking about the foods that my mom makes, things that are unique to the generation of older Hmong women--you know, the foods that younger Hmong generation like myself would eat but don't necessarily know how to make. Like ncuav. Like pig intestines stuffed with sticky rice. Like home-made tofu.

I feel like I want to video tape my mom making these things so it won't be lost on me. Of course, I can have her teach me now, but I also want something that will allow me to always rely on her to still teach me these things, even years from now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hmong Families and the "Boy Requirement"

My husband and I have three girls, no boys. Everywhere we go, so many Hmong people insist that we try again for a boy. But what if we don't want to? While it would've been nice to have at least one boy, we also realize we're quite content with our family the way it is. We've got three beautiful, healthy girls, and we don't necessarily feel the need to have more kids just for the sake of having a boy. To be honest, we really don't want another baby.

However, the pressure from Hmong people (especially older relatives) are constant. It's as if there is no choice here at all, as if it's a must. I feel pretty certain that, even if we have another baby and it turns out to be a boy, they're going to say, "Well, now that you've got one boy, you've got to try for another one. You don't want your boy to not have a brother, do you?" I have a feeling it doesn't stop.

Over the years, my husband and I have heard all of the reasons why we MUST have a boy (or two or three). We've heard the "boy requirement" lecture probably over a hundred times by now. It does bother me to hear constantly how our girls are not truly a part of our family, how they'll marry into another clan and not be our "real" family. Without boys, they say, we won't have anyone to live with or take care of us when we're old.

But the truth is that in this country, you go where your job is. Even if I had boys, they'll relocate to where ever they find a good job. And I would whole-heartedly encourage them to do so. I would never expect them to stay in a town just because that's where the clan is, or because that's where I am.

Furthermore, it seems to me that daughters take care of their parents just as much as or even more so than sons do. When I look at many Hmong families I know, it's the daughters who (even though they've married into another clan) care more for their parents. They tend to call more, physically care for sick parents more, run errands, remember their parents' birthdays, etc. Those are just my observations.

The other often cited reason for "needing" a boy is to have someone carry on the family name. But that's a bit superficial, in my opinion. Now if we were the Einsteins, I might reconsider. :o)

Right now, I feel that my family is complete. Of course, I can't predict the future, and I don't know how I'll feel 20 or 30 years from now. But right now, we're happy. We're looking forward to our kids getting older. We're looking forward to being able to travel with them and go on vacations, where we can all participate and do things together. It'd be nice to not have to spend more money on diapers and bottles and put that money towards a college fund for our kids instead. 

So my questions are: In this country, is there a need to have a large family? Is there a need for a boy?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

General Vang Pao: Hmong Hero or Tyrant?

As you may know, General Vang Pao recently passed away, causing a lot of grief in Hmong communities all over the United States and I would imagine in other countries with Hmong residents as well. A lot of Hmong people certainly respected and loved GVP. Many viewed him as a father-figure and saw his death as a significant loss.

However, I've been hearing a lot of negative comments about GVP and stories about horrible things he did to others and to his own Hmong people. Some say that he never cared for the greater good of the Hmong community and that he was only out for self-success. They cite the Hmong people in Laos who are still there and living peacefully without being persecuted or killed. They comment on GVP's wealth as evidence that he was a corrupted leader. There are a lot of other things that I have seen brought up in various commentaries on GVP, but I won't mention them all.

If you want to read some of the negative things being said, here is one article that gives a searing report of GVP back in his CIA operation days: "My Memo of Vang Pao" by Fred Branfman

So...what to make of all of this? To be a top leader is an extremely tough job, and there has got to be plenty of temptations along the way. I doubt that GVP was a perfectly virtuous leader. Who really is? We're all guilty of greed, pride, and power to some extent. Just what was his extent?

As a kid, I remember my dad sending money every month in support of GVP and his causes. I overheard the grown-ups talking about promises that GVP would make and fulfill, if he got enough money from the Hmong people. I was just a kid, but I thought it was ridiculous. It seemed absurd to send hard-earned money away to some unproven cause. My dad would rise early every morning, drive an hour to a pig slaughter house to slave away, and then drive home at night, smelling like pig and with blood and grease splattered all over his hair and clothes. I'm sure his back was sore, his arms heavy with the lifting of hundreds of pounds of pig carcasses. He hardly earned enough to support our family of eleven. Why was he sending money away? After years of doing that, what was the end result? Where did all that money go? I have no idea, and I don't think my dad did either. He eventually stopped sending his hard-earned money away.

When I think about everything that I'm reading about GVP (the good and the bad) and the memories I have of how the Hmong elders spoke of him and supported him, I guess what I'm left with is a bit of confusion. Who was he? I'm not talking about biographical or hard facts. I'm talking about who he was in his heart. I guess none of us, except perhaps his closest confidante, really knows.

I am, however, grateful that I am here in the United States. And that's due to GVP. So for that, I thank him.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Being Hmong-American is complicated

Part of the fundamental core of who I am is that I'm both Hmong and American. I was born to Hmong parents, raised in the Hmong culture, and I'm expected to abide by Hmong traditions. However, I was born in the United States and have also been immersed in the American culture all my life. I've been schooled in the American K-12 system all the way through to graduate school, and now as an educator, I work alongside mostly white American colleagues.

As you may already know, the Hmong and American cultures are different in many ways. For me, it's a bit like living one way during the day while at work or school, and then going home to live in another completely different manner--from language, mannerisms, food, etc. This was very true for me as a kid growing up, as my parents were somewhat traditional. Now that I'm an adult and in my own home, the difference is not as drastic.

All my life, though, I've been trying to figure out what it means to be Hmong-American. I've been trying to make sense of both worlds to find some middle ground, but there are clashes. Not ALL the time, but from time to time, yes, there are issues.  

I think of it in terms of this fairly common metaphor for life. Both worlds (Hmong and American) have threads that constantly weave in and out of my life. They intertwine together but not always well...I haven't found a way to weave them together seamlessly.

It's complicated to live in between both worlds, and I don't think I'm the only one. What have your experiences been like, and how would you describe it?