I’ve always felt like the odd bird among family and friends. I don’t fit in completely with a crowd. Don’t tune out on me just yet. I promise you, this isn’t one of those monologues about how I am a unique circumstance or misfit and no one on the entire face of this earth understands me.
You see, I am a Hmong-American woman having double values and living a double lifestyle. I have what you call a divided spirit. I grew up with people wondering what ethnicity I was. Not because I am Asian and I look “exotic,” but I am not like other Hmong girls. I know because I have been told this and it is often implied wherever I go. On a black to white spectrum, black being Hmong and white being white-American or vice versa, I’m definitely gray… gray to the max.
My parents had me after they graduated from the University of Minnesota. They did not raise my precocious older brother, crazy younger sisters, and me as traditionally as other Hmong parents. My parents were young and laid back. They wanted to take us on road trips through out the country, rather than inform and remind us about our own culture.
I grew up in a household where I was taught to speak and read in English and watch re-runs of Little House on the Prairie or English period dramas (I’m an Anglophile because of it.) Occasionally, my mom would dress my siblings and me in Hmong clothing and blast a traditional Hmong song for us to dance to. That was occasionally.
My Hmong race and culture barely crossed my mind at times. Sometimes, I forgot I was Hmong. I would forget about my yellow complexion, chinky eyes and smaller than average frame. I was just a girl with a big imagination and ethnicity had nothing to do with who I was.
I had bigger than life dreams. I was going to be an excellent writer and tell extraordinary stories. I was going to be an influential person. I was going to be more than a Hmong-American girl.
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Now at 20 years old, I see my yellow complexion, chinky eyes and smaller than average frame. My ethnicity has everything to do with who I am. I may be a Hmong- American woman who dreams of doing bigger than life things, but there is one thing I hold close to my heart.
Sometimes, I feel like I would let go of everything to tend to my extended family. I love all my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. They are the roots that keep me grounded in my Hmong culture. I continue to practice and learn about Hmong culture from older family members. I hear my language and it is a beautiful song. I don’t speak my native language as fluently or often as I would like to. I can speak little bits and pieces of Hmong here and there, but I could not speak Hmong to save my life. It’s always been hard for me to pick up my native language.
One of my favorite things to do when I am not binge watching Downton Abbey or talking to my college friends about being a writing superhero that saves the patriarchal world from its demise, is working with the gorgeous, witty, and strong women in my family at traditional Hmong gatherings. I love the energy that is present. There is tons of laughter, undivided support and words of wisdom that come from my grandmothers, aunts and cousins. While we skillfully perform cooking and cleaning tasks, we reminisce over funny stories, usually about raising kids. Not only is it truly amazing to hear what kids these days are saying or doing, but it is astonishing to know what they will bring to our family legacy.
I am divided. Sometimes I wonder if I should be like the women in my family. Instead of pursuing life in a fast pace individualistic society, what if I settled down for the simpler things in life: follow tradition, raise a family and get a small stable job that will pay the bills, but not place me in a powerful position? These women I speak of, are just as influential as the ones I acknowledged as a girl. The ones that I found were beyond what a Hmong-American girl was.
My ethnicity has everything to do with who I am, but I am a divided spirit.