Hmong culture is patrilineal — descent is (primarily) calculated through the father or male line.
So when strangers ask me where I am from, I tell them my dad is from Texas and that I too am part Texan although I have never been there. Truthfully, I am primarily a Californian, born and bred in the Central Valley.
But my dad attended North Dallas High School, Home of the Bulldogs from 1976 to 1979. He started as a sophomore who although spoke three languages already, did not know any English at all. …
“I know Hmong!” my small niece announced one afternoon.
We were hanging out in her backyard under a white canopy at a scuffed plastic table, sitting in beige metal chairs trying to stay out of the way. Adults flitted about chatting loudly, chopping meat, and rinsing and then sorting through herbs for laj. There was propane fire and grill smoke mixed in the air.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied. “Show me. Say something in Hmong.”
“Laus-laus! Grandma! Laus-laus and Grandma, come here! Say something Hmong to Auntie!”
Her grandmother, my aunt skittered over first from across the yard.
“Dab tsi, ab…
I am an “okay” Hmong girl — in the $7k range (out of $5k-10k).
I cook, but I do not clean. My aunts lament Pog Yeeb, my opposite, who did not cook, but cleaned, died before I was old enough for us to team up. We would have commandeered an immaculate kitchen.
I do my own laundry, but no one else’s and it takes me days, weeks to fold my clothes much less consider putting them away. My closet is a mess of things I must have, but do not wear and yet cannot give up, like the Bacardi Gold…
A dab is a malevolent spirit, more like a ghost or a monster which is different from the plig, which although also means spirit, references solely human spirits or souls. These are represent parts rather than a single entity of human-ness that can be lost, wandering, and/or desiring to be found again. Plig means wholesome things unlike what a dab represents.
A neeg is a person.
Taken together with the classifier zaj (version) — or dragon, if we’re talking about the noun form of zaj - zaj dab neeg translates to something like: “song of the human spirit” which is…
I’ve always had a liking for storms. We don’t get that many spectacular ones in the Central Valley — not to be mistaken for Central California, especially not Central Coast California which has lovely, lovely storms, pushing and pulling gunmetal gray waves of water to and fro.
Certain storms have almost made me want to stay in places I could otherwise leave behind without a backward glance. For example, Wisconsin and Washington, DC.
But home is home and I’m not really an extreme weather girl. I’m a dry-heat, mild winters sorta person most of the time. …
I’ve been thinking about my niam tais, my maternal grandmother a great deal lately. I keep searching for her in the face and voice of my great-aunt, her surviving sister, and seeing bits of them both in my eyebrows and the slope of my right cheek when I smile with all of my teeth showing. I am glad to mirror parts of her. It makes me smile wider, harder…a great, silly grin crinkling my skin. This is also how I most often remember my niam tais: a cheery woman with a halo of hair.
I am the only one of…
Hmong words that are actually Lao words and the Hmong phrases you’re supposed to use instead, but I’m Hmoob A Me Li Kas.
Hmong was my first language, my only language until I started school when the obsession to “fit in” by learning American-English supplanted the Hmong from my tongue.
So in 2014, I undertook Hmong Language studies at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) in Madison, WI. (They’re taking applications for Summer 2020 soon!)
SEASSI is billed as “high quality intensive language instruction” — and it is. Even as a (once) native speaker, the 4 hours/day of instruction…
My nephew is five. He just started school this last August. At dinner one cheery winter night after spending a long, late afternoon assembling gingerbread houses, he beckoned me over.
Auntie, what is your culture?
Wait, what? Say that again.
What is your CUL-TURE, Auntie? Don’t you know what a culture is?
Yes! Of course, I know what a culture is, I snapped.
I wish I hadn’t responded like that. It was the sardonic, inner anthropologist in me. Anthropologists study and are ostensibly experts in “culture” although it’s easier and incorrect to tell people that we’re just like Indiana…
Q&A with Mrs. Hmong America, China Chang
China Chang competed in her first pageant competition — Mrs. Minnesota America — in June 2018. Although she didn’t win, she received the Community Service Award, granted to only one contestant per competition.
A month later, in July 2018, representing Hmong America as Mrs. Hmong America, China competed in and was crowned the Mrs. Global United Ambassador. The hosting organization, Global United Pageants is an international organization which seeks “contestants and title holders who exemplify the beauty that comes from serving others in the community.” …
Lilian’s Three-ish Book Recs from 2018-ish for 2019
Reading has always been my first love, the umami of my mother tongue. Writing is a secondary, reluctant language I learned to supplement my hunger for stories about myself, my family, and my people. I’m still learning how to portion, balance the two. In the interim, entrée three books which have revived me this year and a recently published chapbook I’m hoping to check off my list in 2019. Give ’em a nibble.
hwrite(r)-ish | co-editor at maivmai