“Our culture, traditions, and livelihood are stitched into the seams of our embroidery, orchestrated into our traditional songs, spoken by our tongue, and seasoned into the meals we share.”
I have not been vocal about my cultural journey, specifically my journey in finding what it means to be a Hmong-American and adopted woman. I think that a large part of it is due to my insecurities and fear of being wrong. Why do I want to learn about a culture and people group that I do not have top-notch great memories of? Can I really know the Hmong culture if I do not speak the language that often anymore and not follow its traditions and customs as much?
Before I begin, I want to emphasize that my identity is not strictly being a Hmong-American and adopted woman. The categories that we label ourselves as is not who we are at the end of the day. I am a daughter of God, and I declare that truth! At the same time, I acknowledge the ethnicity God made me: Hmong. I could have been any other ethnicity but God thoughtfully choose to design me to be Hmong. With that, when I left for college I tried to be more intentional about finding what it means to be a Hmong-American. However, I also recognize the importance of my adoption and how much it has impacted me and how I long to unpack its messiness and beauty. So, I packed up all of what I knew–my experiences, the wisdom that was given to me, and the truth and lies that I believed–and embarked on this journey.
Here I am. It has almost been two and a half years. *stare to my left and right*
Did I even take a step yet? I still see myself at square one as I hold onto the straps of my backpack… I was stuck, and often times I feel stuck. Where do I go? How do I go about this? In short, I learned that the work begins inside of me first. My heart is where it needs to begin. I need to grieve. I need to ask questions. I need answers. I need healing. Those things, my friend, are not easy to do and they take time.
In the midst of those things, I have recently began to immerse myself in the Hmong communities more. If I want to learn more about my culture, then I must go where the Hmong people are. I co-founded Asian Student Fellowship on my college campus for the Asian community to come together and have fellowship and discuss topics and issues related to the Asian narrative. This was an initiative to develop a wider understanding of what it means to be Asian and to be with those who may share similar experiences and stories.
I often times will cook foods that I grew up eating. I do not think I can get sick of eating Hmong food (although most of the foods that we eat are from other cultures). The aroma of the foods do not only fill the kitchen but it also escapes beyond my senses and into my heart where memories of gatherings are shared over a meal are kept. I am insecure about speaking the language because I no longer have the muscles in my mouth or tongue mastered to accurately speak Hmong. Yet, I understand it for the most part, and I desire to surround myself in an environment that will encourage me to speak it more. My goal is that I can speak Hmong more and establish a stronger sense of self-esteem in this area.
Recently, I took on a new hobby: Hmong cross-stitch or needlework (paj ntaub). I actually remember being taught by my biological mom and older sisters how to cross-stitch. Typically, Hmong cross-stitch is done to make traditional Hmong clothes. Currently, my goal is to learn new designs and maybe someday I can learn how to make Hmong clothes! It has only been about a month since I began cross-stitching, and I find so much peace doing it. It takes a lot of patience and time to complete a finished product but as I insert the thread into the needle and count the number of squares there are, I am entering a semi-loss tradition of mothers teaching their young daughters to paj ntaub. I cannot seem to articulate this part of my journey yet and that is okay with me. The sensation and mystery of it all only shows me how beautiful and meaningful this tradition is.
This past weekend was the Hmong New Year. The Hmong community come together to celebrate the Hmong culture through food, selling merchandise, a pageant, and performances in three days! It is also one of the few times out of the year that I get to wear Hmong clothes! It is always an exciting time for me because I get to be around a big crowd of Hmong people which is not a reality for me throughout the year. I get to taste delicious food, hear the Hmong language, and bask in the beauty of our clothing to the cultural dances and songs.
I am thankful for my older sister for dressing me in Hmong clothes and for giving me an opportunity to wear apart of my culture proudly. I cherish the tightness of the clothes wrap around my waist and the weight of the xaus (Hmong necklace) hanging from my neck. Despite the pain from my black heels, I walk in the Hmong clothes with a lot of confidence and joy. The clinging and jingling of the coins and metals are only an echo of the story of the Hmong people, and the vibrant colors symbolizes the values that we get to represent.
So, this is where I am. Maybe I am at square one or two or three! I do not think I have a description of what it means to be a Hmong-American and adopted woman yet…or if I will ever put words together to explain what it is like. I do not know how long I have to keep discovering the Hmong culture and myself. I know one thing for sure: I will commit to discovering what it means to be a Hmong-American and adopted woman regardless how difficult it is. I can celebrate and share my culture–everyday! I can keep leaning into what God has to reveal to me, and that, my friend, is the journey He offers to all of us. Lean in and hear the heartbeat of His so that you can find the way that your heart will beat in this world, and most importantly in His kingdom!
Happy Hmong New Year!