Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Being Hmong in China

My hypothesis: In China the Chinese people will be able to quickly pick out that I am not Chinese because Asians are pretty good at distinguishing different Asian groups.

Conclusion: Wrong.

I have only been in China for a little over two weeks but I am already realizing how wrong I am about my hypothesis. I thought being Hmong in India was hard. Being Hmong in China is much harder.

Here in China everyone expects me to be Chinese and to already know the language. At the stores and markets they’d come up to me and say things to me Mandarin and all I can reply with is, “Wo bu zhi dao” while shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders. I am pretty ‘dumb’ here.

When I start telling people that I am Hmong, that I am sort of related to the Miao minority in China people react differently to me. I remember one night we went out for dinner as a whole group with Professors from Southwest University (the University we’re studying at in China). The topic of my ethnicity came up because the professor was interested in my background. He was wondering if I was Chinese American. I said, “No. Keep guessing.”  

Then finally I said, “I am Hmong. It’s closely related to the Miao Minority here in China.” He was taken aback. Then he said that in his village there are a lot of Miao people and that they are very poor. He mentioned how beautiful and expensive the Miao’s clothing was. At the end of the meal he said, “I’m surprised you’re Miao. I would not have been able to guess it at all.”

Somehow deep in my guts I could sense that he was shocked at how education and literate I was compared to the Miao people he knew. I wasn’t sure if he was praising me or insulting me.  

All of this really makes me wonder: Where do I stand in this world? Where does the Hmong people stand in this planet?

But I guess when we measure our lives against eternity our lives are nothing more than just a speck of dust. So how do we want to spend that time? How can we maximize our experiences here on earth?

So here I am here in China. Hmong girl. Pursuing my dreams. Traveling the world. This is how I choose to spend my time on earth. 

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