Sunday, September 18, 2011

What does it even mean to be HMONG?

I’ve always known that I was Hmong. You know, attending the Hmong New Year festival, participating in the ua neeb (spirit calling) and hu plig (soul calling) ceremonies, eating sticky rice with Hmong sausage, speaking Hmong, etc: The point is, growing up in a Hmong household I pretty much knew what my expectations were and obeyed it.

BUT – I never knew how HMONG I was until I stepped outside of my Hmong community. Of course this epiphany has hit me various times at various points of my life (Hmong Women’s Circle/ Girls Scouts, HmoobTeen, Youth Leadership Initiative, college, Breakthrough Saint Paul, India) but it has never hit me as hard as now.

Here in China were my Hmong ancestors originated, I feel more Hmong than ever. How so?

This semester we are assigned a project called the ONE QUESTION PROJECT where we zoom in on one question we have about China and research about it while we are here. My One Question Project is on the Hmong-Miao people in Southeastern China. Through this I’ve had the opportunity to educate my peers about the Hmong people, culture, religion, history and values.

I’m sure my peers are annoyed about my constant “Did you know that in the Hmong culture…” I redundantly educate people who are unfamiliar about the Hmong people about how we got to the United States. I’ve told the story of the Vietnam War so many times, I bet I could recite it back and forth from A-Z and Z-A. I’ve also given them many facts and tidbits about what the Hmong people believe in.

When my peers have dreams about things like someone they love died or they are pregnant, I usually tell them what the dream means in the Hmong culture:
-          Dream that someone died: It means that the person who died in the dream is getting better and healthier; their sickness will die away.
-          Dream that you are pregnant: It means you will have a lot burden to carry such as a long to-do list, a lot of preparation for an event or exam; basically a lot of stress weighing you down.
-          Dream that a snake bit you: It means you will get pregnant if you have sexual intercourse. If you already had sexual intercourse, it means you will definitely be pregnant.
-          Dream that an animal bit you: It means you need to be cautious of the people around you because there are people out there who are intentionally planning to physically or emotionally hurt you.
-          Dream that an attractive opposite sex person wants you to go with them to an unfamiliar place: It means a wandering ghost wants to take your soul from the human world to the spirit world. If you go with them you can possibly die.
-          There’s more but I’ll stop here.

When someone bruises out of nowhere and can’t recall how they got that bruise it usually meant that the person’s spirit is trying to run away because it’s unhappy about where it is at that point in time but the body will not allow for it go leave so people get bruises without knowing how they got them. It just means that their spirit is not in tune with their body.

When you scoop rice out of the rice cooker don’t scoop straight from the center. It means that you are greedy and your mother-in-law will dislike you.

When you see someone’s belongings out in the street don’t pick it up because it’s probably a ghost trapping you. Ghosts are wandering spirits and if you pick their bait you’re basically giving them permission to take your spirit away.

Don’t ever exchange blood with your boyfriend, significant other or anyone else. If you do you are making a promise (a covenant) with that person saying that you’ll wait for them after you die – this means you can’t enter the gates of heaven without them if you die first. Vice versa.

There’s more but I’ll stop here.

The more I dissect these ideas and values in the Hmong culture the more I realize how much I know (and don’t know) about the Hmong people. I ask myself: First of all how do I know these things? And how did I remember them? Then: Why am I still holding on to these values? Finally: Why am I not questioning or doubting these beliefs?

At the end of the day being Hmong isn’t about having dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, and peach skin. Being Hmong isn’t about eating rice, attending the Hmong New Year festivals or killing chickens to make sacrifices. Of course these things contribute to the Hmong culture and customs but it does not define what Hmong is.

At the very end of the day being Hmong is when the values of the Hmong culture are glued so tight inside of me to the point where I don’t even question it. I don’t think there’s even a ‘definition’ to it. It’s something you know deep in your soul. 

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