so, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
never enough for both.
— Ijeoma Umebinyuo
Where is my true home? Where do I come from if not here. Ever since I looked up Laos for my sixth grade FACs project, hoping to see Hmong people pop up, owning their “Home,” I realized, Laos is for Laotian people, not Hmong? That was the first time I found out, we had no home: the first time I felt ashamed being Hmong, the start of my disconnection from my Hmong identity.
How do I describe the self-identity crisis I experienced for 22 years as I dwelled in the seams of two completely separate lives. Ijeoma Umebinyou’s quote perfectly describes my life. As a product of immigrant parents on American soil, what am I really? Hmong or American? Watching movies in my language, listening to songs in my tongue, all the Hmong words flowed easily into my ears, but when I discovered hip hop and Black culture, everything I knew shifted.
Being Hmong seemed to be “uncool.” If I spoke too much Hmong, listened to Hmong songs, or wore flip flops, I wasn’t “good” enough. I grew up seeing story cloths, the traditional clothing, the cultural rituals, but I never understood the meanings behind any of it. They all felt meaningless to me. Was it because my parents never really explained to me why things happened the way it did? There was no questioning the culture. It just was. That was the way. My young mind could not comprehend how sacred and special all these were to me until years later.
Was it because I never wanted to fulfill the role of a Hmong daughter? As young as I was, I sensed an unfairness in the culture, the way I was treated and the tasks assigned to me at parties. I came to a conclusion that I would NEVER wait at the hands and feet of a man. I NEVER wanted to be lower, yet I didn’t know, my young mind was already conditioned to be submissive and to view myself less important than a boy. Unconcsiously, I came to hate my female identity and I chased the freedom my brothers inherited.
I remembered tagging along with my brothers, wrestling with them, and playing football with my boy cousins. But, when I was around my girl cousins, I took on the “girl” role, talking about boys and worrying about how we looked. I over-worried when I was taking the role as a girl compared to when I was hanging with the guys.
I blamed my Hmong identity for all the self-hate. The patriarchy, the silencing of my voice, my inability to play sports because my legs were not longer. So, I ran: I ran from my Hmong identity. I ran from my female identity. Yet, I still couldn’t get un-stuck from the seams. No matter how “American” or “masculine” I tried to be, there was always this emptiness inside me.
In 8th grade, I stuck closely to a big group of Hmong girls. They were Hmong. They looked like me. Maybe that would help me find who I was. I should be best of friends with them right? I knew the answer. Just because they were Hmong did not mean I should stick with them. We had nothing in common. I knew nothing else but Hmong. That was the only thing that defined me, so when it slipped from me, I unconcsiouly became confused on who I was. I replaced my Paradise, Tou Lee Va Kou, and Lue Yaj jams with Usher, Neyo, T-pain, and Beyonce. So who was I anymore? No country, no identity.
My longing to belong has been my greatest struggle. Feeling totally alone even when surrounded by a group of people. Unsure of where I fit in the world and in my belong groups, anxiety and nervousness filled my every muscle.
I continued running away for 22 years, desperately trying to ditch my Hmong identity and my roles and my emotions as a women. But, something inside of me, said “stop running and come back.” When I did return to embrace my two identities, I was relieved. Before, English did not flow easily out of my mouth, yet when I returned to my native tongue, it also did not flow easily like it once did.
As a 23 year old Hmong women now, I see the beauty in my race; the thousands of years of oppression, a people without a country, our lost written language, our people dispersed throughout the whole globe, literally making 0% of the population. These are not to cry over, to feel bad about, or to see us lower than anybody else. The beautiful thing about being Hmoob is this quote by Mayou Angelo.
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
A people without a place, yet we belong every place, no place at all. The home we know, is the home we carry on our backs to every place we lived. The home we know, is the home we carry in our hearts to every place we lived. Home is within us. Home should never be a physical space, as how all nations want to label “home.” My home is the people that come along with me on the journey, as we again, rebuild our homes, re-cultivate our land, adapt to our new plain. I find that beautiful about my people. The world is our home.
My parents told me we are from Laos, yet that home is foreign to me. We are only travelers there who stayed for a while. Now again, we move and move. Yet home will always be with me.
❤ Wabi Sabi