001: Opium Baby

Episode 001 is now up. In this episode we talk about the Freedom Festival, the We Are Hmong Minnesota exhibit, Hmong people fishing, outsiders saving us, human trafficking in SE Asia, and U.S. marriage equality.

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(Intro: Qeej music playing)

Linda Hawj: Hi. Today is July 10, 2015 and you are listening to hwjchim. This is our first podcast and this is Linda Her speaking.

Sandy Oh: Hi. This is Sandy.

Mim Xyooj: And this is Mee.

Paj Huab Hawj: I’m Pa.

SO: We’re four Hmong girls talking about —

All: Everything!

PHH: Uh, so they have a new rule this year with the athletes and the rule is that the athletes cannot bring their own water into the soccer tournament. They would have to buy water from uh Lao Family. And so what happened was on the first day people took advantage of that–vendors and athletes. And the story from Lao Family is that uh some folks bought more water than they needed and there wasn’t anybod–’cause there wasn’t any rules in terms of allocation of water and so uhm water ran out, uh, very quickly.

MX: Well, why would there be a rule about water allocation? If you wanted to buy ten bottles and you had money and you bought it from Lao Family, so?

PHH: Yea, so, there wasn’t any rules. The explanation from Lao Family was that vendors and athletes took advantage of this and they didn’t correctly calculate how much water was going to be needed and so vendors–instead of bringing in their own water from outside–vendors bought Lao Family’s water and resold it. And then athletes–

SO: At a higher price?

PHH: Probably. Probably.

All: (laughing)

PHH: I mean water bottles were a dollar each and you know like this past weekend was very, very hot. There were some indications from Lao Family that these moves by different sports coordinators were very tactical in that if you are a specific team and you don’t have enough water then that like affects your playing ability. And so there were–there was hints of people buying water for tactical reasons.

MX: To sabotage–

PHH: Yes.

MX: To sabotage other teams.

PHH: Correct.

MX: I remember when I was–when I was younger in junior high, high school, and the Freedom Festival, you know you just walked in wherever because there was no fence. And then when they started putting up the fence they started charging the fee, right because they were like, we have to make some money to pay for security guards, we have to make money to pay for putting up the fence. And that made sense to us, you know. It was like a dollar, two dollars. And then now hearing these stories you know I kinda wonder like is the entrance fee now to just make profit.

PHH: I think that the reason why Lao Family started collecting money was so that they could buy a piece of land to have this festival, this soccer tournament. That was the original idea was that they would start collecting money during the festival because uhm the soccer tournament brings in a lot of money. Lao Family makes a huge profit from the uhm not just from the uhm Hmong New Year but also from the soccer tournament. And so the idea was that they would–they would take this money and they would pool it together and when they had enough money to buy a piece of land so that they could have a soccer tournament, they would be able to do it. And this was something that was thought of before General Vang Pao died, and it was a dream of General Vang Pao to have a piece of land to host the soccer tournament. And for whatever reason you know a lot of money gets made and a lot of money gets put in these Hmong leaders’ pockets, right, their pockets are lined with money and for whatever reason Lao Family always comes out losing, right. So there’s of uh athletes uh winning first, second place, third place and going to cash their check and having their checks bounce. These are real stories that this happened in the past. And I know that this this new year you know they have like a change in leadership. The leader that I know, that’s the CEO of Lao Family, he’s trying to make it more transparent and I think it is it is about making a profit, right, like let’s not beat around the bush. That’s the reality, right. It’s about bringing in the most amount of people and making uh the most profit that you can possibly make out of the soccer tournament, right. It’s about having sponsorship and and charging up a lot of money for the stalls and registration and what not.

MX: So I feel like I should clarify earlier when I said that it made sense to us when they started charging like to hire security guards and to put up the fence. Before there were security guards and before there was a fence up there used to be like a lot of fights and you know there were shootings. So when Lao Family decided to put up a fence and to have guards we thought that that made sense, right, to pay like this–this dollar, two dollars, so that it would help pay for these measures.

PHH: Yea, you know I really don’t have a problem paying five dollars to get into uhm soccer tournament. I–I like transparency, right, so if this is a for profit event, let it be known. Don’t hide it behind some nonprofit crap that you like–don’t hide it behind that. If you are more transparent about the fact that it’s a for profit then you know everybody is–whoever wants to be on board can be on board. My problem with the soccer tournament is the fact that it’s so centered around General Vang Pao and it’s this thing called the Freedom Festival, right. And we’re celebrating like America’s birthday. And the ways in which we’ve highlight these sort of Hmong male leaders in the community. That I don’t give a shit about.

LH: Yea, just to kind of backtrack on what you said about this–if this is a for profit event don’t hide behind this nonprofit status right, and which I think that Hmong community members are sort of confused or upset or whoever are engaged or who are observers or participator in this one yearly event or the New Year, right, I think that they’re confused around what is the meaning of Lao Family. ‘Cause I’ve seen and heard and have conversations with people talking about, oh this is a community organization to help our Hmong community be better but at the same time in this act of having this Freedom Festival, soccer tournament, it takes place in exploiting for profit. As what we talked about earlier, buying water and not having sports teams bring their own water. And so like these types of actions around controlling and like from fenceless to now fenced, and now controlling how sports team or vendors or whoever–even community members who are entering into the space–what type of access or what type of participation that they can have. It gets sort of lost into what you said earlier, Pa, around celebrating this like General Vang Pao but then celebrating the birth of America. It’s sort of confusing. I’ve seen some of the comments that people talked about, the soccer tournament should not happen during July fourth because it’s America and I’m American. And so I feel like we should think about like what does it mean for these identities we have. What does it mean for us to be Hmong and participating and not knowing how to hold organizations or people accountable. And then I saw that they had a flag to celebrate America. And so it was kind of like confusing. Is this like a celebration around Hmong freedom and then you know relating to like the war, but then celebrating America having a–a big American flag there, but then at the same time putting the American flag on the ground and stepping on it like that is like a huge no-no in America. You don’t step on the American flag. So I feel like it’s this idea of, let’s have this festival because we want to celebrate our freedom but then let’s also celebrate America at the same time, not knowing how to actually celebrate it. When I talk about this confusion, I think even the organizers themselves are confused around what is it they’re trying to put for the community as an organization or as organizers for the event.

MX: And I am confused why we call it the Freedom Festival because growing up we always called it the soccer tournament, right. It just happened to fall during J4 weekend because sometimes you would have three days off depending on when the fourth of July fell. And so I just started noticing recently that–and maybe it was being called this long before I noticed, because I haven’t been there in several years, but–that it was being called the Freedom Festival. And I was confused. Like, whose freedom?

SO: I didn’t go either but uh but I’ve gone in the past. I agree with you all on the disorganization of the event. As a non-Minnesotan, I always thought the J4 soccer tournament was the gathering of Hmong people from all over the world. Because I have relatives from Australia, from different cou–outside countries and states coming together for this event. So I never really like really thought deeply about this. I thought it was another excuse to have Hmong people together. But then I think about, do people outside the Hmong community really care about Hmong people stepping on the flag or this idea of like the Hmong identity? Because the city of Saint Paul benefits so much in dollars to have outside folks come in. And then the state of Minnesota benefits so much because people do come in and they go see the other cities. The city profits. J4, for so many years, like we went, I went down, I went clubbing downtown during J4 weekend and the–the Uber driver that I called, he was a bouncer in these different clubs and he said, yea we always know J4’s gonna bring a lot of Asians to downtown Minneapolis. The city of downtown Minneapolis was closed, uh, it was like packed that weekend. Granted, it was because there was like an event but…

MX: So, the soccer tournament brings a lot of people and the city benefits from it but then they’re also trying to regulate parking for the soccer tournament and, I don’t know, is–is that still happening? It was a big deal like when I was in college because it just started happening then.

PHH: Yea, so I guess I’m the only person out of the four of us that went to the soccer tournament this weekend; both days. And, uhm, I will say that, yes, uhm, there was regulation on the streets. You could only park on, I believe like certain side of the streets and you needed a permit to park and I think that this is–this comes from the Como community. What I found that was really interesting and I did not know this before–it was only after the fact–was that, uhm, the Freedom Festival committee invited a bunch of Como Park community members, uhm ,so neighborhood community members, to come and to experience the soccer tournament. You know, so, there was a group of these uh white folks that came and went and you know sampled the foods and watched the game and, but, you know, so like there was this group of people that came and uhm, and that they were invited by uh Lao Family. And they came and they had these sort of cultural experiences, right. And which I–I wonder, uhml do you know, does the State Fair invite Hmong people to come and experience the State Fair?

SO: No shit.

PHH: Does the State Fair invite, uhm, the Somali community to come and experience uhm the State Fair? Do they invite the you know the Karen community to come and experience the State Fair? You know so I–I think about this idea of like inclusion, right, how badly we want to be included and to be validated, right. And this goes back to the Minnesota Historical Society and the ways in which we think about the We Are Hmong exhibition. That just the fact that we are exhibited in the Historical Society is enough, right? And that’s inclusion, right? Uhm, so I think about that and, you know, making correlations, and it’s like really perplexing for me–to me.

LH: Yea, inclusion. I went to the exhibit uh one time. I didn’t go on the first day like the first what is it five thousand Hmong people who went there–which, what is it uhm, the Historical Society had met the quota of people of color for what like ten years? Uhm, so no I was not part of that quota but it makes me, you know, think about what does it mean to be Hmong in America or participating in this–these ways, right? Whether participating at Freedom Festival in my previous years or now like participating in the Historical Society and being in part of this exhibit or, or, or having part of my like family and my history in ways be exhibited through–which I felt was putting on performance for white people–because Historical Society center, how many Hmong people actually go there? Uhm, do they, again, do they invite Hmong people to come there? Oh, here is a Hmong exhibit, so we want to then invite Hmong people but anything other than that we have no idea who Hmong people are. And it also makes me think like, will Hmong people actually attend after the exhibit ends? And so what does it mean to–to Hmong folks who attend? And what does it mean for the Historical Society to be inclusive and, and, and diverse around having so many uh communities in Saint Paul be part of–having a spot in this space?

SO: I attended the first day so I was part of that quota. I love being a statistic. Whoo-whoo. Uh, anyways. Linda, like, going back to what you said, yea, I agree, like that exhibit only showed the feel good; what white people want to see. That we–these poor refugees are now making it. They’re achieving the American dream. And only showcasing the past as in–the past that didn’t happen in the United States, like, uhm, so all the war pictures, they talk about war, the losses, the number of losses that happened during the Vietnam War. But it didn’t happen on U.S. soil, it happened elsewhere. And that is the only pain that is showcased but it doesn’t talk about the pain because I think everybody’s story, there is that pain that needs to be shown in order to see the complexity, the different aspects of the community. ‘Cause we’re just not one thing and then it sprouts up into something.

MX: And that narrative, that war narrative also reinforces the U.S. saving us. And I feel like there are so many other narratives that we haven’t heard because being a part of the Vietnam War, having been abandoned by the U.S. military, crossing the Mekong to the Thailand refugee camps, like that is a narrative that we know very well. And I feel that we want other narratives, and so to have this narrative, that we all know so well, be in this exhibit tells me that this is not for me. Like, this is, this narrative is not for me. Like who doesn’t know this? White people don’t know this. Other Americans who are not Hmong or Southeast Asian don’t know this narrative.

PHH: I wonder if other Hmong folks feel the same way we feel. I have talked to other Hmong folks about the uh We Are Hmong exhibition and the majority of the consensus is that we should really be happy that we are being exhibited at this institution that would’ve never uh recognized us, right. And so it’s the first step to something bigger, right. And that this isn’t the last exhibition that will ever happen. And that there will be more exhibition. And there will be more stories to be told. So that’s the consensus that Hmong folks in the community are saying. I’ve talked to other Hmong folks who have gone through the exhibition and have completely loved it for educational purposes, right. You know, who brings in their students and their students are–they really are then able to understand like the struggle that we have overcome and the successes that we have–that we have made in America. The exhibition is a very feel good exhibition. It’s–it made to–to really talk about like how far we’ve come. You know these Hmong people who were these indigenous uhm you know folks who–

MX: Tribal.

PHH: Tribal, hill tribe people who–who’ve come such a long way and have completely adapted to uhm western ideology, and have completely been immersed in the west, right. And that we’ve completely been saved. Uhm, and so like for me that’s what the exhibition talks about. I think that there are things that are not in the exhibition that I’m interested in, right. And I–I think that Mee is completely right when she says that you know this story, right, this war story the ways in which we fled our home–our villages and you know, crossing the Mekong River and being an opium baby and resettling Thailand and the refugee camps like that’s a freakin story that we’ve all like we know that story very well. But, like, what about the other stories? Ah, what about the struggles that, uh, kids–our parents had to endure when they first came here? What about the struggles that we as you know first generation Hmong, what about that struggle? You know I’m more interested in that.

MX: Can you really quick explain what you mean by “opium baby” because I don’t want people to get the wrong impression.

PHH: (laughing) Opium baby. So. Basically what an opium baby is–you know I was very small when my parents fled Laos and uh I cried a lot and to stop me from crying my parents were advised to rub opium on my teeth and that’s what they did–on my gum actually. And you know my dad loves to tell the story about how I almost died and if it wasn’t for my cousin Vue’s pee that I dranked, you know, that I–I would have died had I not drank his pee.

MX: So.

PHH: It’s a common story.

MX: So, so your parents, fleeing Laos, probably, they’re probably moving at night, not during the day, and you crying would alert uhm whoever was after them. So, so in order to calm you down or put you to sleep they would rub opium on your gums.

PHH: Correct.

MX: And–and this is also a very– 

PHH: Common story.

MX: Common narrative that we hear all the time. Because you know there–there are narratives where, you know, children died because they were overdosed.

LH: Uhm, I wanted to touch back on what you both had said earlier around uhm this exhibit, you know as I said earlier as well like performance for white people because these are the narrative, the war narrative, an-and the modern narrative of young people participating in flag football, hunting and fishing, right? These are–so I feel like it’s kind of like really odd to see your present life in ways being in exhibit but for who, like as if we don’t know that already? And it’s a feel good thing because a massive of Hmong people, again, came to be at this event, such as uh the–the soccer tournament Freedom Festival right, Hmong peop–whole bunch of Hmong people come in so you feel this belongingness. I can understand that it feels good for people because we live in these American lives where we work nine to five or you know two jobs or we’re separated or living in different communities. So it feels good to come to these big events and celebrate. Uh, but yet at the same time for me I can’t help but think around uh portraying this narrative that America saved us. Whether it was like literally told in the exhibit or not but it’s understood to be that way. Yes, I also see that this is sort of important for white people to like see and learn. It’s like–it was very textbooks but at the same time I think about how assimilation to American white culture have also made our younger Hmong generation forget about these narratives, right? So I feel like this exhibit is for them as well but then I’m more concerned around the idea of America saved us and then the ways of where Hmong parents have said: you need to only speak English or learn English. And how over time I think it produced the third, fourth generation to only speak English and–and not know these narratives and these histories. This is a very complex conversation around what we’re talking about. I’m second generation Hmong American so for me, as you said earlier Pa, like a lot of the folks that I’ve talked to had shared the same thoughts and conversations, that everybody’s really happy, that after forty years and this is the first step there was also like conversations happening between people and like on social media where Hmong women were left out of this exhibit. And so there’s a lot of conversations that I’ve had and there’s a lot of thoughts that I think around not settling for just this narrative. We know this narrative. And are we just going to be ok by attending and then feeling good? What do we do after we leave the exhibit

SO: I agree with everybody that narrative stories are left out in this feel good U.S. centric forty year exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Society. One thing I found really odd, it was also the layout and the story that they were trying to tell in these two different rooms. Because in the, I guess, quote unquote more modern room, the one that isn’t war centric, there were like strange little pieces of–of his–not history, like facts, where like there was this once piece that was about like Christianity. It was just the one piece in this really odd section of the exhibit, hidden away. And then there was only two pieces about women hung in really odd pla–uh, section of the room. And one piece that clearly just only state GLBT. One piece also strangely you know placed. I–I think about didn’t they really think this through? You know, and when doing that room I feel like they just put everything that is like oh this is what’s happening, oh we have to include these people’s narrative because we forgot about them in the overall general essence of the exhibit. So let’s place them all in these weird ass locations.

PHH: I think a lot about that narrative, that Hmong narrative, the war narrative, and it’s a very male driven narrative, right. The idea that Hmong women didn’t exist until 1975.

All: (laughing)

SO: Surprise!

PHH: Uhm, right? Because only Hmong men were fighting. And yes, there was an anomaly, anomaly, right, Choua Lee, the first Hmong nurse. Right? She was like the only one that participated in the war, right, that was acknowledged by the U.S. And so I’m not surprised because the Hmong folks that curated this exhibition were Hmong male. I felt that the exhibition was–felt very masculine, you know, and that’s a tribute to the bodies involved in the exhibition, right.

LH: Wait, do you know who was part–was there a committee? Who was part of this? There wasn’t just three Hmong men, right? Or…

PHH: No, just three Hmong men. Noah Vang, Lee Pao Xiong, and Wameng Moua. Those were the three Hmong curators and then they had the curator for the Minnesota Historical Society, which also happened to be a man. Yes, so, there was an advisory committee and–so the advisory committee were made up of different professionals, uh, men and women from various different backgrounds but I wonder about the weight of that committee and how much weight that they had on the actual curators and the actual exhibition. And that’s something that we don’t know about.

MX: And I have to admit that while the planning of the We Are Hmong Minnesota exhibit was going on I was an intern at the Minnesota Historical Society. I was not directly involved with the exhibit and I know that there were a couple of interns, Hmong women, who were involved with the exhibit. But, again, you know, at the end of the day they had less weight than probably the advisory council.

SO: Uh, not only is–yes, the lack of different community voices, GLBT and women and so forth but who liked that picture of that white man in the Hmong clothing? Wow. And like, as–as you read through these like a lot of the artifacts belong to white folks. And so, I mean I don’t know if that picture was part of the exhibit but–’cause I totally mistaken him for a Hmong person.

LH: I wonder if all these five thousand Hmong who had came to view this even thought about why does this white man and his family own like our grandparents’ sandals and clothing and like tools, gardening tools. Like, did that cross their mind? Uhm, and I find it so dis–like so concerning, again, this whole like putting on this performance for whiteness, white people, or white people owning the gardening tools that my grandma still use currently. And I’m just so like concerned around how we want to be included and feel like ok now we’re at the Historical Society that we are now validated. And I wonder if Hmong people think about that, or are concerned about that as well.

SO: Usually museums like show artifacts. And then like what is the definition of an artifact? Something ancient and not in use. But the things that was shown at the exhibit are still in use to this day. So that’s the one thing that perplex me is that why do you need to go to a white person in order to get these things that our grandparents and parents still currently use, and it’s still sold at the Hmong Village and Hmong markets.

PHH: Well, going back to the idea of validation, I think as a person of color and uhm as a community of color it’s always important or for whatever reason we’ve gotten it in our heads that we need to be validated by white folk, right. And that our accomplishments don’t mean anything if they are not validated by white folks. And so, I think that this exhibition in a way a sort of validation for a lot of Hmong folks, right. The idea that we have worked so hard in the last forty years to fit in. A–And forty years have gone and have gone by and we have finally like we have finally made it folks. Forty years, we have finally made it and we are, we are finally being validated by the Minnesota Historical Society. And this is the only agency that matter. And this is one of the greatest events. This event in itself is going to be an exhibit one day, right. The–the exhibition at the Historical Society is going to one day be an exhibition. You know, like, that idea is very real and prevalent in the community by older folks and our generation. Because nobody talks about the lack of inclusion, right. None of the conversations that I’ve had, outside of the three of you guys, uhm, and maybe like three or four other folks, none of those folks are concerned with the exclusion of other uhm narratives and uh they’re just happy that we are at the Historical Society. And that, I don’t know, that I feel like that’s problematic. I think it’s problematic.

LH: So, are the Hmong really free?

MX: So, Linda, I wanted to touch back on what you said about the exhibit being or having like a textbooky feel and when you talked about how some of our younger generation don’t know the history or don’t know the language, so maybe this exhibit is for them also. I think about, in California, several years ago, I don’t know if it was like a state–it may have just been like a Fresno area related thing, but the-they passed this uhm was it like a referendum or a proposition where–where it was required [00:30:00] in schools to teach about the Hmong involvement in the Vietnam War. And I remember during that time there was a lot of you know white folks who weren’t happy with like, well, why do we need to have this as a requirement and Hmong children should be learning about Hmong history and the involvement in the Vietnam War from their parents and from their families, right. And I remember thinking that a lot of our older generations who-who lived through the war they still carry a lot of trauma and they are busy surviving. Working their asses off to be able to put food on the table, not being physically there, uhm, and sometimes not even emotionally there for their children because they’re busy being providers.

LH: So, talking about this modern Hmong piece at this exhibit around like people feeling good that you know we’re validated. I think that we should also be more concerned around racism, xenophobia, classism, and like homophobia, transphobia ‘cause I think and I feel and I experience that why I’m so critical around how these narratives are being told is that at the end of the day, or during the days of our lives, we will not be validated. Uh, we will face racism at work, we will face racism when we go fishing at the lake. So my partner and I we just started fishing. She had moved here uhm she had left the Air Force and so we wanted to do more outdoors stuff in Minnesota. And so we started fishing. And then you know we were researching fishing, watching videos, and I just saw like a lot of comments made towards Hmong people about fishing, and saying Hmong people don’t know what catch and release is. Or like other, there were other Asian non Hmong people who were like yea you–you all are making us look bad. And we had went fishing in a very white area. We were on this fishing dock, there’s these two white men fishin and I just felt very uncomfortable ‘cause they were like taking up all the space. These experiences are so real and I feel like we, my point is that we can’t just say oh great forty years, exhibit, we’re validated, and it all looks so good like we’ve accomplished so much but when we go and experience outdoors and public space we still face all these racism and violence from whiteness.

SO: When talking about outdoorsy things, I think if Hmong people want to be validated by–by white folks is the Asian carps. Hmong people, overfish that, you will be validated completely. You want to take care of deer population? Hmong people, take care of it. You know like, DNR, state of Minnesota, you’re gonna appreciate Hmong people one day. Overfish the Asian carp.

PHH: I know the Asian carp is a real deal and it’s–it’s bad, guys. It’s–it’s–it’s going up to Stillwater and folks in Stillwater are not happy about the Asian carp. They want that shit fished out.

LH: Wait, are they blaming it on Asian people, Hmong people then?

PHH: Yes, yes, yes, yea. I mean why can’t they call it American carps?

SO: (laughing)

PHH: (laughing) You know. I mean.

All: (laughing)

LH: Well, well, I did–I did some research around that. The story is–is that there was like this farm down south–I wanna say Arkansas–the Asian carp was from Southeast Asia or India or somethin, they had brought some of the Asian carp to the farm and somehow they got loose. The farm or something got flooded and so they started like migrating and they consume more plankton than the native fish in the U.S. Yea, and they jump into your boats and stuff right so like they’re like so dangerous.

PHH: That carp should be called the Hmong carp.

All: (laughing) 

PHH: Instead of (laughing) because– 

SO: –overfished by Hmong people. 

PHH: Because we’re invasive and we multiply like nobody’s business.

All: (laughing)

PHH: Uhm, you know but–but I–I wanna go back to a point you made earlier about the racial injustice, right, that has happened in Minnesota. And, you know, and specifically with the Hmong community, right. You know so I–I think about the hunters who are being discriminated against, uh, Hmong fishermen and women who are being discriminated against. And then also like this idea that–and I hear this a lot going back to the soccer tournament, about how we are so dirty and we don’t know how to pick up after ourselves and–and that’s part of the reasons why the Como neighborhood doesn’t like us because we don’t know how to throw things away in trashes right. That is a very real and very common narrative, right. And I’m always like I’m always thinking, for me it’s like well duh that’s because we don’t have enough money like the State Fair to hire a trash company to come and pick up trash. And we are just as dirty as the folks that uh go through the State Fair. And nobody talks about how dirty the State Fair is and how much trash the State Fair has, right. Nobody talks about that. But, so I–I think about that an-and I also I think about like you know poachers are white folks are like the most and the heaviest like poachers, but nobody talks about that. 

LH: They’re–they’re looked as champions and–

PHH: Yeah.

LH: They–they–they kill like lions and was it dinosaurs?

All: (laughing)

PHH: Yes, dinosaurs. (laughing) You know, nobody talks about that. And that’s a narrative that we don’t talk about and it’s always you know the Hmong community, we police each other, right. And so we say to each other, we say: well, I mean, think about the soccer tournament, it’s so dirty, like, why would anybody want to go? Or, I have families that like to go to North Dakota, Devil’s Lake, to go fishing for white bass. And, you know, they are very respectful of the limit, and they know the law, and they fish the law. But it’s like other Hmong folks who are like who–who say things like, you know, we’re gonna fish that lake dry of white bass, you know. Or, it’s like a freakin soccer tournament up in Devil’s–you know in Devil’s Lake, right. So there’s that–there’s always like, we’re always policing each other and, you know, we don’t talk about that.

MX: Going back to the soccer tournament bring dirty and Hmong people are dirty, I think that must be like a Minnesota thing because I’ve gone to the California New Years where they’re outside and boy, I was surprised, they were super clean.

SO: I just want to say, as a person from the East Coast, when I did move to Minnesota it was super clean, by the way. So I guess the people on the East Coast are dirty too. Uh, so I brought some of that to the J4 so ‘cause we don’t know what trash can is in–in Rhodes Island. We just throw that shit out in like the street. But I–I’m going to say this again. Minnesota, state of Minnesota, DNR, you need to listen to me. If you want the invasive creatures, and you want to keep the deer population down, you need to let it be open season for Hmong people because we will save your rivers and your lakes. Just give us an incentive and we will save your lakes and rivers for you and keep the deer population at bay so you don’t need to raise some wolves to come like kill people’s cattles and stuff. Seriously, Minnesota DNR, listen, incentive.

PHH: So the, about the trash thing, right. So I’ve been to Laos a couple of times and the way in which people throw trash in Laos I would say you know is very similar to–

All: (laughing)

PHH: Is very similar to, uhm, how one might think trash is dis-discarded at soccer tournament, you know. So people in Laos they don’t have a trash system. They burn a lot of their stuff and if they don’t they sweep it onto the streets. Uhm, especially, you know, folks that live in rural villages. And so I think about that mentality and how it gets carried over. And we don’t–we don’t think about that, we don’t–we don’t talk about that. And, yeah, I don’t know, it’s just something to think about.

SO: I feel like trash in itself is like a western thing, ‘cause like utensils, things to hold thi–that isn’t biodegradable, ‘cause I think back in I’m assuming back in the days before spoons and plastic forks and garbage bags and anything plastic was introduced to people, we used biodegradable things like a banana leaf, we eat with our hands. These things, if we threw our excess food out it was gonna benefit the–the area, the animals and the environment that we’re living in. However, th-the issue in Nepal where like all of a sudden plastic bags get introduced and the environment’s destroyed because they don’t know how to get rid of plastic bags. And all of a sudden that plastic bags lives on forever in their mountains. I mean, it’s the same–the same issue goes to here, when you give people who haven’t really used these modern tools, I mean granted, I have no idea where I’m going with this. All I’m saying is that the cause for all of this is technology and plastic.

LH: What you said earlier, uhm, I forgot was it you Pa or Mee who said that uhm the Freedom Festival didn’t have money to hire cleaners. Is–are there cleaners? Or are there not?

PHH: Yeah, there are uhm they do have cleaners. They hire out uhm organizations to come and pick up trash so it’s up to the organization to come and to bring in their people to pick up trash, right. But they don’t have any, they don’t have, uh, skilled folk, professional trash pickers? I don’t know if there’s such, you know they don’t have those.

SO: I wanna make a comment here. When people, this–the neighbor–the Como neighborhood people are complaining how Hmong people are dirty and no one’s complaining how you can catch diseases the State Fair. The swine flu, people were catching swine flu left and right in that farm–in that barn. No one talks about that and no one like tries not go there. Or try to like, say that white people like to spread wi–spread germs.

PHH: You guys know that there’s a noise ordinance, right, with the soccer tournament. So, and this noise ordinance was passed specifically for the soccer tournament. Uh, and there’s the parking restriction that was specifically passed for the uhm soccer tournament, right. So folks couldn’t use their mics and their speakers after like nine o’clock or something. And, you know, I mean, these are things, these ordinances and these laws are things to sort of put us in check, keep us boxed in.

MX: If you compare that to like Grand Old Day or St. Patrick’s Day or any other sort of like ethnic celebration where there are no parking restrictions. There may be noise restrictions, I can understand that, but it’s just, let’s go and get drunk and get loud and we can park anywhere.

SO: Uh, Grand Old Day, uh, college students love puking in front of churches.

LH: And I think that that’s why we should like be more concerned. I keep coming back to concerns and concerns around this experience as Hmong Americans or Hmong living in America, that ok we can feel good and be in these spaces but there are these conflicts or there are these policing of who we are and how we should interact or how we should act in public or in spaces. As we were talking about this, picture’s painting how like the soccer tournament or Freedom Festival is now have been like this free range space now it’s becoming more limited and controlled, from no fences to now fences, to now uh paying more money to get in or paying for water resources that run out. And that people in the neighborhood controlling how your celebration should look like, should interact. But at the same time no one is policing like Grand Old Days, St. Patrick’s Day, whatever events. And I think that has a lot to do because there’s this history, narrative, in Minnesota around Hmong people being like savages or unable to pick up after themselves. And they’re dirty. But yet at the same time Hmong folks are also seeking validation at the Historical Society. Are we just accepting what people are giving or trying to define who we are? And are we as individuals, or groups of people, or organizations, are we pushing to be more critical around how our experiences are being controlled, defined, and policed or uhm being limited.

PHH: Well, Linda, I think that we need white people to save us.

LH: (laughing)

PHH: So, (laughing) I think it’s important, right, to–

MX: We work better when we’re controlled.

PHH: (laughing) Tha–That’s completely true. We need, we need our white saviors. Where are you? Where are you?

SO: I’m right here. I mean they did give us our artifacts at the We Are Hmong exhibit.

LH: This conversation around white savior and I think that our narrative through Hmong history has had, have had this marriage between white savior–whether that be religion, some sort of faith, or–or white, young, privileged college students or people going to Southeast Asia and saving Hmong people and then at the same time saying that Hmong people don’t want to save their own people. There is, you know, like a story to this you know where a human trafficking of young Hmong women in–in Vietnam or Thai and Laos, where they’re being trafficked into China. China is in shortage of women because of their one child rule which favor in having a son. And so now decades and decades later China’s in shortage, and so going back to this white savior idea around there are so many white, privileged people who come to like third world country, and-and then having no experience around humanitarian work. They’re on this trip of adventure and then suddenly fell into the pits of Hmong young woman being trafficking. And then wanted to create a cause to highlight this struggle without doing research. Again, research is so important. I mean, you’re privileged and you’re white and you have access to education. How could you not research there are like there are organizations doing work there already? These stories are not new and I–I wish the, if we talk about Hmong, forty years of Hmong in America, we should also talk about how Hmong people are struggling and suffering and being trafficked and how white saviors continue to exploit our people for their own gain, whether they’re making a documentary, and instead of attacking other Hmong people who are having more critical and questions to hold these white privileged people accountable for the exploitation that they’re doing for their films.

PHH: Well, Linda, field work is very hard.

All: (laughing)

PHH: FYI. (laughing) We know nothing about field work. (laughing) So I’m going to play uh devil’s advocate and I’m gonna say that, well, yeah, granted these white saviors are uhm self serving and a lot of times they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. or they haven’t done their research or whatever. But, they’re bringing attention to this cause, right. This is what majority of Hmong folks are saying. Like, you know, yeah, he’s using his privilege, let him. You know, you’re not doing anything. You don’t have any right to be critical. You don’t have any right to judge. What have you done, right? So, that’s–that’s me being–playing devil’s advocate.

SO: To counter your devilness. When a white person uses their privilege to bring a topic to a community or to a larger community, there’s a way of doing it, and it doesn’t involve you highlighting basically a minute of your documentary about your self-praising. That’s a real difference. And that you don’t–you don’t take these women’s voices and create a fiction novel out of it. ‘Cause it’s not a fiction to these women; it’s real life. I’m fine with white people bringing in an issue to–to our community but they need to do it in a way where it doesn’t exploit these people that are there trying to use their privilege for good for.

PHH: Well, Sandy, you can’t be critical because, first of all, you have not been involved in sex trafficking organizations and two, you don’t know any of the critical theories that, uhm–

SO: (laughing)

PHH: –that are involved to be critical. So all the things that you’re stating are just opinions. Opinions that don’t matter because you don’t have the qualifications to be critical. How do you–what do you say to that?

SO: Theories are opinions by white men who sit and who have not done any field work and they decided to just think.

All: (laughing)

SO: Ok. So, uhm, my opinions are theories. Just because I didn’t write a hundred page book and make college students pay a million dollars for it, uh, doesn’t mean my voice and my opinion doesn’t matter. And, oh I haven’t done any sort of work? This person hasn’t done any work and decided to go in here, and then went in and exploit people’s stories. It’s different when I come in and I haven’t done any work but I am conscious of my privilege as a person being born in a first world country and going into another environment that I think I’m the only one doing this work, and not reaching out to organization that has done this work. And in the–the reason why I say this is because a foundation has actually done similar documentary about–in the same area, Sapa, where this person stated that he’s the only one doing this work. The same area, they captured these women’s voices in the way where it brought awareness. It was shown at a Hmong film festival. And if he thinks he was the only one there, there was already people, NGOs, on the ground doing this work. Because this is not only–this doesn’t happen in Vietnam. It happen in Cambodia, Thailand, in Laos. So for him to say that he’s only doing it, and then another person saying that we need all these sort of theories. Theories is opinion. Opinion is theories.

LH: So it makes me, uh, think about critiquing and talking about like whiteness, white supremacy, racism, an–and what does it mean to be like Hmong Americans or Hmong people in America, or people of color, right, living in such heavily ideals of whiteness and white western, and being a Hmong queer person marriage equality had recently passed throughout the fifty united states. I’ve been having quite a few conversations around what this means. Most of the people who have talked to me are really happy and excited for me, that now I can get married. Which, stereotyping who I am as a queer person, as if all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people in the world want to get married. That’s why I’m so concerned around how living in the U.S. and who tells our narratives and who defines my politics or what the politics of all people are. And then people how are observers or people who are not from the Hmong LGBT community or the Hmong community then having conversations with me as if they know me but–but they only know me through these mainstream validated institutions, right. They don’t know me as a person and that makes me feel like very minimized in who I am. And this marriage equality ordeal, my partner and I have talked about it and we are unpacking what is marriage? Marriage through legal, marriage through spiritual, marriage through uhm celebrating with our families? And I think that what a lot of folks who are not white lesbian and gay, a lot of folks outside that identities are not thinking or are not concerned around how this narrative has been led by and for white gay men and lesbians who have money to get married. And the conversations around struggles, and I have like other Hmong straight people who are so excited but at the same time, how many times a month do you actually sit down and talk to Hmong LGBT people, what their struggles are. Wha-what are they facing as LGBT people and as Hmong people? You should know that you’re mostly celebrating white lesbian, gay privileges to get married. There are many homeless Hmong LGBT people. Do you talk about those narratives? Are you working to bring visibility and awareness or action to ending Hmong parents who are kicking their children out or Hmong LGBT facing violence on the streets by police? Or racism by white people? And so, as a Hmong queer person, I want to challenge and also encourage Hmong straight people who are supportive of LGBT issues and rights, as well as Hmong LGBT people, to be conscious and asking more questions around what does marriage equality really mean for me as a Hmong LGBT person instead of, yay, celebrate marriage equality but wait, I don’t have a job and I need food to eat. Who’s going to advocate for that issue?

MX: And I do agree that marriage equality is not that important; that there are other pressing issues that people who identify as Hmong LGBT face and are prioritizing, right, instead of marriage equality, which may not be relevant to our lives anyways.

LH: So, marriage equality you know I’ve made this very critical critique of it but at the same time I do have family and friends who are white and person of color, Asian or Hmong, who are getting married or who want to get married. And it’s a great thing but at the same time I think there’s this mass idea of, yay, equality, now our poverty and suffrage as Hmong LGBT have ended. But n-no, we’re gonna still face racist violence when we walk in the street. I have a couple transgender friends who are facing discrimination at work because they’re trans, And we need to be–we need to be more vocal. We need to be asking more questions around what is equality? Equality for who?

MX: I also think about how we can be really critical and ask questions about all of these issues and what’s going on. But I also recognize that there’s this power in seeing yourself reflected in other people, in other institutions. So I think of the We Are Hmong Minnesota exhibit which, you know I don’t really have anything really great to say about, but I recognize that seeing myself and my history reflected, it-it-it’s very powerful. And I also realize that, you know, when marriage equality happened a lot of people were rejoicing and I’m aware that there are other issues that are more important, mo–that–that should be prioritized before marriage equality, and then there are family and friends on Facebook who are turning their profile pictures into a rainbow (laughing) into like rainbow profile pictures and I roll my eyes at that but I also recognize that seeing this is very powerful a–and it’s reaffirming, even if I roll my eyes.

LH: The reflection, right? This sort of uh, again, validation that oh, I see like this family person or this friend who actually put a rainbow on their profile picture. Though at the same time maybe they just thought, oh, it looks pretty. Everybody’s doing it. I did see a couple of Hmong LGBT people who were like, oh, it feels great to see so many of people on my friends list put rainbow profile and it makes me feel a bit more accepted, or feel good. And those are real experiences, things to consider, that these types of acts can make people feel more comfortable or more accepted in whatever ways that they feel. For me, you know, as a Hmong queer person who have been out for over like fifteen years, I’ve come a long way in these conversations around my identity as a lesbian, as a queer person, and I’ve done a lot of my work around like racial justice, LGBT rights, and not just the mainstream white way of marriage equality but concern around how violence inflicted on me as a Hmoob person or as a woman. And so my experience is completely different from some of the other Hmong LGBT people who maybe have just recently came out so it feels great to see reflections of you or affirmation. So my experience, I feel like that is not enough for me because no one, meaning my Hmong or Asian. people of color, white, LGBT or straight people, are not even talking about work discrimination or poverty wages or the home evictions Hmoob LGBT people. Not having a place to belong. And so my experience and my expectation and my critique is there needs to be more.

MX: And I agree with you, Linda. And I hope that, you know, people who turn their Facebook profile picture into a rainbow Facebook profile picture–I hope that they want to have conversations. I hope that that is a conversation starter. I hope that it just doesn’t end with a rainbow profile picture. You know I–I also feel like as someone who’s been out for a while, that it’s also not enough for me. Th–there’s no conversation and I want to have a conversation. And I hope that these people who I can visually identify as GLBT friendly want to have conversations with me, you know, and talk about different narratives within our community.

SO: You know I’m hoping that these relevant not relevant I guess victories or–or gains in the community would open the door for those harder conversations. I’m hoping like for instance the confederate flag being pulled down, can we have a conversation about racism in this country? With uhm marriage equality being passed, can we have truthful and real conversation about what’s happening in the GLBT community? And do we want some sort of Hmong group in the Hmong community, ‘cause we have a lot of Hmong friends who have that rainbow picture but no one’s pushing any of these Hmong leaders or these organizations to have conversations about the GLBT community in the Hmong community. And that one picture in the We Are Hmong exhibit doesn’t depict the overall Hmong community. So, I’m just hoping that these things will eventually lead to real conversations.

PHH: Yeah, I feel the same way you do, Sandy. I think it’s important to be critical, right. And being critical doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to know everything about the thing you’re being critical about, or understanding critical theory, or knowing it and being able to use it, right. I think being critical is very much has to do with asking questions, why is this happening, or why are these things here? And how–how do things look different? The whys, hows, where, you know just asking questions. What I hope to bring to the table and what I hope that this conversation uhm that we have, this podcast that we have of what we can do is we can have folks start thinking more critically about issues in our community. That’s my hope for our podcast, is that we are more critical about the issues in our community, more critical about people coming into our community, being critical of systems uhm, that are oppressing us. That’s what my hope for this podcast is. If you have any questions, feedbacks, or ideas, or comment, you can like us on Facebook. hoochim is our Facebook name: h-o-o-c-h-i-m is our name. Or you can find us on Twitter: hashtag h-o-o-c-h-i-m. hoochim.

SO: You can email us at hashtag dot hoochim at gmail dot com. H-a-s-h-t-a-g dot h-o-o-c-h-i-m at gmail dot com.

(Outro: laughter)


2 thoughts on “001: Opium Baby

  1. My confusion and frustration with the discussion is, why is there only two possibilities the exhibit could be catering to–Hmong people or white people?

    I don’t think the exhibition was meant to cater specifically either of those groups, but the general public that may not know about Hmong history. This means white people, black people, Hispanic people, other Asians, and even Hmong people.

    I feel you ladies feel entitle to a more mature exhibition that will cater your unknown, because you ladies are older and know much more from your parents, or from first-hand experience. And I feel you ladies assume all Hmong know about everything from the exhibition already, so it must be geared towards white people only. But why do we need an exhibition that is geared towards Hmong people only, when we complain about other people not knowing about us?

    Although I agree with the lack of narratives and artifacts, I don’t see how the exhibition could only be catering white people, and I feel this is a good start/introduction to Hmong history for the general public.


  2. Pingback: Episode Transcripts Available | #hoochim

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