003: First Hmong

Episode 003 is out!! In this episode we talk about the feedback we’ve received for the podcast so far, the purpose of #hoochim and our intended audience, the sign in Hmong at Devils Lake, #firsthmong, and the nonprofit industrial complex.

Below is a list of links for those who want to learn more about the stuff we mentioned and talked about.

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Twitter: hashtag_hoochim

Any questions or comments, you can leave it in our comment box below or send us an email at: hashtag.hoochim@gmail.com


(Intro: Qeej music playing)

Paj Huab Hawj: Hello and welcome to Hoochim. Today is August 16, 2015. Welcome to our third episode. I am Pa.

Sandy Oh: I am Sandy.

Mim Xyooj: Hello, this is Mee.

Linda Hawj: Nyob zoo. This is Linda.

MX: So I was thinking that we could first talk about some of the feedback that we’ve received about our first couple of episodes. And I think we generally agree that we’ve received some pretty pretty positive feedback. People were really interested in what we’re talking about, the topics that we’re talking about, and just how fun it seemed for some people listening to our conversations. There were also a couple of questions that came up, just people wanting to know about who our audience is and people wondering like oh can we have our conversations that we’re having in Hmong so that some of the older generations can understand what we’re talking about, just to give access to them. I think when we were first imagining this podcast we were imagining our audience to be people of a similar age as us. So people who are maybe in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who understand English and who currently live in a–a country that’s kind of western, right, so–so–so we’re thinking like people who live mainly in America who–who understands some of the language that we’re talking about.

LH: Yeah, so, uhm, I was really excited that we are creating this podcast, hoochim, because when we look at a lot of the conversations in the Hmong community is run by Hmong men; there isn’t, you know, spaces for Hmong women to create a space and just have a conversations about what happens in their daily lives; cultural commentaries of experiences or current events. And I think that it’s really important to have this space where Hmong women can talk about this.

PHH: I think, for me, when thinking about this podcast and when we sort of talking about creating a podcast, another podcast that I was religiously listening to was Counter Stories from MPR and what I really liked about Counter Stories and what I wanted to bring into this podcast that Counter Stories had was a voice that was different from the mainstream voice, questioning whiteness, and just questioning the system that upholds whiteness. I really liked that and for me, if we’re able to have–the fours of us–if we’re able to have a conversation, the questions that come out of this conversation, if the person listening to our podcast, they are then able to also question the system, for me that’s what does it for me. And for me is the thing that is very important for me and for this podcast, for us to be able to have a voice and to be able to question things and for us to maybe challenge our viewers to question things too. For me that’s what this podcast means to me.

SO: Control C, control V to what what everybody just said.

LH: I also wanna add that for me, I think critical conversations, especially around the work that I’ve been doing on social justice and racial justice, where I wanna have these conversations in what’s relevant to the Hmong American experience because we don’t have enough space in our community to talk about institutionalized racism or classism; talk about you know being Hmong and queer; talk about our identities away from centering whiteness. I know Pa said that you know we try to have a space to have counter conversations, to address and–and white supremacy that our Hmong American experience have catered to in ways or have had to tell our stories not by ourselves but having to reference or have some sort of linkage to whiteness. And I think that’s really important for us to center and talk about white supremacy as racial injustices and racism. For me, in the past year, couple of years actually, I’ve been uh thinking about what is my experience as a Hmong American queer woman. What is my story away from how the white mainstream LGBT movement have been asking me to tell my story or how to tell it, how to tell it but then tokenize it, and then not include me to be part of the process to create, you know, a movement for LGBT rights. And how it’s relevant. So for me in this podcast to talk about this Hmong American experience that is relevant and putting our experience as Hmong first and not attaching it to whiteness or attaching it to other institutions that–that silences who we are.

MX: And a lot of what we’re talking about, we’re definitely not saying that we’re experts in these areas, you know, although we may have experiences or we may have worked in this area, we may have done research or whatever. But we–we’re definitely not experts in these areas, kind of sharing our information you know like sometimes we’re still just hashing out our thoughts around everything, just kind of working through what it is.

LH: Yeah, Mee, that’s such a you know excellent point and I think we all agree that this podcast can serve as a platform for in the discourse of Hmong in Americas or Hmong in Minnesota to start having these conversations and critical thought around our own identities and experiences, whether to counter or whether to just build our own community in a more critical thinking way. That–that doesn’t, you know in my experience that doesn’t just you know live life blindedly without questioning how patriarchy looks like, you know in Hmong America. Or also creating the space where we can talk about racism in the Hmong community because we only talk about race or ethnicity when it is comfortable. We only talk about our Hmong American experience or our Hmong history when we wanna–you know I’m pretty sure maybe perhaps college students, whoever apply for college, when we apply for the scholarships, it’s in ways where we have to tell our sob story or our stories of struggles to get a scholarship. And I’ve been thinking a lot about class and money and status and how these historicals institutions who are really white–such as college institutions–where I have to continuously, like I can’t afford college, my parents couldn’t afford college for me. So I have to apply for multiple scholarships. But through multiple of these scholarships I have to tell a sob story or I have to tell a story of struggle around why I need this money so much and how poor I am. And I think about how over time if I continue telling this story do I continue to live in that story or do I just tell the story and go to college and then become a transformed person. So you know there are these questions around how institutions or larger thematic you know questions over time that how does that impact and shape who I am as a Hmong American and can I ever afford college or grad school without telling a sob story?

SO: You know like how everybody’s saying like we are being critical of the Hmong community and we are critical of their existence and how they play into the larger system. However, we also are critical about ourselves too and how we play the role, and our privileges that we have. You know we are all 4, we are educated, we have been privileged to be able to think this way, we are privileged to be able to meet on a certain date because we don’t have children, we don’t have a job that requires us to do overtime, we don’t have like partners that demand a lot of our time, we don’t have family that demand a lot of time from us. We have privileges that we recognize, even though we are critical and these are our stories and these are our experiences, it does not speak to the larger Hmong community. Sometimes our community can get lost in trying say this one figurehead speaks for all of us. We know that we all individually as a community have our own stories and our own privileges. But with our podcast we understand uh how we fit and these are only our experiences, our opinions, and it doesn’t represent all the Hmong folks.

PHH: Yeah, Sandy, I think what you’ve just said is very important and I think it’s also very important to let our viewers know that our voices are not that of our community’s and that you know if you agree with us then great. But if you don’t, that’s okay too, right. And that it’s always really important to have these conversations. And so, my voice is my voice. My voice does not reflect Linda’s, Mee’s, or yours. And that your voice does not reflect mine. That your voice is just your voice. And I think that that’s important for our viewers to know and also to understand that yes, we are all individuals and our–our voices and this podcast does not reflect that of our community.

LH: You know as hoochim we all have individual voices and experiences that does not represent the whole community. It also shapes and impacts the community in ways that are valid because our lived experience are valid. It doesn’t mean that it’s more valid than the next person, but valid in the context of our own lived experiences. And even though Sandy you said that we do have privileges and access in ways and I agree with that so I–I don’t want listeners to sort of get remove us as Hmong women speakers, that we–just because we have access to education or do not have the experience of other Hmong women who might be still marginalized. That there’s still a system of oppression, that’s what I’m trying to get to. There is still a system of oppression in the Hmong dynamics in our community, at our homes, which is the heterosexual patriarchy values that still controls who we are. And that as Mee said earlier we’re still unpacking and understanding our experiences and I think that this is why the podcast exists. And we are you know having these conversations so that everyone else who’s listening can also think about their own experience in relation to ours and that it’s not, you know, an oppression olympic. For us to be a catalyst for our listeners to want to have these conversations, to also see that we are not individual but at the same time our individual selves in a large group of you know other individuals create a community.

PHH: I also want to uhm address one of the questions that did come up with some of our reviewers on–on why we don’t speak more Hmong. Or if we would have a all Hmong speaking podcast. And for me, personally and realistically, I have a hard time speaking Hmong and formulating a whole sentence is very hard for me. This very well could be the reason why we don’t have a country. (laughing) But it’s hard for me to go a whole hour speaking Hmong and saying and thinking about some of the things that we are talking about in a way that is conducive to our Hmong speaking or Hmong listeners. So, yeah, for me it’s just–like I can’t speak Hmong a whole hour.

MX: Yes, we’re very aware of our own limitations in regards to language but I also want to throw out you know a challenge to people who listen to us. You know if you feel like the topics that we’re talking about are very important to some of the older people in your lives and you want them to hear what we’re talking about you know but they can’t access it because there’s a language barrier on both ends, you know, like I challenge you to have these conversations with your family members or with your friends who are older and who don’t understand English that well and who cannot access the medium of a podcast.

PHH: Yeah, so if you have any questions or feedback, please do email us at hashtag dot hoochim at gmail dot com. So please do email us. We love to hear from you. We love to get your questions and we love to get your feedback. Uhm you can also find us at twitter. Our twitter handle is hashtag, that’s the hashtag sign, h-o-o-c-h-i-m. Or you can also find us on Facebook. And you can also like us on Facebook. And our page is hoochim, h-o-o-c-h-i-m. So next, guys, are there any current events that you guys are–you guys have seen, you guys want to talk about?

MX: So the other day I saw on one of my Facebook friend’s Facebook page, they posted a couple of signs. One in English and one in Hmong. These signs were posted in North Dakota at Devils Lake, that’s the information that I got from this post. And it basically says, do not park, fish, hunt, or trespass on this road, right, because these signs were on a road. And I’m wondering like are these–like is this real? Because I don’t know, you know, like I–I don’t go to Devils Lake. I don’t fish there. And so you know I’m–I’m wondering is this real and some of the comments that I read around these signs were like, oh you know gosh, that’s Hmong people for you and you know, even though these signs were up Hmong people were still like fishing right by the signs. And there were so many Hmong people it was like the crossing of the Mekong.

PHH: Uhm, yeah, so I–I saw the same two photographs and I–I also read the comments. And I–I was really angered by the comments only because I–my family, we go there every summer. We make at least two to three trips every summer. We hold annual passes. You know, when we go there we spend anywhere from two to five hundred dollars. That’s just our family. And it’s about a thousand dollars that we put into Devils Lake, North Dakota. I was really angry by the comments, right, like, sort of, oh this is the reason why like Hmong people don’t have a country, right. (laughing) Hmong people are like, we’re always poaching white bass, you know, or yeah, we’re always overfishing and or like Hmong people throw trash everywhere, we don’t pick up our trash, right. As if like all Hmong people do this. And all Hmong people poach. And that only Hmong people do this. And only Hmong people throw trash. And only Hmong people overfish. And–and that all Hmong are poachers. And I was really angry so yes, I like commented on the post and I was like I said some swear words and do you really think that by making some of these racist comments white people are gonna see you more favorably, right. Or do you not understand that you know we are not the only people fishing on that lake and we are not the only people leaving trash and we do obey the law and Hmong people are not the only ones overfishing. There are other communities and communities of color and predominantly like the white community there they fish and white folks from all over the country go there to fish because it’s a huge lake and a lot of people fish there, right. So I was like really angry. I will say that that lake, before it was discovered by Hmong people, the white bass population was a huge population and it was considered an invasive species in Devils Lake. And you know there was no limit on the white bass. And it wasn’t until recently that the North Dakota DNR decided to put a limit on white bass and that limit is still relatively large. I believe it’s 25 fish per day per person and the maximum you can have is I think 75 or 80. These numbers aren’t correct but it’s around that area, right. And so you know people do go there and they do fish their limits, you know. And we do eat all of our fish. We do bring coolers, tons. We do bring two three coolers and we do fill the fish up. And yes I will acknowledge and I recognize that there are some people who do go and who do overfish, right, but I think that that’s a small number in comparison to the people that do go up there and do enjoy themselves you know fishing. You know I–my family has you know made it into an annual trip that we all–my siblings and I–we all look forward to. And it’s now–it used to just be my family and it’s now like my extended family. You know we go there and we camp and we cook and we fish and we have a great time. And we pick up our trash. We don’t overfish and I think that I speak for a lot of other Hmong families who do go up there and who do obey the law when I say that Hmong folks do pick up their trash and Hmong folks don’t overfish. And I was really offended by some of the comments and by what other Hmong folks were saying.

LH: You know I think that it’s just some racist white people throwing all the trash and trying to blame the Hmong people. (laughing) And that’s why Hmong people don’t have a country. ‘Cause of the white man.

All: (laughing)

LH: Why–why do Hmong people talk about racism and race, or blame each other when we talk when you know racism happens here in the Midwest, in Minnesota, or you know surrounding states where the Hmong community has been a target or has been described or defined to either be savages or lazy people who are so invasive of everything. Yeah, who are uncivilized. And–and how other Hmong people also upholds and still you know says what you said earlier, like this is–this is Hmong people for you. I mean that is a form of perpetuating racism and gives all more the reason and power to systems or state that or are run by white people to continue to police and control Hmong people. And it’s not that Hmong people go and fish and waste all the fish. Because Hmong people have a large family and all their family members eat the fish.

MX: I understand that when they created this sign in Hmong their hearts were in the right places. (background laugh) I’m glad they did their research and that there’s also a sign in English because most Hmong people cannot read Hmong.

All: (laughing)

PHH: Or English. (laughing)

SO: I’m gonna pull a Kanye West here and say North Dakota hates Asian people. I mean didn’t they pass that one law that–saying that Asian people kill their babies that’s why they–they have like these restrictive laws on reproduction. Yeah, selective–selective sex. So that they–they say that’s the reason why they ban abortions. And now they have these signs that are particularly geared towards Hmong people and so–

PHH: You know what they’re doing?

SO: Yeah.

PHH: They’re trying to starve the Hmong community.

SO: Yeah, they’re trying to starve. One thing I don’t is that North Dakota, come on man. I’m like North Dakota, come on. We benefit the Devils Lake community because we s–drop a lot of money just to travel up there and get like hotels or whatever they–they do on the weekends there.

PHH: (laughing) Yeah, I want one of you Ph.D. students to do some research and I–I wanna know the exact amount of money that’s been poured into Devils Lake and how much Walmart has benefited from Hmong people going up to Devils Lake ‘cause Walmart is like the biggest retailer up there . I wanna know, you know, DNR how much they benefitted from Hmong folks buying annual passes and three-day passes. I’m curious to know like how much North Dakota has benefitted from Hmong people going up there. And then, also like, I’m also curious to know and why North Dakota and especially the DNR has decided to try to police us and to control us into fishing out white bass because you know white folks are not fishing out those damn white bass. They think it’s an invasive species. They don’t wanna fish that. They don’t even know how to like–like eat that. They think it’s–it’s like Asian carp for them. So that you know to me that is the something that I wanna know. Another thing that I wanna touch up on too and what you were saying, Linda, earlier about why we attack ourselves or each other. I wanna know like why us–like the Hmong community–why we have this like urge to single ourselves to–like single ourselves out from like the pack, right. And then we’re always saying, well like, you Hmong people, I am not like that and I mean I find myself like saying that too, and I’m guilty of this. I wanna know why, like why I like feel the need to like single myself out of like the masses. And why we’re always like–why there needs to be a separation of like us and them and you know within our own community, right, like why there needs to be that separation. I’m really curious. I mean I think it’s for like entitlement reasons and for power reasons but maybe one of you guys can shine more light into this.

MX: So I think there’s a lot of shame around this, right. A lot of shame around Hmong culture in general. I think about, in our last podcast, we talked about violence against Hmong women and girls and the hashtag campaign that was created and how we can clearly see that the more stories we heard from women the larger the gap became between these educated women or these women who have high ranking jobs–we can clearly see that the idea of like not having an education or not having these high paying jobs meant that whatever you were doing was not worthy of attention.

LH: My thoughts on why Hmong people continue to either separate them when it only benefits them, such as if Hmong people are overfishing lakes. Oh, I’m not those Hmong people. Or, look at this Hmong champion fisher who just won the biggest pot of money. Go Hmong people. Yeah, I’m so happy and celebrating Hmongness. And I think that we are really horrible at talking about Hmongness, ethnicity, or race and that we are also really great at talking about Hmongness, ethnicity. But I think that what we’re doing wrong is when we only talk about it ways that benefits us, disposing when it doesn’t benefit us, and that’s really fucked up.

PHH: So I’m thinking about a while back when the Hmong hunter who went into–accidentally went into private land and got beat up, right, and there was sort of this uproar, right. And the conversation, or one of the conversation that came out of that was that there needed to be–Hmong folks needed to be more educated on what is private land and what is public land, right. And it’s always about like we need to learn more, right. And it’s never like about like then like white people should have classes on how to not be a violent racist, right. But there’s never that conversation and it’s always, well, he didn’t know so you know we should have classes and we should hold classes on what is public land and what is private land and how to read maps because obviously like it’s obvious that we are illiterate, right, and that we don’t know any better. The tables are never turned. And I’m finding that that is always, that has always been the case. And we as a Hmong community, we play right into that too. When something goes wrong it’s always, well, let’s educate each other. And let’s not educate when it’s like the Hmong community versus the white community. It’s never like, we need to educate white folks. It’s never that. It’s always you know we need to educate ourselves to–so that we can fall into–that we can play within the lines of–of white supremacy. Like it’s always that and it’s never the other way around.

LH: I also wanna add that Pa, yes, I agree with you and I want to elaborate that we have had cultural competency for white people but the messed up thing about that is that it’s catered to white people. It’s making white people feel comfortable. It’s respectability politics. But the classes or the policies or the policing always makes Hmong people uncomfortable. It always, you know, pushes Hmong people to become more white, to become more educated in a white way. But it’s never making white people working harder to understand why they need to not be violent racists. And we as Hmong people who are upset about the violence against Hmong hunter or the signs that are put up to only target us as Hmong people, we should be upset and not pit against each other. That it doesn’t resolve anything when we blame each other. And that we need to start looking at who are making these decisions. Who are controlling these conversations. Who are making these classes or these policies up where it continues to control and police and target Hmong people only to be better people, as if you know we are not good people.

SO: Uhm, another thing to go on top of that is our society in general, the overall general society, has this thing about victims, like blaming them for–for the victims being in that situation and never actually targeting or focusing on the perpetrator. And I think that you know not only do Hmong people do this but I think just in general our society is so fixated on blaming the victim. You know, like how when a woman gets raped. Oh, well you shouldn’t be wearing that kind of dress and now all the other women are policing each other. That like falls right into how we police–Hmong people police other Hmong people and not actually addressing it with the larger–the people who–the perpetrator.

PHH: Yeah, how–why do you allow your legs to be spread open.

MX: I wanna go back to the feedback. I forgot to mention this earlier but some of the feedback that we’ve heard from people, one kind of theme that I’ve seen is there isn’t really any feedback for–for when we’re talking about white supremacy or performing for the white gaze or any sort of like white people related topic. People have been commenting or–or et cetera what–criticizing our critical lens on the Hmong community. So–so I just found that really interesting that–I don’t know. Does–does silence equal they agree with us that you know all this stuff about white people, about white community, about the white gaze, about white supremacy? And then here they are with comments or criticism when we turn our critical lens on our own people.

LH: I think that’s why it’s important to have our podcast; to talk about like racism and white supremacy and like systems of oppression because I don’t think many other Hmong nonprofits or other nonprofits in general are talking about racial injustice, police brutality that impacts Hmong community.

MX: So going back to having hierarchies in the Hmong community, I–I want to talk about this phrase that you know us four–that we’ve been throwing around for a couple of years. The phrase #firsthmong. And I remember, I don’t know, one or two years ago when–when I started seeing this theme of celebration around Hmong celebrations of other Hmong people’s accomplishments and there was always the phrase “first Hmong” in there. Like, he’s the first Hmong judge at blah, blah, blah, blah. He was the first Hmong Ph.D. in this area. She was the first Hmong executive director for a national nonprofit. Like, these are like celebratory remarks, right. Things that the community should be proud of but also it went back to like creating this divide between those who have had education, who’ve had access to these jobs, who plays well with others versus those who choose not to play by the rules, those who have not had access to education, those who do not have a network that will allow them a path to get into these jobs.

LH: I think that it’s great to have celebrations and acknowledgements of Hmong people you know making it in whatever way–whether that’s like the first position that any Hmong person has made. What I’m more interested and wanna talk more about is we believe that once we have you know first Hmong in these positions they will support and better our community. And my thought is how come we’re not talking about–how come these first Hmongs are not addressing and talking about what’s relevant in our Hmong community such as you know the police brutality or the economic injustice or Hmong people who still struggle who work at factories for 20 years and only had a 5 dollar raise throughout that period. And that we tend to celebrate first Hmongs as if that will be the only thing we should be happy for like this small amount of time. Then we don’t even talk about, or we don’t hold them accountable, or we don’t even hold ourselves accountable afterwards on the idea of trying to make Hmong community a better community.

PHH: I think it’s great to be a first Hmong. I mean, you know, I mean I’m just kidding, I’m just joking. I think because we are refugees and we’re still you know surviving, our existence in the United States in relatively young. We have a survival mentality and the idea with these first Hmong as I’m sure–or the ideas with immigrants that have come before us being first something, right, is that like these first Hmongs are opening doors to other Hmongs to be seconds and thirds and are opening these doorways and these paths. So I think for me and that is the mentality I think behind–behind these things but I also find that uhm they also then be–like they–first Hmongs also become, then become gatekeepers, right. And that, you know, I think it’s–it’s like a slippery slope when you are a gatekeeper. And that’s something that we don’t talk about. And that’s something that I feel like needs to be talked about.

MX: I agree. And these first Hmongs now hold this–they like to proudly proclaim this first hmong title. And yes, it’s important, when somebody in the United States, western thought, has gone through the education system and has received the first Ph.D. in whatever field. But it’s also important but not recognized that, well, there’s this woman who was the 36th Hmong in–who received a Ph.D. in this field and she like–and she may have–her research may have taken us in a great different direction but she’s not recognized because she’s not the first.

SO: Another thing, too, is like first Hmong individuals and also first Hmong organization creates a problem too with the community because then they don’t want to share I guess their knowledge, their resources with other small up and coming organizations who are doing more specific type of work and not more of a general work and I think that these first Hmongs like Pa says they’re gatekeepers. These first Hmong organizations, they have this–most foundations will fall back on them, so money will be given to them. So I feel like there’s power that these first Hmong orgs and first Hmong people want to have and I think when you have power you want to still keep it for as long as you can and that in itself is problematic.

PHH: Yeah, and I think it’s–they also want to uphold their power, right. Like nobody wants to give up their powers and their privileges. I think about Hmong organizations and how it’s almost impossible to be critical of them as like individuals because, yeah, if like you’re critical of Hmong organizations you are blacklisted. If you are a professional Hmong person and if you are critical, you are blacklisted. And you know I think that that’s really fucked up. I think that it’s important to hold these organizations and also these first Hmong who proudly and who publicly proclaim their first Hmong-ness title, I think it’s important to hold them accountable and I think that we don’t do that and we as a community we don’t hold them accountable. And when we do hold them accountable, we’re blacklisted, and that’s really fucked up and nobody talks about that.

MX: I think it’s also a great loss for these organizations. People seem to think that if you are critical or if you criticize an organization or people that means that you want to tear them down, that means that you don’t want to participate in their future, which is not always true. I can be invested in your organization and I can be critical about how you are running the organization or what types of whatever you’re doing, and I can still be invested. I can still want the best for you. I can still see like a bright future. I don’t know. But people don’t understand that you can have differing opinions or ways to get to the same goal, and having you around would be able to help them, I don’t know, refine or change tactics or whatever.

PHH: Yeah, and you know, I–granted I’ve never ran an organization, a nonprofit organization, and I don’t know exactly like all the pieces that needs to be in play in order to run one. I imagine that if I were an E.D. of a nonprofit, I would welcome people who were critical, who are critical about my organization. I would welcome their opinion because I think that fosters change and growth, and I think that that’s important for an organization to move forward. I imagine that I would welcome that but I find that there’s a lot of resistance. I understand and I recognize that it’s hard to change things and that change comes very slowly and if you’re doing something and you’re getting funding for it, year after year, you don’t wanna change that–you don’t wanna change that setup because you might not get funding for it, but also I then question whether or not a nonprofit is more interested in serving the people that it wants to serve or are they interested in the money that comes into the organization right. I feel like those two are two separate things. Somebody might have a good intention but might be more interested in the money and hey, whatevs. Whatever floats your boat. But at the same time I think be fucking transparent about it and they’re not. You know I think I’ve said this in our other previous podcast but there was an organization, three years ago, who funded a research and made a report and presented the research at a huge conference, three years back. And it was great, right, it was the state of the Hmong people. And you guys probably know this organization but it was the state of the Hmong people and in there it talked about all the areas in which we were failing in and then also all the areas in which we were growing. And that organization challenged the people in that room and also challenged itself and said–the E.D. specifically said, I cannot do this alone. This is–I need you. This is where you come in. I need your ideas. How can we–how can we make ourselves better? How do we change these numbers? And that was three years ago. And this year, that same speech and that same conversation is still being had. I wonder if anybody has been critical of that organization and to say, whoa, what the fuck, like that was three years ago, what have you as an organization done to try to change this? Because you have the capacity. You have the financial means to put things in place to change the decline of education within the Hmong community or to change these things. What have you done? And I don’t know if anybody’s asked that question. I tried asking that question but it was very much like, we need you. You need to come and you need to volunteer for us. Or you need to come and you need to apply for a job and you can help be that change. But that’s the answer. You know, for me, that’s not satisfying. I’m not satisfied by that answer and that’s where the frustration comes in. Nobody questions them and nobody asks any questions and–and maybe people are and we’re just not aware of this but generally when these things are happening I’m finding people and people in general are just saying, wow, like I never knew that these statistics existed and I wanna go out and I wanna change the world. Yeah, people are saying that but like how do we do that and where is the–where are our backers? Our backers aren’t doing anything and that’s a frustration, that’s frustrating.

LH: So, Pa, to run an organization, you just need a group of people, a mission and vision, and someone to write the grant. And once you got the grant you need to figure out how you’re gonna sustain the organization, you know. And then it takes you know a lot of contacts to run an organization, a successful organization. I’m just really… My first experience of being engaged or involved with a nonprofit was about ten years ago. I was a constituent, then I was funneled to become a volunteer, then a super volunteer, then a–on the leadership board, and then… But I didn’t quite make it to the board chair, (laughing) being a board member. ‘Cause I was like, oh shit, why is there a theme where everyone comes only once a month and they’re so disengaged and we’re just talking about the meeting that we talked about last month which was the meeting we talked about last month. And that’s why I didn’t want to be on a board. It’s really important and concerning for us to question how the nonprofit industrial complex has shaped our Hmong community, our Hmong experience. Most of the Hmong people that we hear or know about that who–who have made it, meaning like, can own a home, a couple of cars, who are looked at highly in high positions–that most of them are in the nonprofit. They’re either senior vice president or E.D., C.E.O. or some sort of project you know manager position and then year after year continue to do what you said earlier, Pa, where you present the same thing and then three years later you still come back with the same pitch where there isn’t no progress. And why is that? And I think that when we ask that question “why is that?” we need to look at does this nonprofit industrial complex, does this system really help us? And I think that at one point it did. Like it helped Hmong people, refugees, you know navigate, get assistance, to have job training, or ESL classes to help them get to where they need to be but I think that we need more than this. Like, we need more than the nonprofit. Or we need some sort of change of how we’re growing and supporting and cultivating our community. Because right now, where we’re at, it’s not enough. It’s not filling in another Hmong person into the cog nonprofit to just run and just pay ourselves. Because, you know, we start off with, we understand the struggle of our community. And then, once, you know a year or two later we lose ourselves, we lose the idea that why are we doing this in the first place because now we’re just worrying about, will our organization get this funding, this grant funding? Will I have my job next month? And I think that we get funneled into these–the nonprofit sector where we get burn out or we just get tired or we just lose track of what’s important. It’s no longer even about supporting the issue or that cause anymore because we’re so worried about surviving, if we’re still going to have this job, or we’re so worried about are we going to get enough people to do this work. And I think that we, as Hmong folks in the nonprofit sector, need to have these conversations where there are actions that are radical enough to change that and not to just come here to talk about what we talked about last month about what we talked about last month because it’s not doing service to move the state of the Hmong community forward because I’ve also had a conversation in Fresno with a group of Hmong people who’ve said they have a history of gatekeepers, first Hmong people, who create nonprofits and it fails then they just go and reapply and create another new nonprofit which just pays them and that’s really fucked up and we need , as you said Pa earlier, we need to talk about these first Hmong or these–you know, in these positions that Hmong people have not been before. And how we–holding ourselves accountable. The idea of this is to better our community.  

SO: I absolutely agree with what everybody’s saying about being critical of these first Hmong organizations and holding them accountable and particularly the organization that you guys were talking about, the state of the Hmong, I remember being critical about and asking questions and then someone placing their hand over my mouth to shut me up. So that in itself it is problematic because you know I am a citizen, I do pay taxes so that the state, and the county, and the city gives money to the nonprofit and then I’m questioning and yet someone covers my mouth so I don’t be blacklisted. And then, Pa, you said, when you question and people go why don’t you come on board, why don’t you work on this, why don’t you make that change. I’m like, you know, yeah, that’s a great idea. However, in order for me to support you and do this work I need to know that the organization is actively wanting to do this and not just placing it out there to get you know people to fund them, and then that’s it. There needs to be a strategic plan to address it because if they don’t do it then you’re participating in the status you have found. You are not creating a plan to make these changes. You ask people to come and join and then not do anything. But of course you know most likely they want you to do it for free. If there’s not plan you’re basically just participating in the status that you found and nothing’s going to be changed.

LH: You know, Sandy, a lot–well, most nonprofits who can afford it get consultants to help them do strategy planning. It’s really hard to do work in the nonprofit sector but I’m not saying that people should not be accountable or be responsible for the impacts that they create. You know, we might have good intentions of helping our community but throughout that process, throughout that year, once we get the funding, are we putting resources, support, in places, in our organization that actually reaches those goals or have actions. And, even though our nonprofit organizations who do community service work, their hearts or their minds might be in the good place, I think their actions are not. I think their actions are in, we need a job and I really think that it’s so important in our community–Hmong community right now to talk about economic injustice and classism and in relation to institutionalized systemic racism and zenophobia and related to the policies around immigration to police brutality. And that we are not having those conversations, I believe, in our nonprofits, that’s why we continue to not have any actionable results that help our community progress forward. We’re continuing to talk about lip service of you want to help your Hmong community come join us and then when you get there–and I’m speaking for experience–you kind of just, you’re just the cog. You’re just filling in your place and your corner to help bring, generate more revenue so that your organization can continue to have this great name. And then you’re doing band aid work, helping refugees or young people. You take their stories, and then you take those stories to get more funding, you know, in ways that’s really fucked up. Some organizations or group, they do it right where it’s not exploitative and it’s not disposing people. But majority of nonprofit organizations are disposing of peoples and their stories. At the end of the day, for some of these organizations, we see that it’s just a job or position for them and that they can drive off to some suburbs and live there safe from economic injustice, police brutality, and et cetera. And we need to have more of those conversations. We need to have these hard conversations in our nonprofits because based on a 2006 Minnesota nonprofit research, about 75 Asian American organizations here in Minnesota, most of them do like refugee service work, direct service work that there is no addressing economic injustice, racism, or educational gap, and with actual organizing skills or policy lens to create that change. And if we’re over, our institution–Asian institution or Hmong institutions–are just doing band aid work and not addressing economic injustice, we will have a class divide. There will be elitist Hmong people. I mean there are already elitist Hmong people. That’s how the first Hmong came here to the United States anyway because they were considered the elitist and then all the poor Hmong people came in after. And so we–we need to have this hard conversation. We need to talk about policy. We need to talk about social justice. And we need to have either a balance or more spaces to talk about civic engagement versus, I’m just gonna benefit off the state funding to do only direct service and who cares about anything else. Who cares about the Hmong man who got assaulted in the forest, hunting.

SO: I think for these organizations creating social change is chasing dollars. Everybody said, classism, most of the E.D.s for Asian nonprofit organizations don’t live in the community. They live elsewhere because they have the financial means to live elsewhere; not in the community that they’re assisting. And all these first Hmongs, you realize that all the first Hmongs that people are celebrating are holding these particular type of jobs, particular type of titles. We’re not celebrating the first Hmong medical assembler. We’re not like celebrating the first machinist. No, we’re celebrating those who hold these high powered jobs, these high powered titles, and so we need to talk about classism because there’s so much more complex aspects of the Hmong community that we’re not addressing.

MX: I wanted to talk about my experience working with a Hmong nonprofit on the east side of Saint Paul. During the time when I was working there I actually lived on the east side of Saint Paul and most of my co-workers did not live on the east side of Saint Paul. Or in Saint Paul, maybe, in general. I think a lot of them lived in Minneapolis or the surrounding suburbs of the Twin Cities and most of them did not live in the cities themselves. And I remember, you know, we talked about voting and it was during the time we were supposed to go vote or something and they were talking about, oh yeah, they’ll give us time to take off and go vote and you know they were talking about like the politics of the east side of Saint Paul and we couldn’t have this conversation because I was the only person who actually lived on the east side of Saint Paul.

PHH: I think that somebody could give you the answer, Sandy, that it’s probably because this person of color E.D. has made it and wants to bring back–he wants to uplift or she wants to uplift these people in these impoverished uhm communities to be like him, right. Like, I mean, I can imagine somebody saying that and–and I can imagine like the masses going, oh yeah, oh definitely, like I agree. But I think it’s really important and it’s crucial to know and to understand the community in which you’re working for so that the services that you provide are for them and they’re not just for getting funding or asking for money. Like that’s really important but that’s not the case, like, that’s not the case at all. We have E.D.s and we have people in power positions who think they know what’s best for us. And we think we know what’s best for the people below us. When really we don’t. But, again, I think that Linda you make a really great point when you say, yes, you go into this with these intention and then it’s not about these intentions anymore. It’s about like making sure I have a job to pay for that house in the suburbs that I just bought. Or the brand new Lexus that I just leased, right. It’s about these–it becomes about that and nonprofits really burn people out. That’s the reality.

MX: I just want to say, yog vim txoj kev zoo li no–

All: (laughing)

LH: –peb Hmoob thiaj li tsis muaj lub teb chaws.

SO: We’re critical about E.D.s and in the community and we’re critical about like organizations and we’re critical about like first Hmongs and then I start thinking, how about myself? I don’t live in a Hmong community. I don’t live in an impoverished area. Most of my neighbors are white and they’re like upper middle class in Minneapolis. I used to live in North Minneapolis but I did not wanna live there anymore and so I moved. I think about for those who do have the resources and the capacity to really actually do this type of work, we don’t even want to live in the areas we see have problems. And so then like I think about just everyday folks like us who have the education and the access and stuff to do these type of work, we also don’t want to live in those areas to understand so that we can build and cater certain programs to address the issues in those communities.

LH: And I think that’s why it’s so important that as we do community service work or the idea of we want to help our Hmong community and like the larger community to have you know better communities, to have education, to have better jobs, are we you know taking a moment to pause throughout the day or the week or the month or the year to really assess if the work that we do or the values that we carry and the practices that we execute, are they still holding strong to why we do the work that we do and serving community in the first place. And if we don’t, how do we recognize that? How do we stay true to the roots of why we do community service work. And what you said, Sandy, about doing work in the community but then where you lived in your neighborhood that you no longer want to live. I think it’s important to think about like why do we not want to live in a poor neighborhood which makes up a lot of people of color and now live in a now quote unquote better neighborhood means that one would think that there isn’t violence, police brutality, or there’s access to food or entertainment or jobs or the transit. And so I think it’s important that we as ourselves as Hmong people who do community service work to think about how systemic or institutionalized racism plays a role. How classism plays a role. How it shapes our experiences and our desires. There isn’t a right or wrong but it’s important to critically reflect and think about the decisions that we now make.

PHH: Two things. One, Linda, I think that for nonprofits when they do reflect it’s usually the weekend retreats. It’s where they get together and they–they do team building activities. And then at the end of the retreat they tso toj hau siab and then they go home. Uhm, so there’s that. But I wanna go back to what you were saying about how the idea of moving out to the suburbs is sort of this dream that Hmong people have. And I think about like moving out to the suburbs, how scary that is, too. That we don’t think about how scared we are when we move out to the suburbs. We say these things to ourselves, oh, well we can’t have a lot of Hmong parties because our neighbors are going to be really upset because the whole community’s going to come out and park their cars on the street. Or like, oh we can’t butcher a cow and bring the meat and chop it in the garage because our neighbors are going to see and think that we’re savages. Or how we restrain ourselves, how we box ourselves in. And I wonder if folks who live in the suburbs–Hmong folks who live in the suburbs–think about this. If they think about this at all. I don’t know, that’s just something that popped into my head.

SO: White life is the right life.

LH: That’s why Hmong people don’t have a country. And so I wanna close out by throwing out the question talked about in the last hour: do we as Hmong people perform and control and police ourselves for whiteness, white supremacy? Do whiteness and white supremacy control and suppress who we are? As we’re working in the nonprofit or doing community service work, are we taking a moment to really look at our values and why we do the work? And why do we do this work in the first place? And does it actually create actions that do move our community forward? And so we would love to hear you know your thoughts and your experience and your feedback about who’s the #firsthmong in your life or your experience–experience working in nonprofits? Because we do need to have these conversations more publicly. That’s how we can start having transparency, learning about accountability, building spaces to have checks and balances in our community with our community organizations who continue to profit off of our struggles and thAnd so if you have any experience or thoughts about today’s podcast, please do that via sending a question to our email, Facebook, or tweet us. Once again our email is hashtag dot hoochim at gmail dot com. And our twitter handle is hashtag h-o-o-c-h-i-m. Please follow us on Facebook at hoochim h-o-o-c-h-i-m. Hope you enjoy it.


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