Both of my parents are from Laos, but their families brought them to the United States when my parents were babies due to the horrible conditions that were happening in Laos. It was during the Vietnam War when the Hmong people started to find ways to get to the United States due to the slaughter of the Hmong people for helping the Americans in the Vietnam War, so at that time Laos was not a safe place for Hmong people to be. A lot of Hmong people were killed trying to escape, but my grandparents were lucky to made it out alive. My dad’s family ended up in Kansas and my mom’s family ended up in Canada.
Growing up, I watched a lot of Chinese films where the women were strong, beautiful, graceful, and could fight for themselves - they did not need a man to save them. This really impacted me growing up as an Asian-American because it gave me confidence. Just seeing another Asian female being confident and brave inspired me a whole bunch. It made me realize that at a young age, being Hmong made me different from the other kids and it is something I should be proud of. But growing up, especially in my middle-school days, I started watching and reading more “western” TV shows and magazines, and I started to pick out my own flaws; I definitely questioned why I was not tall like my friends who were white, black and Hispanic, or why I was not pale like them or why did my face look different from theirs. I really started to doubt myself. It wasn’t until later when I got older that I realized I needed to stop bringing myself down and start loving myself because God does not make mistakes - he makes masterpieces that are imperfectly perfect.
A few facts that most people would be surprised about the Hmong people is that we do not have a country to call home, and what I mean by this is that if you are Chinese then your roots are in China or if you are Filipino then your roots are in the Philippines, but for the Hmong people we cannot really claim Laos as the “Hmong people’s country.” There are 18 clans of Hmong people. Hmong people can tell what clan someone is from based on their last name. For example, my last name is Xiong, and this tells me that I belong in the Xiong family. However, the women in the Hmong community usually don’t keep their last name because they take their husband’s last name once they are married, so their lineage cannot be traced due to the fact that once the woman is married, she becomes part of the husband's family tree. Also, it can be difficult to trace someone’s lineage due to the fact that there are so many people getting re-married and having stepchildren, so we can only keep up to date with a family tree going back 10 generations or fewer.
Being different from society, there were a lot of moments when I was embarrassed to be a Southeast Asian American. I remember one moment where my parents were speaking our native tongue (Hmong) when we were shopping in the store and I was so embarrassed because a lot of people were looking at us strangely. Another moment was when my friends and I were walking into a movie theatre and because it was a bunch of Asians together, many people began staring at us, pointing at us, and talking very loudly about us. I felt really embarrassed at that moment because I didn’t like the negative attention, and it came to the point where I became embarrassed of my friends. But now that I really think about both situations, I realize that I let other people affect the way I looked at my culture and who I was, but I also realized that I need to be proud of where my people came from and proud of who I am.
If I was to give advice for those who are feeling embarrassed, I would say to be confident in who you are because you are one of a kind. Confidence is key in life.
Our parents and culture shape us a lot more than we would ever imagine or think. Because my parents are Southeast Asian American, they continue to push me to strive for the galaxies that are beyond the stars because they want to see me go somewhere in life and be successful. They do not want me to go through what they went through growing up in the States. For example, my mom never finished high school because she got married at a young age, and unlike myself, both of my parents didn’t have access to opportunities such as programs that help students and their college searches. This opened my eyes to realize that my dreams are reachable as long as I work hard for it and keep believing in myself. Also, being Asian with immigrant parents helped me to better understand what other immigrants feel, and being a minority helps me be more aware of issues like racism and poverty, like how it feels to struggle when you start off with nothing and to see people who have “good backgrounds” have life handed to them on a silver platter. I realized that I felt this way during high school, when I started to become more active with Youtube, Facebook and people of different cultures and diversity. I became more exposed to what was happening not only in the United States, but also in other countries as well. It made me realize my passion for helping others and that in order to make a difference, we have to be the first one to take that step.
I can understand and read Hmong, but sadly I cannot speak it fluently due to my parents speaking English to me when I was younger. My first language is English due to being raised and going to elementary school in the States. There is not a language barrier within my [immediate] family, but definitely with the elders. It really saddens me because I love talking to people, and especially not being able to have a grandma and grandpa growing up, I love to have conversations with the older people at my church. I am trying to learn Hmong so that I will be able to do mission trips in Thailand and speak fluently to the Hmong villagers.
When I heard that Wong Fu production and ISATV had a video competition, I became really inspired. I really wanted to enter a video because I love making films, but I also wanted to expand my YouTube community. I wanted the video to be unique so I decided to do it it on my culture, which is being Hmong and how it affects who I am as a person today and how it helped to shape me. My favorite part was when I had the shot of different people smiling; it just made my heart glow. What I hope people can take away from the video is knowing more about the Hmong culture. I also want people to see that my passion for film is pretty serious. Sadly, I did not win the competition but it started a fire inside of me for narrative film and directing.
It is really sad because there are a lot of Asian Americans who lack knowledge on their own to the point when they don’t even know where they came from and what their people went through. It is also is a problem for those who are not Asian American or Southeast Asian American because students don’t really learn about being open to other ethnic groups and being open about one’s culture. During my senior year of high school at Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, I was really blessed to have a Social and Cultural anthropology class and an amazing teacher who was dedicated to her students and their work. This teacher taught us a little bit about Hmong people, which made me really glad. Sadly we could not go over everything about Hmong culture, but i was still happy that my classmates were learning more about the culture that makes me who I am.
I have actually dreamed of being an actress and soon it will happen, but now with more Asian Americans being on films or TV shows like “Fresh Off the Boat” or the “Mindy Project,” I believe that America is slowly adjusting to seeing someone whose skin color is not white or black on a TV screen, and not having Asians only representing typical stereotypes like being smart, having no life besides studying, and being seen as a sex object or a weird fetish or unappealing. I also feel strongly about casting Asian Americans for Asian roles, like in the cases of Scarlett Johansson [in “Ghost in the Shell”] and Emma Stone [in “Aloha”]. I feel strongly about this because I am Asian American and I believe that we should not let Hollywood tell any Asian American that our skin color is not appealing on the big screen, or that Asian Americans are not good enough actors.
I was really inspired to post my videos on YouTube because I really liked to sing, and a lot of people were encouraging me to post so they could hear me sing whenever they wanted to. So I decided to give it a try and then I started posting more and more. I then realized that it became more than just singing videos, that I could also blog and have real talks with my friends who were watching me. I soon realized my passion for filming and my love for making videos. YouTube has definitely opened me up to a whole new world on social media. I’ve met so many new friends and it has inspired me to keep posting videos and just enjoy making more videos. At first I got a lot of negativity but I think being a woman of color, I soon was able to become relatable to those who wanted to post videos as well. I still have so much to learn on YouTube and I’m super excited to see where it takes me.