My Name Is Hmoob: Call Me Freedom

(Photo: Patience Zalanga)

My name is not “Exotic . . .”
My name is Freedom
My people are worth more than eye
candy and shallow praise,
My people have no home, no country
We are from stolen territory...

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Universe on University Ave

Tou SaiKo Lee and his grandmother.

We live in an urban universe
Between street lights, stars, moons and stop signs,
from distant planets unrecognized before we met within
stories of broken barriers spoken by elder OGs of these histories...

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Advent

(Illustration: Roberta Avidor)

Newly ordained, I stand in front of a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Next to me is Nhia (Jonah) Xou Yang, former CIA collaborator turned minister. We are in the shared sanctuary of our respective Hmong and American congregations in a church on Saint Paul’s North End. It is Advent 1982. Soon the peacefulness is shattered. A rock band composed of Hmong teenagers arrives, rehearsing as they do each weekday afternoon. The noise drives us from our contemplation...

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Kwvtij/Brothers

Wang Ger (Photo: Mike Hazard)

Wang Ger, also called Joe, has been trying to teach me to speak more words of Hmong.

“I have learned English; you can learn more Hmong.”

I am not a good student, but he does not give up...

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Seventh Place: Saint Paul's Window on The World

Hmong stall owners on Seventh Place during a summer farmers' market (Photo: Dan Tilsen)

Downtown Saint Paul is rarely accused of being exotic. But hidden right in its midst is a thriving, bustling microcosm of the great wide world. I’m talking about Seventh Place. Only one block long, Seventh Place is Saint Paul’s answer to European pedestrian-only city centers. From the golden entry archway facing St. Peter Street to the frequent bustle of the Wabasha pedestrian crossing, the patterned brick underfoot lifts its denizens out of the workaday world and transports them to an old city square in Nordic Europe, or on days when the farmers’ market is in session, to Southeast Asia.

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The Hmong Wedding

Bao and Noah on their wedding day (Photo: Bao Vang)

My wedding day began at 1 a.m., when I got up for work as anchor and producer of Sunrise 7, the morning show on WSAU-TV, based in Wausau, Wisconsin. After my shift ended at 9 a.m., I met up with my fiancé, Noah, to say goodbye until our wedding night, then headed for my mother’s home in Saint Paul. Born and raised in the United States, Noah and I are what you could call a typical American couple. But we also treasure our Hmong heritage and wanted to honor our families by following the tradition that has spanned many generations. Although we’ve been engaged for a year, we can’t get married until our families give their official approval and agree on a dowry. There is no guarantee this will happen.

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Feb 21st, 2011 Lowertown Reading Jam: Tou SaiKo Lee presents "Asiatic Fresh & Classic"

tou-saiko-lee

Event curator, Tou SaiKo Lee believes in building an influential movement within the Hmong community through the arts. He is a spoken word artist, mentor and hip hop activist. A mentor for youth at schools and community centers across the country, he speaks about issues that include human rights, diversity, racism, gang violence and arts for social change. Tou SaiKo Lee is the co-founder of “The H Project” a compilation music CD inspired by the human right violations of Hmong people in the jungles of Laos. Spoken word performers at the Feb 21st Lowertown Reading Jam include Ed Bok Lee, Juliana Pegues, Bao Phi, Saymoukda Vongsay, Kevin Yang, Chanmany Sysengchanh, David Vulocity, Chilli Lor, Laurine Chang and Gaoiaong Vang.

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Secrets

Mural at Hmong Garden. (Photo: Liren Chen/Flickr Creative Commons)

I search the concourse for the family,
a family whose people
were swept away by a river red with blood.
Swept when a secret war ended.
Swept from the mountains of Laos,
Swept in one day from the steamy jungle
to Minnesota’s pre-dawn dark.

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I Am

(Photo: Justmakeit/Flickr Creative Commons)

I am a Hmong boy who lives to eat rice.
I wonder how much rice can feed the world.
I hear the sound of Mama packing the rice from the “vab”
I see the steam from the freshly cooked rice that makes my mouth water...

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