DR. BRIAN V. XIONG
Dr. Brian V. Xiong is a Hmong scholar and researcher. His research covers a wide variety of multidisciplinary studies, including Multicultural, Race & Ethnic Studies; Gender & Sexuality Studies, Critical Hmong Studies; Diversity & Inclusion in Higher Education; Counseling & Student Personnel; and College Student Affairs & Multicultural Affairs. His research is especially focused on LGBTQ Hmong and Hmong-American Experiences. Dr. Xiong is a former Page, Wallin, Cornwell scholar and a former professor of race and ethnic studies, chief diversity officer for collegewide, and director of affirmative action & equal opportunity.
Dr. Xiong is the author of “A Clan of Our Own: Coming Out Experiences of Gay Hmong Men,” “A New Journey: Hmong College Student Experiences,” “Puag Thaum Ub: Hmoob Xeem,” and “Martha L. Zimmerman Paj Ntaub Collection.”
I first became aware of Martha and her passionate collection of Hmoob Paj Ntaub tapestries and artifacts in 2016 and cannot begin to express my appreciation and gratefulness for her generosity in donating her entire collection to the Hmong Archives. Without her graciousness, this book would not have been possible. Her donation has enabled us to sustain the work and mission of Hmong Archives to research, collect, preserve, interpret, and disseminate materials in all formats about or by Hmong. All royalties and proceeds of this title will go to the Hmong Archives ensuring that Martha’s donation continues giving back to the Hmong community.
While Martha herself was not born into the Hmong community, she has been embraced by the many Hmong women she’s helped in selling their paj ntaub throughout the Midwest. Her thorough documentation of every artist, year, and type of paj ntaub sold ensured that the Hmong artists who created these beautiful works of art, were correctly attributed and received appropriate financial compensation for the works they sold. As deeply indebted to Martha as this book is, I would be remiss to not mention all of the work and artistry of the women who created these works of art themselves.
These women often received little to no level of formal education and instead supported their families and their dreams through their talent of putting needle to thread. They lived their lives making art and in turn, wove their narrative and the Hmong’s story into the larger fabric of America. Seeing their work was especially personal for me because they could’ve been my aunties, my sisters, or my mother. Like my mother, these women balanced their responsibilities as a mother and homemaker, and despite the demands of caring for a family in a new country, still somehow caught the last rays of sunshine to complete their paj ntaub. I still remember the sight of my own mother sitting on her green, bamboo, woven stool, sitting on the balcony of our two-bedroom apartment and repeating the same motions over and over again. Back then I found it tedious, but after her passing, the image of her sewing paj ntaub remains one of my most vivid memories. I hope that when members of the Hmong community page through the amazing works of art in this book, this familiarity resonates through them as well.
These intimate moments we share with paj ntaub itself remain one of the driving forces in the publication of this title. I wanted to share, honor, and immortalize the many Hmong women whose works appear in this book. Oftentimes, they don’t receive enough credit where credit is due, and we hope this book presents these Hmong artists in a new light.
We are often familiar with seeing paj ntaub created and sold to individuals outside of the Hmong community. With the support of the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Legacy Cultural Heritage and Identity Micro-Grants, the Hmong Archives and HER Publisher hope this book was created to be accessible enough to the Hmong people to bring our art and craft back into the community. Although there is such an abundance of works to be displayed at the Hmong Archives, we believe that the best way to experience these pieces is to see them live in person.
As of May 31, 2019, Hmong Archives had accessioned some 209,000 items by and about Hmong, in 13 categories, from over 1150 donors worldwide. Paj ntaub, or flower cloth, can refer to a female name, a Christian script, a music or fiction title, an event, or a periodical, so it is difficult to determine how many are paj ntaub textiles or contain information about this central element of Hmong culture. A full list of paj ntaub textiles and additional objects among the Hmong Archives’ complete collection can be found at the Hmong Archives website. To find more information on the operating hours of the Hmong Archives and to schedule a meeting, you can visit https://hmongarchives.org/
Ultimately, regardless of the context our readers bring into this book, we are proud that it was created by primarily Hmong hands first and foremost, for a primarily Hmong audience. Paj ntaub can be enjoyed by all, but there is extra cultural significance in seeing something from your history elevated with the care and respect our team committed.
I packed my doctoral textbooks and ran to class right after I visited my father at the hospital. As I got to class and sat down on my chair, I noticed that I was the only minority doctoral student in the classroom and the only Hmong student in my cohort. I remembered seeing more Hmong and diverse students in undergraduate studies, but as you go higher, you see few minority students, and you become one of the few doctoral students of color in graduate programs, or may be the only Hmong student in your program.
To start the class, my professor asked us, a total of seven doctoral students, to go around the room and share a bit about our summer and if there was something fun that we’d done over the break. As my White classmates took turns to tell their stories about their families’ vacations and trips that they took out-of-state and overseas - how I wished my summer break could have been as fun as theirs, if my Hmong family had the money to travel. Others shared stories about buying new houses, new cars, and adopting new pets into their families, and how they baptized their new dogs - how I wished my Hmong parents would have their own home so we could easily do ua neeb and other ritual ceremonies in our own house instead of borrowing extended Xiong family houses for such ceremonies. My parents lived in a small unit apartment in north Minneapolis, and it was hard to ua neeb with the loud noise of the gong and the smoke of the burning spirit money that would trigger the whole unit fire alarm system. When it was my turn to share my summer break story, the only thing I’d done over the summer was traveling back and forth from college and home to the hospital to take care of my dying parents. As a Hmong student and being the oldest son, it was my responsibility to look after my parents in their old age. There is no such thing as a nursing home in my culture.
As I reflected back to my own academic journey, and the many struggles and self-sacrifice that I’d gone through, it wasn’t an easy journey after all, especially being a first-generation Hmong college student in this higher education world. As the first person in my family to attend college, a lot of things were new to me, including financial aid, student loans, college orientation, college major and elected courses, and even the campus food. I came from a refugee and low-income family, and we didn’t get to do many things like many of my American peers did with their families back home, such as eating out at the restaurant. Dining out with my college friends was new to me. I remembered that one time when I ordered food at Perkins Restaurant, and the waitress asked me how I would like my eggs done? I looked at my college friends and didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know that I didn’t know how to order food either, and who knew that there so many ways of cooking eggs: hard scrambled, soft boiled, sunny-side-up, over-easy, over-medium, or over-hard? Back home with my Hmong family, we only have two styles of cooked eggs, either boiled eggs or fried eggs. I was so embarrassed while the waitress was waiting for my response. The next remarkable thing I did to cover this embarrassment moment was telling the waitress, “I want my plate to be exactly likes the picture in the menu.”
The last 17 years of my life in the education world have been non-stop schooling, from bachelor to master and doctor degrees. After both of my parents passed away while I was a full-time graduate student, balancing between two-worlds, school and family – I often asked myself, “Had I done enough for my beloved parents before they left this world?” The regret of chasing my education dream and being away from home, and not knowing whether I’d done enough for my parents, has always haunted me.
These are my college experiences of chasing educational degrees. Thus, earning a college degree can be challenging, but true educators are those who never give up and live a life for themselves for what they believe could be achievable through education. In this collection, I hope that you will enjoy reading these 24 brave Hmong college student writers, for sharing their stories of being Hmong students in higher education, their refreshing mix of voices that reflect the many joys, challenges, struggles and sacrifices in this NEW JOURNEY in the education world.
Growing up as a gay Hmong myself, I couldn’t find any gay books written about gay Hmong coming out experiences, or just gay Hmong representation in general. I remember checking out gay resource books from Minneapolis Public Library, City Pages newspaper, or gay lifestyle stories online during my high school years, but none of them represented me, my experience as a gay Hmong person, and the complexities of being a diverse ethnic minority in a minority population. Most of the publications, videos, books, and magazines were about gay White individuals and their lifestyles. If any such stories about LGTBQ Asian-American experiences were published, they were often Chinese, Filipino and other Asian-American ethnicities.
An even greater challenge for me is that there is no word for “gay” in the Hmong language. How do I describe my sexual orientation to my parents when no such word exists in my mother language? It was a lonely world and a lonely journey to discover myself, my sexual orientation and my identity in the Hmong community. It took me almost 18 years to finally accept who I am after my parents passed away. Thus, I didn’t get the chance to come out to my parents about my sexual orientation. I finally had the courage to come out to my siblings when I presented my doctoral dissertation study on the experience of gay Hmong men.
This book was a labor of my passion to discover the coming out experiences of gay Hmong men in the Hmong American community, in hopes that it will provide insightful experiences and stories to help Hmong parents better understand their gay sons or a gay member of their clan. The book is also the labor of love from individuals who have contributed their stories in the interviews for my graduate studies programs. They have agreed to this publication to shed greater light on the experiences of gay Hmong men, their coming out experiences, and the struggles they face daily in their lives, with the hope that both mainstream and Hmong communities are better equipped to assist and understand the strengths and needs of this minority group within a minority.
Some of you readers may know an LGBTQ Hmong person in real life, or you may identify as Hmong and LGBTQ yourself. You may be an ally who has heard someone’s coming out process, or you may be in the process of coming out yourself, but I have found that in compiling these stories and publishing them, we may all have a document that immortalizes these stories on paper and ink. I hope this collection of stories provides an accessible and public resource for LGBTQ Hmong individuals, the Hmong community, allies, and the general community at large.
Like many other gay Hmong men’s parents, my parents had high expectations of me to get a good education, become a medical doctor, get married to the opposite gender, and have children of my own to carry on my family’s clan name. In the Hmong culture, roles and responsibilities are strictly divided among gender lines. It’s the men’s responsibility to carry and honor the clan name, take care of their parents in old age, and serve them funerary rites. Hmong women, traditionally, must leave their parents’ clan to join their husband’s clan and tend to the children and household. As a gay Hmong man, myself, balancing the two-worlds of being Hmong and being gay was an additional challenge that I’ve had to overcome. Because of the strict gender roles and my personal experiences as a gay Hmong man, I have decided to focus this initial examination on the experiences of gay Hmong cisgender men, and the way they have balanced being Hmong and gay.
Although my struggles and triumphs mirror the other gay Hmong men in this book, A Clan of Our Own, the stories collected represent a myriad of gay Hmong men of different ages, backgrounds, and beliefs. Just as the rainbow flag is a symbol of diversity within the LGBTQ community, this book seeks to demonstrate the uniqueness and individuality present within the Hmong LGBTQ community itself.
For many Hmong parents and family members, having a child who identifies as a part of the LGBTQ community may result in feelings of shame, the possibility of the end to their clan line, and snide remarks from their fellow clan members. This among many other reasons may cause homophobic-based violence, being disowned by their family and clan, and other traumatic consequences as a result of coming out.
To our fellow LGTBQ Hmong youth who have yet to come out, know that you will always belong to a clan that is full of warmth, inclusion, and community. Whether you are a Chang (Tsab), Cheng (Tsheej), Chue (Tswb), Fang (Faj), Hang (Ham), Her (Hawj), Khang (Khab), Kong (Koo), Kue (Kwm), Lee (Lis), Lor (Lauj), Moua (Muas), Pha (Phab), Thao (Thoj), Vang (Vaj), Vue (Vwj), Xiong (Xyooj), Yang (Yaj), or any other clan name, and fear the loss of connection to that lineage, you will always have a family, a colorful clan of your own. We hope many of the experiences in this book mirror your own and resonate with you.