Fashion designers hold a special place in the Hmong community, especially from the Hmong history of Paj Ntaub to Hmong clothing and silver coin decorations on Hmong women’s, men’s and children’s apparel. As a child growing up, Syra Yang, author of the new book, And, Sometimes Growing Feels Like Losing, thought she wanted to be a fashion designer.
As Syra moved to college and studied Secondary Education Program at the University of South Carolina Upstate, it inspired her to explore other potential educational paths in the education world, to write and publish a book for the Hmong community from unheard narratives. “I started to play with the possibility around my undergraduate studies. Somehow, I was unable to envision a specific career in my teenage years, and that ‘somehow’ is what I’m processing now. There are too many narratives that are not shared or unheard. In addition, there are the counternarratives that are also needed to challenge what we have only been given. All of these different stories and experiences inspire me to permeate the thoughts that stem from what already exists. That is why I decided to write this new book from those unheard narratives,” said Syra.
Her new book, And, Sometimes Growing Feels Like Losing, encompasses three short stories: My Secret War, The Caregiver, and To All the Moms, I’m Sorry, published by the Hmong Educational Resources Publisher. “All three stories, although very different, have a common theme. That theme is the feeling of growing and how in that moment it doesn’t always feel like we get things, that we may even question our own selves and lives, or that we feel we aren’t doing as great. The core of the book encompasses a lot of aspects to intersectionalities such as being a Hmong female or male; either single or married; divorced or widowed; being a Hmong mother within different generations and age ranges; being a young Hmong American son or daughter living in two different worlds; and being a Hmong immigrant parent with no formal education and working at a blue-collar job,” remarked Syra.
Writing this book took Syra several years to complete, especially when those stories are based on realistic experiences from many Hmong individuals who had walked and experienced these kinds of events in their daily lives. As Syra vocalized: “It took me a couple years as each story was written at different times with different time spans. The book based on realistic stories and experiences that are put in different perspectives and writing styles – sharing what many people have experienced, living their individual lives that are impacted by social construction and the cycle of socialization.”
In the journey of writing her book, Syra loved the fact that she was able to act on something that she personally struggled with as well – especially those experiences and stories that were lacking in representation in the mainstream literature and education system. “I personally struggled in learning that there is a lack of representation of Hmong narratives in American literature. That process was hard, as I was taught what I was taught in this mainstream education. My schooling and society taught me that the characters that are worth reading about, or the stories that are worth examining and sharing, are all those that did not look like me and my Hmong community, nor did they feel like my moments and the many of my friends and families,” declared Syra.
Those stories from And, Sometimes Growing Feels Like Losing is something that Syra is still learning to unlearn. As Syra voiced about it, “I’m currently challenging myself to be okay with being vulnerable and contributing to this world in this way. So, all the stories give me feelings, and to be able to share those feelings is great.”
When it comes to Syra’s writing, she feels the most supportive and inspirational of her journey are those individual young scholars and her nephews and nieces. “They are the exact individuals who support me whether they know that or not,” said Syra. Good friends are those who are there for you when things get tough, or no matter what. Syra would like to thank her friend Kirsten Lee for always being there for her: “I’d like to give a shout out to my friend, Kirsten, who has always allowed me to use her place as a get-a-way (such as when we had those negative 20 degrees Celsius winter days a few years ago).”
With all the support from friends and families in her writing journey, Syra feels that writing has helped her to express more through books and journals. Most importantly, writing has helped her to unlearn things that the mainstream educational system had missed, the unheard Hmong narratives, characters, and life experiences. “Being a writer is helping me be able to unlearn what I have been taught, be more mindful, and practice feeling discomfort – especially writing helps me be able to express more,” voiced Syra.
When Syra is not writing, she enjoys different types of food. “I love to eat, and I do it very often and sometimes too much,” said Syra.
Thus, Syra doesn’t have a specific plan for the future, but she hopes to provide more writing to shed greater light on diverse curriculum in the classroom and have more diverse books and stories out there for the community. “I usually do not like to intend things for the future as things are not always a guarantee. However, I’d like to be able to provide more writings that can challenge the yearly curriculum, create more diverse resources, as well as frustrations, and yes!, as well as dig deeper in impacting and influencing students and educators,” announced Syra.
If one thing Syra could give to students and readers out there in the community, she would offer ‘self-love’ because loving yourself is one of the important things to stay well. As Syra stated it, “Love yourself and be well.”
The Hmong Educational Resources (HER) Publisher believes in the power of education and the impact of stories. HER is an independent publisher of books about Hmong people, culture, and life experiences. To get a copy of Syra’s book or read more about And, Sometimes Growing Feels Like Losing, please visit www.herpublisher.com. If you would like to know more about Syra Yang and her work, please feel free to connect her at www.syrayang.com/ or Instagram at SyraYang.