Hmong American readers share their stories of immigrating to and living in the United States. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your own experience as a member of, or neighbor to, the Hmong community.
A Hmong American reader Kong Pheng Pha tells his story, weaving in some quotes from his Hmong friends:
I migrated to the U.S. from Ban Vinai refugee camp in 1993 and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, but I relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota in 2001. I would not have used the word “queer” to describe myself growing up, but I knew early on that I was “different” from other boys. Growing up queer was extremely difficult for a Hmong refugee such as myself, especially living in poverty while trying to succeed in school and learning about my identity.
As some may say, it was hard to envision the Midwest as a destination spot for Hmong refugees or even queer Asian Americans. It was only until college did I realize how being Hmong, queer, and living in the Midwest would mean for me. Historically, the Midwest was not seen as a “gay friendly” region, and many have migrated away to seek more acceptance in, say, the Bay Area. But how does this picture of moving away in order to achieve liberation work for Hmong LGBTQ?
Linda Her, who identifies as a Hmong American lesbian, came out in the early 2000s and left St. Paul for San Francisco because she believed she was the only Hmong queer person. Speaking at the Minnesota capitol in 2012, she recalled, “The Hmong community and the LGBTQ community was not ready for me.” However, she eventually returned to St. Paul because she felt she was missing a part of herself being away from her family and the Hmong community.
Kevin Koob Meej Xiong, a gay Hmong man from Charlotte, North Carolina, moved to St. Paul in 2006 after coming out to his parents because he heard about Shades of Yellow, a Hmong LGBTQ support organization, started by Hmong youth. He reflects, “I came to Minnesota because of the resources available to Hmong LGBTQ at that time here. I found out about SOY in 2002 and after meeting a couple of the members at that time, I decided that I needed to come here to find myself.”
Indeed, the Midwest has operated as a sort of “Hmong queer San Francisco,” in the sense that the burgeoning Hmong population in the Twin Cities has allowed community building among Hmong LGBTQ.
I was among the activists in a collective of Hmong and Southeast Asian LGBTQ called Midwest Solidarity Movement who worked to defeat the marriage amendment in Minnesota in 2012 that would have defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Chong Vang, a queer Hmong Thai American refugee activist-organizer, spoke at the state capitol after the defeat of the amendment: “With the tool of community organizing, I was able to work in my Hmong community, to mobilize them to take action against this hurtful amendment.” Minnesota subsequently passed marriage equality in 2013.
We want to challenge white mainstream and Hmong heteropatriarchy, racisms, and homophobia. The U.S. continues to blatantly deny LGBTQ people their humanity through employment discrimination and the passing of “bathroom laws” that discriminate against trans individuals. Conservative Hmong ethnic identity does not make room for the healthy flourishing of various sexualities.
I have personally lived through instances where race and sexuality are intimately and violently intertwined. For example, one summer evening I was looking out for my drunk friend at the Saloon gay club in Minneapolis. Two white men approached us and told us to “go home and eat fried rice” to sober up. This instance shows that the Midwest is a place where Hmong racial and sexual discrimination is taking place alongside our struggles for self-expression.
Still, Hmong LGBTQ come here to create community and participate in activism that impacts, even remakes, the state, by challenging the so-called homophobia of the Midwest. As far as I’m concerned, I’m staying.
The first note in our discussion on Hmong Americans focused on the cultural and racial tensions between immigrants and long-time locals in Midwestern cities such as Minneapolis and West Coast cities such as Fresno—the two biggest epicenters of Hmong Americans. This next reader, Bee Vang, grew up in both areas and is now entering adulthood with the wind at his back:
I would have said it was an impossibility: Children of refugees don’t give commencement speeches at Ivy League schools in America. Yet there I was, born in Fresno, raised in Minnesota, educated at Brown University, and stepping up to the podium as one of the speakers for mid-year graduation, 2016. My heart was in my throat, but no one could tell. In that moment my voice was kept strong by my mission—to make Hmong proud, to show through the power of my oration that we can go anywhere and excel, and that there is a lot for my fellow graduates to think about in our world marred by war and destruction.
The commencement committee had asked us to be light and inspiring. Talking about my track record, complimenting the other graduates on theirs, and throwing in lots of jokes, I sought to be maximally inspiring—but I insisted on keeping the history of bombing in as well. Not much of Hmong American history is light ...
I asked Vang if there’s a YouTube version of his commencement speech and there is—embedded above (a text version is here). Another reader, Pao Lee Vue, a professor at St. John Fisher College, recalls a distressing experience he had with Vang and some other students:
I thought Doualy’s Atlantic article was excellent, but I want to share another perspective. As an idealistic PhD student in Sociology, I made it a point to learn as much as I could about U.S. race relations as it pertains to crime and law enforcement, immigration, and assimilation. Committed to social justice, I also trained in how race intersected with other hierarchies, especially gender and social class. As I pursued field research on Hmong youth in the Upper Midwest, I became more and more convinced that Hmong were uniquely racialized both as Asian Americans, but also symbolically closer to blackness than their East Asian counterparts. I designed my book to convince readers of this.
Then I got up in front of the college classroom and had a whole new education.
Though my first teaching experience, in Wisconsin, had been full of challenges, I struggled less with teaching my students about the Hmong American experience. Local media might have generated stereotypes about Hmong males as gangsters or warriors, but at least some college students, both male and female, were also Hmong.
Now that I have moved to Rochester, NY, however, hardly any students seemed to have even heard that Hmong people exist in the world, much less in the U.S. I realized that here, where no Hmong have settled, black, white, and Latino students lack tools for distinguishing among Asian Americans. Though I have tried to teach our divergent histories and racial dynamics, I am up against the diehard American tendency to type everyone by their looks.
This was brought home to me in a campus event I organized. I had invited a distinguished Hmong activist/actor, Bee Vang, and we were in a big lecture hall with perhaps 100 college kids, trying to talk about how Asian men are stripped of masculinity in American race culture, how we are portrayed as too gay and undateworthy.
To my shock, and in full earshot of my Hmong male guest speaker, some of the students snickered audibly as we described the geek image we live with—the dorky guy who can never get laid. One student even announced that Asian men had small penises. Her assertion wasn’t worded as being reflective of a stereotype or a racist culture, but stated as if it were a well-known and widely accepted fact.
I shudder, realizing that I am raising three boys in this part of the U.S. They are part white and part Native American as well as Hmong, but how will they be known? Can I shield them from any of this pain?
This next reader, Leah Olson, has a more hopeful outlook:
I am 37 years old and live in Appleton, which has one of the largest Hmong communities outside of Minneapolis. I think things have changed significantly since I was a child. We moved to Appleton from a suburb of Milwaukee when I was in sixth grade, and I remember being shocked to see both adults and children make openly racist comments about their Hmong neighbors. These comments were not just made privately, but within earshot of Hmong adults and children. In school, Hmong children stayed within their own group. I don’t remember having any conversations with my Hmong classmates.
I moved back to Appleton ten years ago to raise my children. I was hesitant to move back in part because of those experiences witnessing overt racism. I didn’t want to raise my boys in that environment.
But their experiences have been completely different from my own. At one of the school PTA meetings this past year we had Hmong parents talk about their experiences growing up. The entire presentation was done in Hmong so that non-Hmong parents could experience what it is like to have to listen through an interpreter. At the end of the presentation, a group of fifth and sixth graders (both Hmong and non-Hmong students) performed a traditional Hmong dance.
Both my sons have Hmong friends, Latino friends, and African-American friends. The city is more diverse than it was when I was a child. But it can still be challenging. My first grader’s best friend is Hmong and his parents speak very little English. We have to arrange playdates with the help of one of the school’s interpreters, but we make it work.
I know that the Hmong community still faces a lot of discrimination, but I think they have more friends and allies than they did 25 years ago. We are all a part of the same community, and that makes me happy.
In his response to an adverse decision by the Supreme Court, the former president previewed an argument he’s likely to keep using.
Former President Donald Trump faces various legal and political challenges, but few seem to have gotten him as agitated as a routine, expected, unsigned decision by the Supreme Court on Monday.
Trump had already lost a bid to prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. from acquiring his financial records via subpoena. The former president then sought a stay while he searched for other means to stall. As anticipated, the justices rejected the request. Trump then issued one of just a handful of public statements he’s issued since leaving office, blasting “the Continuing Political Persecution of President Donald J. Trump.”
His vehemence is part of a long-running pattern: Trump dislikes all investigations, but nothing rattles him like probes into his finances. (When he tried to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it was because of a report that Mueller had subpoenaed his financial records.) We can guess at the reasons. First, Trump is extremely defensive about anything that might imply he is not as rich as he claims. Second, there is much to suggest that Trump might have committed financial crimes.
The virus can take many paths to reinvading a person’s body. Most of them shouldn’t scare us.
On its face, reinfection appears to be a straightforward term. It is literally “infection, again”—a recovered person’s second dalliance with the same microbe. Long written into the scientific literature of infectious disease, it is a familiar word, innocuous enough: a microbial echo, an immunological encore act.
But thanks to the pandemic, reinfection has become a semantic and scientific mess.
Newly saddled with the baggage of COVID-19, reinfection has taken on a more terrifying aspect, raising the specter of never-ending cycles of disease. It has sat at the center of debates over testing, immunity, and vaccines; its meaning muddled by ominous headlines, it has become wildly misunderstood. When I ask immunologists about reinfection in the context of the coronavirus, many sigh.
An uncertain spring, an amazing summer, a cautious fall and winter, and then, finally, relief.
Updated at 10:12 a.m. ET on February 24, 2021.
The end of the coronavirus pandemic is on the horizon at last, but the timeline for actually getting there feels like it shifts daily, with updates about viral variants, vaccine logistics, and other important variables seeming to push back the finish line or scoot it forward. When will we be able to finally live our lives again?
Pandemics are hard to predict accurately, but we have enough information to make some confident guesses. A useful way to think about what’s ahead is to go season by season. In short: Life this spring will not be substantially different from the past year; summer could, miraculously, be close to normal; and next fall and winter could bring either continued improvement or a moderate backslide, followed by a near-certain return to something like pre-pandemic life.
A new docuseries about the molestation allegation against Woody Allen is determinedly focused on making its case, sometimes at the expense of nuance.
Updated at 3:33 p.m. ET on February 24, 2021.
Watching Allen v. Farrow, HBO’s new four-part miniseries about the 29-year-old allegations of child molestation against the director Woody Allen, I kept having a feeling that I couldn’t entirely identify. Since revelations about Harvey Weinstein emerged in late 2017—broken, in part, by Allen’s son, Ronan Farrow—harrowing stories about abusive men in the workplace have been reported one after another. But the story of Dylan Farrow, who was 7 years old in 1992, when she told her mother that her father had sexually abused her, is different, an allegation of domestic trauma that’s been weaponized by interested parties again and again. The feeling I had, I eventually realized, was one of wanting to look away. Not because I don’t believe Dylan (I do), or because I believe Allen’s work is so valuable that her testimony is worth shunting aside (I don’t, and no one’s is). It’s queasier than that: a nagging sense that, at this point, there’s still no way for Dylan to tell her story without it being exploited.
She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
The Netflix neo-noir isn’t just about a merciless scammer; it’s about the broken bureaucracies that enable her abuse.
Psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term-care facilities have served as chilling backdrops to some of film’s most arresting psychological thrillers. But the foreboding lighthouse of Shutter Island and the macabre, labyrinthine hospital of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pale in comparison with both movies’ animating horrors: the wretched treatment of the people trapped within. These works dramatize the cruelties that hospital administrators and caretakers exact upon their patients, especially those who have been admitted against their will, with Hitchcockian dread. In doing so, they challenge conventional wisdom about mental illness, authority, and the ethics of condemning people to isolation.
At some point—maybe even soon—the emergency phase of the pandemic will end. But what, exactly, is that magic threshold?
In the middle of January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, one day after inauguration, the Biden administration put out a comprehensive national strategy for “beating COVID-19.” The 200-page document includes many useful goals, such as “Restore trust with the American people” and “Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.” But nowhere does it give a quantitative threshold for when it will be time to say, “Okay, done—we’ve beaten the pandemic.”
A month later, it’s time to get specific. The facts are undeniable: The seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent since their January peak, hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent, and deaths have dropped by 42 percent. Meanwhile, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have gone into American arms. At some point—maybe even some point relatively soon—the remaining emergency measures that were introduced in March 2020 will come to an end. But when, exactly, should that happen?
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and homeschooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and nonexistent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
Financial confessionals reveal that income inequality and geographic inequality have normalized absurd spending patterns.
The hypothetical couple were making $350,000 a year and just getting by, their income “barely” qualifying them as middle-class. Their budget, posted in September, showed how they “survived” in a city like San Francisco, spending more than $50,000 a year on child care and preschool, nearly $50,000 a year on their mortgage, and hefty amounts on vacations, entertainment, and a weekly date night—even as they saved for retirement and college in tax-advantaged accounts.
The internet, being the internet, responded with some combination of howling, baying, pitchfork-jostling, and scoffing. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York quipped that the thing the family was struggling with was math. Gabriel Zucman, a leading scholar of wealth and inequality, described the budget as laughable, while noting that it showed how much money consumption taxes could raise.
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.