The meaning behind the word Tamejavi
TAj laj Tshav Puam... (Hmong)
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My parents are Hmong refugees who were sponsored to come to the United States from Thai refugee camps by my mother's father. I was born in Long Beach, California. I was the first in my family to be born in the U.S., and I am the first from my family of ten to graduate from a four-year university.
After high school, I went to Riverside Community College for two years, and then transferred to UCLA for three years. I graduated with a B.S. in physics and a minor in Asian American studies. While I was in college I was part of a few Asian student organizations, including Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Hmong organizations.
I have been, and am currently, part of student organizations at Fresno State, including Lao Student Association, Cambodian Collegiate Association, Amerasia, and Hmong Student Association. Currently I work part-time at a Hmong TV network and volunteer with several community organizations.
Right now my working team is functioning well. The only drawback is getting them to fully understand what the fellowship program expects of the team and of me. I am behind on this aspect because I have only recently established my working team. I believe that having a one-on-one meeting with my working team, me, and the PVI staff would help us to understand what is expected of us from the fellowship program and help us in accomplishing our task.
To recruit my team, I made a proposal at a meeting to a group I was already a part of, known as Hmong Empowerment Resources & Outreach (HERO). I shared with the group what the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program (TCOFP) was and asked if the group or any individuals would be interested in being a part of my working team. After a few approaches, the group agreed to be part of the working team, but it wasn’t until recently that it became official and we began having meetings specifically for the fellowship.
When I first approached the group, they were not very responsive. It wasn’t until I gave a PowerPoint presentation, and explained to the group visually how they will benefit by being part of my working team, that they became receptive.
A big challenge I have encountered with my working team is that we are all very involved inother spaces and other projects, and that makes it difficult for us to focus on the TCOFP. Because of this, having separate meetings specifically for one project is difficult to do since we usually combine all the projects into one meeting for updates and planning since we are all already there.
One of the changes I have made thus far is making the PowerPoint presentation to inform my working team about the TCOFP and what is expected of them. I see that this helped them to better understand what I was doing. This presentation was also used as a proposal to see if the group would be willing to be part of my working team.
So far we have had two meetings. The meetings have been to clarify what the fellowship expects of me and the working team. We have also talked about the community assessment and what it should look like or target.
It is hard to describe my community because there are a lot of aspects about my community that lie beneath the surface of what is perceived. There are details you never hear unless you are exposed to it or go out seeking it. For me, there is a misunderstanding between groups who go to church (like the Christians and Catholics), those who follow the traditional belief system (ancestral worship), and those who don’t follow a particular belief system but live life according to the “American Dream.” I feel the three groups are separated in the community because there is a lack of dialogue and misunderstanding.
There is also a fourth category that some may consider to be a belief or religion: shamanism orspiritual healers. I do not consider this to be a belief or religion. But there have been a rising number of individuals who are becoming shamans. They become very sick and, for those who are taken to the hospital, the doctors usually do not detect any type of illness or are unable to explain the sickness because the results shows that the individual is normal. Traditionally, the elders would say that it is because the individual’s calling has come and it is time for him or her to rise and become a shaman.
There is a lack of dialogue about LGBT in the Hmong community, at least in the California. In Minnesota there is more dialogue about the topic and even organizations that build a support system for Hmong LGBT.
I feel that even though the older generations don’t understand the American system they support whoever is Hmong and is taking action, even those who are not fighting for the interest of the Hmong community. I feel this is because they are putting their trust and faith in the individual,that the individual will come back and help the community. As for the younger generations, I feel they are more critical about the American system because they understand the system. Even though this is so, I still feel that they will support a Hmong individual because the individual is Hmong.
A lesson I have learned is the importance of documenting. For me it can be difficult because I don’t do it. I do more conversation and never brought with me an audio or video recordingdevice. All I did was ask questions, but I never looked at it as a community assessment, but more as getting to know the person and the community.
The things that comes to mind when I hear “cultural life of my community” are the interactions my people have with one another, the way of living, outlook and goals in life for our people, our sense of self and what it means to be Hmong, and the greetings that we give to each other when we enter someone’s house and when we meet another Hmong person in public.
From my perspective, there are certain topics that are not talked about or brought up because it is considered taboo, such as sexuality. There are some topics and issues that, because they have not been brought up or discussed, it becomes uncomfortable for the community to talk about.
I feel that culture is very important in my community because we do not have a place, land, or country to call our own. So it is very important for us to hold onto our culture and preserve it, because if the culture dies/disappears, so does our community.
Culture means funeral practices; wedding practices; language; how to greet others, both young and old; the Hmong New Year; farming, agriculture, and hunting; family gatherings; clans and clan structure; the qeej instrument; clothing; and paj ntaub (story cloth). Culture and art areimportant in my community. Yet I feel that sometimes it is overshadowed by issues that arisewithin the community dealing with politics.
The Hmong New Year that is held every year. Because it happens every year and everyoneknows when to expect it, it has become a way in which the community becomes engaged and goes out to celebrate.
One of our most important cultural practices is the funeral we do for the deceased. The meaning behind its importance I do not know, but I see it as important because families are willing to spend thousands of dollars to put on a funeral for someone. They invite family, relatives, and friends to come see them send off the person who has passed away. Weddings are another important practice.
We express ourselves visually through traditional clothing. It becomes commercialized, but it’s visually attractive — more like a fashion expression. I don’t know too much of the history of dancing, but there is also Hmong dancing. You see all the women in a group or a woman withher husband. Males who use bamboo instruments are another kind of performance. Now, for the young generation, it’s more breakdancing, drawing, painting, singing, acting, fashion, and writing.
One of the cultural strengths in my community is our power to come together for a common goal and cause. For example, when General Vang Pao was arrested, thousands of people showed up in our community to protest against his arrest. This was something very significant because I have not seen my community come out for any type of protest in those numbers, from a range of ages.
One of the cultural weaknesses I see in my community is our division between clans and how each clan does different things. Even within each clan, they do things differently. There is no set rule or process for how something should be done or governed.
I am disappointed in the lack of support for cultural and arts activities in our community. There is support, but only towards the “traditional” arts and culture. There is little support from the community for contemporary cultural and artistic activities within our community.
I think it is very important to have a space and opportunity to recreate cultural activities becauseit is important for people to understand what artistic expression is: it is anything that is anexpression of you. Culture and art in my community are more what is traditional, so young ones have separated into the modern culture. There is no space to build dialogue. They are both doingthe same things, just in different ways.
Some of the cultural holders in my community are the clan leaders, spiritual healers (txiv neeb),leaders of organizations, and Ph.D. professors. There are possibilities to get the community to be civically engaged, but no one has done so. Or the community does not trust in the people who are trying to do so.
Stereotypes about our community are that we have multiple wives, and that there is oppression of women and inequality. There is some truth to that, but not completely. Other stereotypes are that we are the model minority, higher high school dropouts, we drive Hondas and Civics and minivans. Those are stereotypes, but I don’t know if that is what they think. Positive, butinaccurate, stereotypes are that we are strong, united, and organized, and we have clans and that there are no homeless Hmong.
Only the surface of the culture is seen by outsiders. Even some people within the community are looking at it from an outsider’s perspective because they have not grasped how to become a part of the inside to see the fuller picture. And most of the time this is the case because of a lack of education and understanding of the culture and community.
The path I am taking as an individual is to listen, understand, and have unconditional love for the community. I understand American politics is good and bad. If you do not get involved, there will be no change. But if you become too involved, you will be questioned for your intentions. To avoid it, you must be an individual who listens to people and brings a goal for which all people can work. I perceive we all have some vision, but we have just taken a different path. This is the Hmong community for now, but it can be expanded to other communities as well.Because, like I said, I feel there is a spiritual shift. There is something happening. The Hmongare unique because we have a spiritual connection, because we can sense that shift happening. We can guide that shift where it will be good.