Written by: Chuetou Kha
During my years in junior high and high school, I really didn’t accept my identity as a Hmong person. I spoke the language, I looked like one, my last name declared it, and I grew up in the culture. Sure, the Hmong culture I grew up in wasn’t the traditional Hmong culture. The Hmong culture I grew up in was influenced by American culture and Christian values. But not keeping the traditional customs created a barrier between my Hmong friends and me. One would even say that I wasn’t really Hmong if I was a Christian. However, that didn’t mean that was able to fit in with the white people.
I started questioning this at the beginning of 8th grade in junior high. I didn’t know where I belonged, and I didn’t want to accept my Hmong identity. I tried fitting in with the white people as they seemed “cooler” as most of them were “popular”. They played sports, they had a sense of style, they had cliques, and their personal lives on social media were something I wanted. I looked at my people and they weren’t cool, they were loud, swore a lot, and I thought they were disrespectful and looked down upon. I went as far as “I am only gonna dating white girls for now on.” So, I started distancing from them and not considering myself as Hmong, but if I’m not Hmong, what am I? It’s obvious I’m not white and will never consider myself white, I’m already an American and Hmong-American is the same thing. I’m not Chinese, Japanese, or Korean; the cooler Asian race. So, what am I? I’m not entirely sure.
I had once noticed my cousin, who was Hmong, who really got along with the white people. He rarely hung out with us and was considered to be “cool”. My cousin was known as “white-washed” to my Hmong friends. This term is usually used to describe someone who isn’t white but acts like they are white. But, that’s what I wanted, so I started to look at what he was doing. I noticed he played sports and that is probably how he became “cool”. So, I started to do what I thought white people did and I started playing sports. I ran track and played soccer. I didn’t suck at sports because I was athletic, so it was nice to feel good at playing sports. Some of my white teammates were cool, and others were fake as people like to say. But I felt and noticed those that I thought I wanted to be my friends would never actually be my true friends. I wondered what I did wrong and tried to figure out how my cousin did it all up until my junior year of high school.
Junior year was when I found my Hmong identity. After many years of constantly questioning, I thought, “why do I not accept my true Hmong identity?” I may be different from my other Hmong friends, but they always treated me as one of their friends. Even when one of them made a rude comment towards me, he still treated me as a friend. As I slowly accepted them back, I was able to slowly accept my identity as well. I also met two of closest friends. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college where I completely accepted my Hmong identity and I’m glad that I did. I have been speaking my language more often and have learned to respect my culture. Us Hmong may not be well-known and may not be as “cool” as the Koreans and the Japanese but something I will always take pride in is that we fought alongside the Americans during the Vietnam War. Many may not know about it because it was ran by the CIA so it was kept a secret. However, it makes me feel like the Hmong were warriors and it’s something for the Hmong people to be proud of.