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Hmong Women

Ka Vang & Noukou Thao
Un-Named Series: Hmong and Lao Writers

This event was hosted by The Loft in downtown Minneapolis and cosponsored by COMPAS (Community Programs in the Arts). Ka Vang and Noukou Thao are both active Hmong women artists in their own community. Both have made many efforts to help, inspire, and motivate other fellow Hmong community members to embrace and support their culture. Many of their artistic works and biographical information can be found online at www.loft.org.

This event was very deep and powerful filled with countless readings revealing the many histories, assimilation problems, role of women, and beautiful culture the Hmong have. Noukou Thao’s readings were first to be performed and her style seemed much more somber and concentrated mostly on the history of Hmong women in their own culture. One of her readings (couldn’t remember the title because I had walked in the middle of it) discussed the pain of Hmong women in their own culture including bearing these strong domesticated roles and hardly having a voice to speak out with. This specific piece really spoke out to me individually because it reminded me so much of the movie clips we saw of “Iron Jaw Angels? with Hillary Swank and the whole movement of women’s rights.

Ka Vang is not only a great artist, but also a past mentor/advisor of mine from Hamline University. She is an inspiring woman who shows how proud she is to be a Hmong woman. Ka’s readings felt like a roller coaster as she performed them. I remember a few of them. One reading was called “Yellow-skinned woman(?)" and she dug into the stereotype of Asian women and exoticism. Some things mentioned were rather blunt and bold to say but admirable. She talked about how Asian women are perceived as sexual animals with sly intentions – ready to please the white man with all their exotic characteristics.

“Venereal Mind? – this poem was very graphic and talked about women being the sexual objects men desire and their role to please them. One of the parts of the poem that I really thought stuck out was:

“Machiavellian mama
lurking in the hip-hop clubs
preying on
Big Bad Wolf
with 12-inch canine
her pouty lips drooling to suck him dry
ready to grind his behemoth bone

He jumps onto her thighs
for a thrill ride,
til his batter bursts
like Mt. St. Helen
on Valentine’s Day?

This reading confirms all of media’s triumphs and efforts to symbolize women as sex objects who are waiting to feast on their prey of men and fulfill all of their sexual fantasies, even if it’s not for women’s pleasure.

The final piece was “Disconnect": a play written by Ka Vang and performed by Mei Lee Yang and Bryan Thao Worra – both famous local Hmong artists. This play was the best part of the entire event. It really captured Hmong culture and the complications that come with assimilating to American culture in both a humorous and thought-provoking way. It started with Mei Lee Yang as a girl who is preparing to dye her hair blonde and singing "Like A Virgin". She receives many calls including ones from her Hmong ancestors warning her of something that is about to occur (but vague) and then a particular call from a company named (McDonald, and the other three were titles of other companies that started with M - obviously metaphorically resembling corporations that run America). The company then starts a survey asking Mei questions that confirm stereotypes of Hmong:

-all Hmong marry around 15 years old to men twice their age
-they like to dye their hair color from black to blonde
-speaking to ancestors is regular
-1st and 2nd generation not knowing as much about their culture and assimilating to American culture by watching MTV and attaching those American characteristics to themselves, rather than their Hmong roots
-the understanding that Hmong women only marry, reproduce, and take care of the family
-Hmong people and violence (lady drowning 6 of her own kids, Chai Vang trial)

Even the company (voice of Bryan) makes fun of the way white people pronounce "Hmong". He consistently says "ha-mong" whenever he asks Mei a question. She plays along with the stereotypes that are given and giggles about them without realizing the damage she is causing.

This play was very much a reality for many Hmong and other Asian communities, even though it was done in a playful and humorous manner. I think Ka wanted her own people to see how they've become "disconnected" from their own community and culture and see the urgency to examine their own behavior and attitudes to their root culture.

Overall, I was very glad that I was able to attend such an event. It was a great and inspirational experience. I'd definitely recommend The Loft for future events.