“Creating Hmong LGBTQ Space Everywhere” By Alice Y. Hom
Shades of Yellow (SOY), a Hmong lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer organization located in the Twin Cities, Minnesota has been creating safer spaces and a community for Hmong LGBTQ people to meet others to share and learn more about integrating their ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in affirming and supportive ways. They also have developed ally relationships to build understanding and acceptance for Hmong LGBTQ members within their Hmong and LGBTQ communities of which they are a part.
As the Director of AAPIP’s Queer Justice Fund, I met with SOY staff, board, and a few members on February 7th to lead a facilitated discussion about the history of LGBTQ AAPI community organizing, my own development as a Queer AAPI activist, and their thoughts about the future direction for SOY as they contemplate new leadership and strategies to build the organization and their members.
A former board member, Fue Khang shared, “This conversation was definitely something we needed. We have not yet had an individual come in to work one-on-one with our Board and/or Staff, so this meeting re-energized me. For a while I was feeling the affects of burnout and a bit hopeless, but having this meeting to talk over our concerns and visions gave me a new perspective for SOY.”
A group of 11 met over a tasty dinner at a Cambodian restaurant where we made a Queer AAPI space in a semi-private back room where we spoke freely, laughed loudly, and at times, turned serious on topics such as coming out, family and community acceptance, discrimination, social change, and how best for SOY to play a role in changing social and community conditions by addressing racism, homophobia, and sexism in ways that make sense culturally from the different perspectives of SOY members and leaders. “[This] meeting helped reinforce my thoughts and helped me redefined what social change is and can be,” said Doua Xiong.
People shared their challenges of being Hmong and queer, how they navigate the sometimes different worlds of their LGBTQ community and their Hmong community, and how they encounter a variety of reactions when coming out to friends and family members. Huey Lee remarked, “I had the best and most productive night ever with SOY and Alice Hom. I never thought just talking with people [would] be this great and that I would learn so much. I really enjoyed talking about the concept of space and that as Hmong Queer, we have the opportunity to create Queer space where ever we go!”
The final topic of the evening centered on SOY’s current leadership transition and the short-term and future direction of the organization. Everyone chimed in with their different perspectives and opinions based on their connection, history, and roles with SOY. The next steps include creating more opportunities to have larger gatherings to continue the dialogue and to bring interested people together who want to do the work of maintaining and sustaining SOY because it is a valuable resource for the Hmong LGBTQ community and to ally communities.
Chong Moua, a SOY staff member, summed it up, “It was good to know that SOY is not the only organization that goes through challenges, change, and transitions. Discussing our specific concerns and having the opportunity to share our ideas and thoughts connected everyone, board, staff, and constituents, on a deeper level. Having this understanding regrounded everyone back to the same starting point. I am reassured, hopeful, and excited for all the opportunities ahead!”
Please come and support one of SOY’s signature events, SOY New Year celebration, this Saturday, February 26th.
Buasavanh Banquet Hall
7324 Lakeland Ave N, Brooklyn Park, MN 55428.
Doors Open at 3 pm
Open-Mic and After Party at 9 pm
For more information, please see http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/157121
Congratulations to our friends at the South Asian Network on your 20th Anniversary!
The Journey to Justice Continues…
Come celebrate with South Asian Network on October 23rd and continue the journey with us to justice! Join us with invited speaker Kiran Ahuja, a performance by Shyamala Moorty, and special presentations journeying through SAN’s past years and the years to come.
Event info > http://san20thanniversary.eventbrite.com/?ref=ecount
Adoptee Perspective in the Social Justice Movement
(The Asian adoptee community was highlighted at our recent OFP convening – written by Margie Andreason, Program and Administrative Associate in Minnesota.)
The Organizational Fellowship Program (OFP) organizations from both California and Minnesota were recently brought together to discuss how to strengthen social justice movement-building efforts. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota was the site for the convening. The “Twin Cities” have a unique Asian and immigrant population and a rich history of organizing communities of color. Minnesota is also home to over 30,000 Asian adoptees and is the highest concentration of adoptees in the U.S.
Yours truly was asked to give context for the Asian adoptee community here in Minnesota. We rarely hear about the adoptee community in larger Asian American contexts so I appreciated the opportunity to share my perspective to a bus jam-packed with new and veteran social justice activists. The challenge to the group was to expand our understanding of “Asian American” experiences and to place ourselves from the adoptee standpoint so we could look at social justice work from a new angle.
A theme that continues to bubble up in our dialogues on social justice movement-building is “power.” As one OFP participant put it, “Power analysis needs to be ongoing and collective to keep us nimble.” Power dynamics play out in the services for adoptees as well. We have a number of nonprofits and social networks that are led by adoptees. There are also a variety of culture camps led mostly by adoptive parents. Minnesota is home to some of the largest adoption agencies and these are led by professional social workers. I mention who’s leading the different services because it matters in how each work with the adoptee community. Many agencies for example work from the same common mentality of adoption that larger society has –the “save those poor children” view. This mind-set is disempowering and patronizing, especially when we’re not children anymore.
To highlight this attitude in current issues, all you have to do is look at how the world reacted to the Haiti earthquake. Our solution to “saving the Haiti children” was by taking them away. Why not give the money that would have gone to adoption instead to the families or work on building the social welfare infrastructure? Why do we think we’re being good heroic people when we separate families?
The images on TV right after the Haiti earthquake calling for us to adopt, remind me of very similar images of children from Korea and Vietnam during the wars. It’s a reminder that when you look at international adoption history, including the ebbs and flows and where the children are being adopted from at different times in our history, it’s very much related to war and colonialism. Adoption history mirrors the history of white imperialism. It’s the same history of refugee Diaspora and is ultimately the history of all of us, as Americans.
The story of how we became American is something we can all share. I think the best way for me to talk about Asian adoptee issues is by sharing my own experience and analysis growing us as an adoptee, being a mentor to others and from working with adoptee orgs. It has shaped my identity as an Asian American and as a woman of color.
I was adopted when I was 2 ½ years old from Daegu, South Korea and grew up in a white suburb of North St. Paul. My Norwegian and Italian parents tell me stories of how my sister (not birth-related) and I would sing “Twinkle-Twinkle” only I’d be singing it in Korean and my sister would be singing along in English. I was too young to remember this but I do have some vivid snippets whirling around in my head of other moments…
The racist incidences are well known in other communities of color but the challenges of being isolated and dealing with racism from even within your own family and close friends makes it harder for adoptees, especially when you grow up and identify as “white.”
Growing up I felt more comfortable in a room crammed of white people than in one of Asians. I couldn’t really relate to the refugee immigrant experience that some of my Vietnamese and Chinese friends talked about. I also recognized my privilege growing up in a middle-class white family. At the same time, I felt marginalized by those in the Asian community because of the stigma around being adopted. Addressing this stigma is the cultural change work that I believe the adoptee community needs to do within our families and friends, and within the Asian community, larger society and in our birth countries.
While there are many things wrong with adoption policy including the incredible lack of accountability, it’s not good enough to just work on ending all international adoption. It doesn’t stop the number of children who are given up due to social, economic, and political reasons. It doesn’t address how thousands of girls are denied the right to live because they happened to be born female. Just doing policy work won’t stop these cultural practices because all the issues, some as specific as adoption, are all influenced by the racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia imbedded in our culture and how it becomes normalized. This is why I think social justice work is about cultural change and that what we work on is to un-normalize peoples’ thinking and being in the world.
In sharing my story and perspective with the OFP groups, I wrapped up by asking these API social justice organizations to think about these two questions:
1) How do you define your communities? Do you know how many adoptees you work with and or organize and are you intentional in how you work with them?
2) How do we take into consideration the complexity of Asian American identity? If you organize with only a racial-lens, how is that inclusive to the lived experiences of adoptees, Hapa and other mixed racial identities? How do we ensure the bringing of our whole selves in doing the work?
My words are not meant to make you feel sorry for me but to think about the perspective of adoptees in the social justice movement and give adoption a political lens to see it through. I want us to think about you and I as change agents and be able to hear the truth of experiences of those in our communities. For continuing to question our assumptions and challenge power systems is the ongoing work that is needed for us to organize better collectively and for the social justice movement to thrive.
*Thanks for reading and feel free to comment here or email me your thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Earlier this year, NGEC’s 12 OFP cohort organizations convened in New Orleans and met community leaders from VAYLA-NO, Father Vien from Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, and S. Leo Chiang (the director of A Village Called Versailles).
Check out the great post below via 8Asians.com about Monday’s AAPI Heritage Month celebration at the White House which featured Father Vien.
This past Monday, President Obama hosted a reception at the White House celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Amongst the honored guests was Father Vien of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans, who was profiled in an excellent documentary which I saw earlier this year at a film festival called A Village Called Versailles. The film, which is part of PBS’s Independent Lens series, will be airing this Tuesday, May 25th on PBS and follows the Vietnamese American community awakening politically in the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina. Now, Father Vien and others are fighting another crisis in New Orleans. The BP oil spill has hugely impacted the Southeast Asian/Vietnamese American fishermen who make up 35-45% of the fishing industry along the Gulf Coast.
Read more about our OFP Convening in New Orleans.