Meet the Hmong Women Now: Pachia Vang

“When we believe in people’s best intentions, that is when we can break the boundaries that keep us boxed in from learning more about our own potential and power together.”

10401439_10154138471980142_4895074398587829494_nHello, my name is Pachia Lucy Vang. I’m 26 years old, born and raised in Sacramento, California where I also spent a lot of my time in Fresno and in the Bay Area. I am the oldest of five and consider myself a daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, and super-aunt. In my free time, I love watching documentaries, appreciating art, cooking different kinds of food, studying myths and legends, do-it-yourself projects, and mindful fashion. Today, I am a Hmong textile researcher currently living and working in Laos, curating an exhibit on the diversity of Hmong people as seen through their clothing.

I’d like to take you guys back to my high school years and share my experience as a young student. Whenever looking back on my high school experience, I feel really nostalgic because it was such an amazing time of growth. I was part of an honors program called the Humanities and International Studies Program (H.I.S.P.), which taught high school curriculum from an international perspective. This gave me a different way of thinking about the world’s diversity. This early education was extremely important to my personal development because it introduced me to my love of knowledge, my curiosity for people, and my ability to think critically.

Some of my greatest accomplishments included:

  • Completing my Junior project in literature about Jack Kerouac and his impact on the social revolutions of the 60s and 70s in America.
  • Winning Junior Prom Princess
    Being a part of “Hmong Women Circle” which was a youth program run through Hmong
  • Women Heritage that gave us a space to talk about Hmong identity
  • Organizing an event called Project Diversity that addressed ethnic tensions related to gang violence on campus

Some of my greatest accomplishments outside of school included:

  • My eclectic thrift-store closet
  • Being an active member of the graphic design community on the K-Pop Soompi Forums
  • Keeping a blog with my best friend in which we ranted about school projects, college applications, fashion, food, and Asian pop culture.

When college came around, I turned down an offer from the university of my first choice to attend community college. I made this decision, because I didn’t know what I wanted to study yet and thought it would be better to complete my general education at a lower cost. This didn’t disappointed me. I paid only $12 a semester and received a quality education seeking out extremely good professors who cared about me and my peers.This was achieved through extensive research on sites like RateMyProfessor.com! (Which if you are in community college, I would definitely recommend.) I knew that I wanted to study culture so I decided I would try out Anthropology and fell in love immediately! What I appreciated most about Anthropology was how vast and interconnected it
was. There are four fields: Social-Cultural Anthropology, Biological or Physical Anthropology, Archaeology, and Linguistics. It was a basic requirement to complete one introductory class in each field and after doing so I found that Social-Cultural Anthropology spoke to me the most. I enjoyed how theoretical this branch was and how it presented important frameworks to help me understand people and human phenomenon.

Although I wasn’t as involved on campus in community college, I payed a lot of attention to resources that were relevant to me. I knew I wanted to transfer to a university, so I applied to a transfer experience program at UC Berkeley and got in! We were taken to the university on an overnight trip where we participated in special workshops and trainings which taught us what admission counselors were looking for. I fell in love with the support they offered transferred students, so I told myself I would apply when the time came. After religiously following my community college’s study abroad website for over year, a special opportunity came up for a fully-funded exchange program to South Korea. Although I was hesitant because I thought I wouldn’t get in, I applied anyways, pouring my heart and soul into the essay about what an international learning experience would mean for me. I talked about my passion for cultures (especially theirs) along with my aspirations to become a leading anthropologist one day. To my delight, I got in!

When it came time to apply for UC Berkeley, I used this same method and was admitted for the Fall of 2012. My time at UC Berkeley was a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. Often called “the #1 public university in the world,” UC Berkeley is ranked alongside some of the best ivy league schools in the nation. In my first year, I became a full-on Anthropology student taking advantage of some of the most interesting classes I had ever seen: folklore, religion, psychology, art, power and energy? There were so many new ideas I was exposed to and I got quickly involved with multiple jobs at the ethnic studies library, in the East Asian archaeology lab, and with the Anthropology museum.

In my second year, I became a part of the Asian-Pacific-Islander (API) student community on campus through my membership with the Hmong Student Association at Berkeley (HSAB). Although I had always found my own culture to be fascinating, it wasn’t until I became a part of HSAB that my involvements with the Hmong community grew. After becoming an officer, I created “The Generational Face Project” which was my first introduction to community engagement. This kind of organizational work, eventually helped me meet a young shaman who introduced me to the healing powers of paj ntaub that sparked my interest in writing a thesis. An undergraduate thesis is long research paper focused on a statement or theory that is supported by factual examples. It is usually something done for a master’s degree program and is not a requirement for a bachelor’s degree. I wanted to do it, however, to challenge myself. The topic of my thesis focused on paj ntaub and how it has been used as a “tool” by the Hmong to
hold onto identity and culture through oppression and forced migration. The factual examples I provided were rooted in Hmong oral history and traditions, standing up against western standards that shape the way we invalidate and forget our elder’s knowledge. This endeavor, as you can imagine, was quite difficult it.

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Most people told me I made no sense and I had a hard time communicating my ideas to my thesis advisor. Often, I found his suggestions to conflict with what I wanted my thesis to be and in the end I was confused about whether I had even completed the thesis properly. What I learned from this experience, however, is that brains and ideas need time to develop. Your brain doesn’t fully develop until your late twenty’s. At the time, it was so difficult comprehending and organizing these big ideas I was just learning and I didn’t know why. Looking back now I see, that aside from my brain not being fully developed, there were still many pieces of information I was missing that I just needed more time for. Another thing I learned from this is that sometimes you just have to say no. There were a lot of challenges I was facing in my personal life.

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With only two years at a university, trying to do as much as I could with campus involvements, work, school, and writing a 60-page thesis was a lot to manage. It wore me out and really made me question whether or not I was successful when I had already done so much! Although I graduated with honors for completing my thesis, I wondered if I really deserved it for a long time. After a lot of reflection I’ve realized that it’s important to stay positive about hard times because “in darkness, comes light…” It is only from these most difficult times that I’ve gained the mental and spiritual strength I need to do the people-centered work I do today.

Many Anthropology students, like myself, study with the notion to become professors and researchers. There are, however, many other ways you can use your anthropology degree through “Applied Anthropology.” I, for one, have worked in various fields including sales, marketing, refugee resettlement, museums, and community organizations where I applied the theories I learned in Anthropology to think critically about solutions for the challenges I faced in the workplace. With this in mind, its important to remember that with any major, your classroom experiences cultivate your mind to be successful in all the different jobs you may encounter while working towards your bigger dreams and goals.

To visualize my goals after college, I created a vision board where I put images of all the things I wanted to have in my life within the next five years. Looking back on that board now, it’s amazing to see how much I have accomplished and how strangely relevant some of the random things I put on there are to my upcoming horizon. This year my goals are to continue with my research on Hmong textiles, making more of that information accessible for the community online.

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Being a Hmong Woman Now means letting go of all of the heavy things from your past, to be present for the best version of yourself today! This is something I say with great conviction, because it is how I have found clarity in my life to pursue the things that make me happy. To aspiring students and women in the Hmong community, never give up on yourself and listen to those around you with a positive mind. I think it’s easy to feel like people are not supportive and critical. It becomes a habit to work alone and compare ourselves to others. However, I have experienced that when we believe in people’s best intentions, that is when we can break the boundaries that keep us boxed in from learning more about our own potential and power together.

To connect with me please feel free to email me at plkvang@gmail.com

Meet the Hmong Women Now: Tia Moua, Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen

“I don’t need a crown and banner that says I am “Miss America’s Outstanding Teen” to treat people with kindness, to serve others in my community, or to make a positive impact on others.”

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Hello! My name is Tia Moua. I am a determined and driven 16 year old from Spokane, Washington. I am the first Hmong-American state titleholder in the Miss America Organization as Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen 2017. I was so honored to represent Hmong people and Washington state on the national stage at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant in Orlando, Florida where I received the “Spirit of America” award along with many other college scholarships. I am also a competitive dancer and have had a passion for dancing since I began at the age of nine. I love performing dances, teaching dance to children, and volunteering! I am part of the National Honor Society at my high school and am a Running Start Student at Eastern Washington University. I aspire to be a legislator for foreign policy and international affairs or a US Ambassador because I believe it’s important to maintain good relationships with other countries and would like to promote a positive image of our country.

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As Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen, my platform is Volunteerism: Giving Your Time and Talents, because I have a huge passion for volunteering! I enjoy volunteering for several organizations such as Make A Wish, the American Childhood Cancer Organization, JDRF for Type 1 Diabetes, the Children’s Miracle Network and more. I have collected food, school supplies and diapers at several drives, taught dances to at-risk youth, volunteered at live auctions, and more. I chose this platform because there are many great benefits from volunteering. Serving your community has many health benefits because you forget about your own troubles by thinking of other people instead. Also, it gives you so much joy and satisfaction to know you are positively impacting your community. You can check out VolunteerMatch.org for volunteer opportunities in your area! Simply giving your time and talents to help others can leave a lasting impact on your community and is so powerful in influencing other people’s lives.

Tia Moua 3My main source of inspiration is my heritage. I am inspired by the Hmong culture because in my perspective, we are taught to always lend a helping hand and to support others. In fact, seeing the giving hearts of many Hmong people in my community helped me choose my platform on volunteerism. I was extremely grateful for the tremendous support I received from the Hmong community on my journey towards the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen national pageant! In addition, I am inspired by the fact that my parents (who are former refugees from Laos) came to America as young children knowing no English at all. But through their perseverance and hard work, my father was able to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology and my mother obtained a master’s degree in social work. I was born in America, so to me, this gives me no excuse to not chase after my wildest dreams and support those who are less fortunate. It also encourages me to work hard in my education so I can have a successful future. I am a 4.3 GPA student and have high expectations for myself, probably due to the fact that I believe in making no excuses, just as my parents did.

One of the most significant moment during my pageant career was when I competed at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen and did not win the national title. Although I did not win the title, I learned some of the most important life lessons from my preparation leading to the pageant and from not winning. I had spent many months prior to the pageant preparing for its four phases of competition – interview, talent, fitness, and onstage question and evening gown. Every day for months, I rehearsed my talent, which was a sassy jazz dance. I participated in many mock interviews with panels of judges, my family members, and neighbors to improve my interview and speaking skills. They asked me a variety of impromptu questions about my hobbies, foreign policy, current events, my ambitions, and more. I walked for hours in my high heels that I was going to wear onstage and practiced walking in my evening gown. I worked with a personal trainer who helped me improve my eating habits and gave me exercises that would help me achieve my fitness goals. I dreamed of becoming Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. But not becoming the national titleholder helped me realize something that I still apply to my life today: I don’t need a crown and banner that says I am “Miss America’s Outstanding Teen” to treat people with kindness, to serve others in my community, or to make a positive impact on others. Through this experience, I learned that I did not need a title to validate my worth. I could not base who I was as a person on five judge’s opinions and scores. I discovered that I am enough, despite not winning the crown. In the end, it is not the crown that defines me, but the person who I become and my character that really matters. I also discovered along the way, through the countless hours rehearsing my dance, many challenging mock interviews, and late nights spent working out, I had become a better version of myself and reached past my limits of what I thought I was capable of.

IMG_7066aFor that, I am so grateful for the Miss America Organization and the Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen Organization. In addition, I was so excited to walk away with a full ride to the University of Alabama and a $1000 scholarship for being voted on by my fellow contestants as the nicest contestant, so I received the “Spirit of America” award also recognized as “Miss Congeniality!” It just goes to show that it pays to be nice – literally! I am still am in disbelief that I got the phenomenal opportunity to walk across that national stage, proudly representing Washington and exclaiming my Hmong pride into the microphone each night during my introduction.

One of the most challenging part of my career as a titleholder, dancer, and student, is balancing my busy schedule of school, twelve dance classes per week, pageant appearances, my social life, and sleeping. This year has certainly challenged me in this aspect, but I have learned to organize myself more through checking my calendar daily, communicating with my parents and siblings who help drive me to and from dance classes/ appearances, and prioritizing. This also means knowing that I must make sacrifices at times, such as not attending a family road-trip because I have a weekend-long dance competition, or attending a pageant appearance rather than hanging out with friends. But I always remember to be grateful for the great opportunities that come my way because every experience has shaped me and helped me grow as an individual.

I am eternally grateful to all the people who supported me along my journey and who helped make this experience of a lifetime possible. I am very proud to be a Hmong woman! I especially am honored to be representing Hmong people in an American pageant system because it is a reminder that we Hmong women are capable of anything and have the same possibilities as any other American to achieve great accomplishments if we put our mind to it. I encourage you all to embrace who you are and to remember your roots. Being Hmong-American, I have had to learn to embrace both Hmong and American cultures. Also, stand up for what you believe is right because you have a powerful tool which you can use to change the world – your voice. Additionally, don’t be afraid to go after your wildest dreams, because life is too short to not aim for your highest potential. 

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Throughout my life, an important thing I have learned is that anything worthwhile takes sacrifice and a lot of time and effort. You may not see the results right away, but do not give up and eventually your dedication and efforts will be rewarded. It took me almost a decade later after I started my pageant journey to achieve my goal of becoming Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen. This was after many years of acting and modeling classes, coaching by my mother (shout out to my number one supporter!), and several pageants where I placed as a runner up or sometimes did not even place at all. However, if you have a dream and set your mind to it, it is definitely possible. Keep a positive mind set and keep on persisting! Also, wake up each day being grateful. Thank those people in your life who have helped you along your journey and who continue to support you. Lastly, remember that the world is full of endless possibilities so don’t just dream your life, but live your dreams.

Contact info: Feel free to contact me through Instagram at “maoteenwa” or “itstiamoua” and follow my Facebook page “MWAOTeen” for updates on my journey as Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen! Or you can email me at tmua1234@hotmail.com for any questions or appearance requests. Thank you for reading!