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

3 thoughts on “Meet the Hmong Women Now: Pachia Vang”

  1. Hi sister, I am glad to see that you take this unique path. I am also a Hmong daughter who came from Laos. I am, too, hoping to go back to Laos one day to educate our Hmong people, regarding health issues. I will follow you as you continue on with this interesting journey.

    Ta

    Like

  2. You are an amazing person. Thanks for sharing pieces of your journey and the steps you had to take to be who you are today.

    I am looking forward to seeing your work one day in the museums or educational institutions that will finally build a foundation to capture the history of the Hmong community for the future generations.

    Like

  3. Could you contact me? I have a padded embroidered jacket that I would like to restore to the woman who embroidered it or her family or and appropriate cultural group. It was done by this woman:

    That Neng Vue of Sacramento. I bought it at a food and craft fair in the mid 90’s. I can send you photos.

    Like

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