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Meet the Hmong Woman Now: Linda Thao, founder of HWN

“…being a Hmong woman also means I get to break all the barriers that were made to prevent me from standing out, from becoming phenomenal, from empowering other women, and from becoming who I want to be instead of who they’ve decided I should be.”

I have been blessed with a family of ten, my husband, and two little boys.  I have especially been fortunate to grow in a land where opportunities are bountiful. With the privileges I have been given I earned my BA in Liberal Studies, my Teaching Credentials, and my MA in Education minoring in Curriculum and Instruction at CSU Fresno.  I currently work as a middle school science teacher with a variety of young & amazing teenagers.  I absolutely love working with the youth of our community which makes setting my long-term goal a difficult task.  I wish to pursue my Doctorate in Education, however, I also wish to provide a safe haven for troubled youth in our community. My hope as an educator is to provide a temporary home for students while providing education.  I believe knowledge is the single most powerful tool we are gifted with and can use to better our circumstances.  Therefore we must continue to feed our knowledge to discover and utilize our full potential.

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The individual that I am today attributes to my sex and identity: a Hmong Woman. Being a woman is not easy and being particularly Hmong does not make it easier.  As Hmong people we know the patriarchal structure of our community: men are superior to women.  Yet, I have not allowed this traditional belief to stop me from becoming the person I am today. Being a Hmong Woman is a gift. Women are powerful and have traits that are extremely desirable.  When a woman have learned to value who she is, she can overcome any adversity.

It took me more than 20 years to acknowledge my value as a Hmong Woman, but when I discovered that value I set foot on a path allowing me to guide others to learn of their value. My determination to help youth to recognize their competency inspired me to become an educator.  Education is not and should not only be acquired through school.  Education can be obtained through multiple outlets.  I encourage everyone to continue to seize knowledge through reading, searching, visiting valuable resources, taking classes, and asking questions. Knowledge allows a person to become mobile.

As an educator, I believe we cannot ever learn enough to stop learning.  Learning is a life-long process and if we are disciples of learning we must receive and serve.  As an educator, I continue to learn everyday from my own students and from other individuals.  During my career as an educator there has been and continue to exist a multitude of learning opportunities.  I get to learn of stories many people do not know of.  I get to delve deep into the stories of children who come to my class everyday even when there home does not exist.  I get to see children blossom and learn to utilize their potential to the fullest.  I get to know stories extremely heartbreaking, capable of dismantling an adult. These stories are most significant in my career and are reasons why I continue to be an educator.  It is not about what they will learn with me, but what I can do with the time I’m given in order for them to discover their potential and value knowledge.  It is when they have developed a love for obtaining knowledge that they will start to learn in school and use that knowledge to change their perspective and circumstances.

Becoming the educator I am today was never easy.  The most challenging part during the earlier fragments of my career was finding the right resources.  I did not have the support to guide me in the right direction.  I walked with blind faith, believing the courses I took and the expectations from my university would lead me to become the individual I am today.  I am not sure if I would be where I am if it weren’t for the amazing individuals who coincidentally walked into my life. Each person would later provide information and resources guiding me towards the right direction.  Their guidance helped me to step out of my comfort zone and took chances that would later challenge but helped me to grow exponentially.  It was extremely challenging during my undergrad because I was just not confident enough and was just not knowledgeable enough to navigate alone.  Therefore, I encourage everyone to seek knowledge with confidence.  Do not be afraid others will question your intelligence, your capabilities, and potential because no matter what you do, people will question you.  I was fortunate to have met individuals who were generous enough to share valuable resources even when I was afraid to ask.  Not everyone will be as willing to share and help and not everyone will be as fortunate as myself to find such generous people.  Therefore, go forward confidently and ask questions when you are lost.  If I would have known then, I would have went forward and ask all the questions I held back.

“Never find the easier way out because as a result you will reach the end but will be absolutely clueless. Instead, tackle the most challenging course head-on and come out more informative  and prepared than ever.”

There are many resources available to all of us.  We are just not cognizant of it.  One of the greatest resource I had during both my undergrad and graduate degrees was the academic counselor.  Being an introvert I avoided having to ever ask people for help and always trusted in myself, even when I didn’t have the answer.  When I finally built enough courage to seek guidance from the academic counselor that was when I found clarification.  It was then when I stepped towards the right direction with confidence.  I extremely encourage everyone to ask and ask and keep on asking questions until you find the solution.  And when you cannot find the answer from people, look on the web – one of the most powerful supplementary resource.  I have turned to the internet on multiple occasions to find answers, even today as an educator I still find myself searching the web to find answers for my students.  Never stop asking questions because they build your knowledge and when your knowledge grows you become closer to becoming who you were made to be. Never find the easier way out because as a result you will reach the end but will be absolutely clueless. Instead, tackle the most challenging course head-on and come out more informative  and prepared than ever.

Before I end my blog entry, I would like to touch up on what it means to be a Hmong woman. For myself being a Hmong woman means it will not, maybe never, be easy.  It means people will stare, people will criticize, people will envy, & people will attempt to make me believe I was made to do one thing and that one thing is to put myself last.  However, being a Hmong woman also means I get to break all the barriers that were made to prevent me from standing out, from becoming phenomenal, from empowering other women, and from becoming who I want to be instead of who they’ve decided I should be.  Being a Hmong woman means we get to overcome never-ending adversities but each time that we do, we become a heroine, “a woman who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.”

Linda Thao

Footnote: heroine. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved June 10, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/heroine

Meet the Hmong Woman Now: Miss Hmong Central Valley, Mary Vang

“Peb ib lo lus zoo, nws yuav cawm tau ib tug neeg txoj sia. Peb ib lo lus phem, nws yuav txho tau ib tug neeg txoj sia.”

My name is Mary Vang and I am a mental health clinician. I am also your Miss Hmong Central Valley, 2017 residing in Fresno, California. My educational background is Counseling with an emphasis in Marriage, Family and Child. My long-term goal is to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and continue my education towards a Doctorate degree in Psychology.

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Photo Credit: Stephen E. Chang

I was inspired/motivated to enter the pageant due to my passion to help our Hmong community regarding Mental Health, particularly Depression. At a very young age, I knew I wanted to help individuals/families in crisis. During the pageant competition, I spoke of how our Hmong culture address individuals with depression. In the Hmong culture, there is hesitation to seek help outside the family due to shame. When individuals who are depressed have no safe outlets, over time it could lead to detrimental consequences: drugs and alcohol abuse, suicide, homicide, marital conflict, etc. These uprising concerns in our community inspired me to talk about Depression during the pageant.

A significant event in my career was my first counseling course in graduate school. As mandatory classroom participation, students had to take turns being a client, then a counselor. The whole purpose as the client was to confront our personal struggles as it will enable us to become effective counselors. The experience was emotionally draining but quite an epiphany. I discovered the value of empathy: the ability to understand or feel what others are feeling. It’s easy to judge because it’s difficult to understand. The problem with judging is that we create a world that is so limited.

People who are depressed feel limited, like there is no hope in life getting better. This is why depression is so dangerous. When people feel hopeless, they tend to self soothe with the use of drugs, self-harm activities, committing suicide and/or even committing homicide. During my platform round for the pageant I stated, “Peb ib lo lus zoo, nws yuav cawm tau ib tug neeg txoj sia. Peb ib lo lus phem, nws yuav txho tau ib tug neeg txoj sia.” Meaning that we should empathize, as our words/action can play such a pivotal role in a person’s life.

One of the most difficult part of my career is finding balance. As a counselor and now, Miss Hmong Central Valley, I want to give so much of me but I realized I tend to neglect myself and the people I love. In counseling we call this “self-care”, in order to care for others one must care for oneself first.

Anyone is welcome to contact me personally through my email misshmongmaryvaj@gmail.com or my public Facebook page @MissMaryVaj for any assistance. Other than myself, utilize social media to outreach and network with people who shares the same passion as you. Expand your horizon by constantly learning and challenging yourself through reading, attending classes/trainings and consulting with peers and experts. Most importantly, have compassion and courage. Stay humble, work hard and give wholeheartedly.

“Most importantly, have compassion and courage. Stay humble, work hard and give wholeheartedly.”

Being a Hmong woman means strength. Hmong women are strong, compassionate and resilient. Not only are our physical body made to be resilient through child-bearing, our mind are resilient as well. We are only as strong as we choose to be.

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Photo Credit: Cynthia Xiong, Hairstylist: Jenny Lee

Meet the Hmong Woman Now: Mai See Xiong

“…even though I am a woman, I can be as good as a man…”

– Mai See Xiong

Meet Mai See Xiong, an alumna from BYU Idaho.  She received her BS in Nursing and is currently serving her community as a registered nurse (RN) in the oncology unit in the Huntsman Cancer Institute located in the University of Utah.

I had the pleasure to introduce Mai See in an interview to our audience.  During the interview we were able to discover the challenges and triumphs she encountered during the course of her career.   Mai See talked about the remedies she practiced to help her overcome some of the adversities and gave advice to other students who are in the middle of pursuing their career. I welcome you to watch the interview below.

“…never, never never ever go into anything with the attitude of ‘I know I’m going to fail already, because you self-fulfill that prophecy.”

Meet the Hmong Woman Now: Ying Thao

“..remember that we are the Hmong Women of Today, and are the voices and role models for our youths.”

Both my parents wDS8I2760ere refugees who settled in the United States in 1989, where I was born. My parents as did most Hmong parents, were faced with cultural clashes, some of which continue to be barriers to their acculturation. Thus, developing trust in Western society was a challenge of my parents leading up to their strict rules for my siblings and I. Juggling both the Hmong and Western culture has helped me mold my very own idea of what the norm is, being who we are despite the influences of culture and pursuing our dreams despite them being “eccentric”. My name is Ying Thao, eldest daughter and third oldest of eight. I am a Registered Nurse in medical surgical at Community Regional Medical Center and a Psychology Instructor at Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts, Fresno, Ca. I am expecting to graduate this May 2017 with my Masters of Nursing in Family Nurse Practitioner Option. My long-term goal is to pursue my Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Certificate and continue onto the Doctoral Nursing Program where I can expand my research.

My parents are my motivation to pursue this career path. I can recall feeling so helpless as a child watching my father struggle with his numerous medical conditions; language being one of the main barriers to accessing medical care. I remember having to translate for my parents and other Hmong parents along the way who were also faced with the same issues. The struggles of our Hmong parents have inspired me to become a provider and an advocate for the Hmong community.

A significant event during my career in which I have learned the most from involved interactions with other providers. I have learned that one of the most important trait to have is to always be humble. As we grow from our novice to expert roles, we must not forget how it was like to be a student, a new graduate on the job and simply trying to learn. One of the worst things we can do as experienced professionals is to shut down an aspiring individual who is working to be in our shoes. Let us be humble role-models and encourage the youths of our community.

The most difficult part of my career is mental health. Many of our Hmong parents are refugees with traumatic experiences and suffer from mental health disorders such as depression. As with all societies, there is a stigma to mental health, discouraging individuals from seeking care, and leading to many being undiagnosed.

Nursing is such an exciting career
! I would say that it is almost impossible to be bored as a nurse as it is one of the most diverse health-related profession there is. Nursing is challenging yet rewarding. I would say to our youths who aspire to pursue nursing to be confident in themselves. Careers exist because it is possible to achieve them! During my second year in college as I was trying to get into the nursing program, I remember chasing down whomever were wearing blue scrubs (nursing students) trying to obtain as much resources as I could. The advices that I received from these random nursing students were probably the best advices that I ever got as a student trying to pursue my career as a nurse. Do not be afraid to ask for advice.17972288_1191542717624753_6635706363990827197_o

Being an American Hmong women to me means advocating for myself and for those who does not have the voiceto do so. It is being able to challenge the cultural norm as we seek out opportunities and living up to our own standards and
not that of anyone else’s. It is important to remember that we are the Hmong
Women of Today, and are the voices and role models for our youths.

Ying Thao