Why I'm Still Single

Photo by Pa Chia Xiong Photography

Photo by Pa Chia Xiong Photography

Somewhere along my life journey, I had undervalued the significance of a young child’s upbringing.

I thought that a human being’s life really started and mattered only when they became young adults. That anything before that is irrelevant, as childhood experiences are often forgotten and simply left in the past.

Boy was I wrong.

I know many of you reading my blog are young Hmong American women, pursuing your dreams, cultivating friendships, navigating multiple roles, and...falling in love.

Falling in love.

That sounds so heavenly, yom?

Peach blossoms.
Pink champagne.
Fluffy clouds.
The works.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and this month where many of my Hmong sisters are celebrating #selflove, I felt it was time to share my thoughts on romantic love as a Hmong American woman.


Pagnia and _____ sitting in the tree
First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes baby in the baby carriage…


Growing up as a little girl, getting teased by others with this song made me giggle and have a little hope for romance. As embarrassing as it was, I loved the idea of romance.

But romance was just an idea.

As a young child, I often heard stories of uncles abusing aunts. Uncles cheating on aunts.

I remember sitting next to my younger cousin who was crying on the steps of my grandparents’ house, while hearing her parents fight inside.

I remember witnessing elders negotiate and deliberate a broken marriage between an aunt and uncle, and the way the aunt stood in silence with numb sadness on her face.

Although I was only a little girl, I could feel the pain, the tears, and the sadness in all these lives. I took on this pain. 

As I grew up, these memories never faded and I unconsciously learned that there is no romance in marriage.

There is no romance in marriage.

And being that I’d been raised to become a nyab, this was going to be my life too, one day.

It didn’t matter how many times I got an ‘A’ on my report card. Most of my worth, determined by the adults in my life, came from being compared to female cousins, friends, and even my own sisters.

How well do I cook?
How early do I get up?
How hardworking am I?
How well can I speak to elders, in Hmong?

Being a nyab meant I would be married. And marriage has no romance, remember?

So as I got older, I associated all of this with pain. And I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.

I put marriage on the back burner, and instead, simply pursued romance. I could at least achieve that, right?

11-year-old Pagnia

11-year-old Pagnia

But I discovered that I had unconsciously come to believe that so much of the pain I saw in those marriages were caused by men.

The numb sadness on my aunt’s face.

The tears flooding my younger cousin’s.

I had indirectly learned that women are not safe in marriages. If I were to marry a man, I would not be protected by him. I would need to protect myself, and the best way to do that is to remain single. I can date, but I can never go further than that.

This unconscious belief has haunted me since I was a little girl. And I know it's not a good belief to hold on to, 'cause goodness, lub ntuj yeej paub how much pain it's caused.

Today, I am reminded of how powerful the messages I received as a little girl by the adults in my childhood are for me in making important life decisions as an adult Hmong American woman.

And more importantly, I realize how necessary it is for every little girl to see healthy relationships in her life...because I know that little girl in me is still protecting herself.


YOUR TURN! What experiences as a young child have shaped your views on romantic relationships? Do you know a couple who is #relationshipgoals? What wisdom would they share with us?

Until next time...

Dream BIG,

The Music Experience That Had Me In tears


One of you asked:

What is the best experience you’ve ever had?

I’ve been blessed with many, but the first one that came to mind takes me back to 2007.

My sister, Pa Kou was born on April Fool’s Day. It’s so fitting, because Pa Kou adds quite the spice to my life. (If only you knew.) I love that woman.

In our music history as sisters, I'm Team Celine and she’s Team Christina.

Pa Kou and me at Ho'opika Beach Park, Maui. December 2017.

Pa Kou and me at Ho'opika Beach Park, Maui. December 2017.

So in April 2007, I gifted Pa Kou tickets to see Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics concert at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We were both undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it was perfect timing that Christina would be playing nearby during Pa Kou’s birthday month.

At the time, I was a new recording artist who’d just released a debut album, Nyob Ib Sab, nine months earlier. I didn’t understand music composition. I didn’t understand how to properly work with a microphone in the recording booth. 

All I understood was how to sing.

On April 20th, Pa Kou and I sat in our arena seats patiently waiting for Christina to come on. The entire arena became dark. Naturally, the crowd screamed.

And then in near silence, a spotlight fell upon a bright figure on stage. Suddenly, a voice pierced through the arena.

“Birds…flyin’ high…”

In all her glory and belly-bearing diamond hoodie, Nicole Scherzinger, the lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls, appeared.

“You know how I feel…
Sun in the sky…
You know how I feel....”

The vibrations of her vibrato went straight to my heart.

“Breeeeee...eee...eeeee...eee..eee...eee...eee...eee..eeze drifting on by…
You know how I feel...oooh...”

Steady, heart. Steady.

“Aaaaand...freedooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom...is a….miiiiiiine.”

A straight shot to the heart.
Tears jerked out in response.

“And IIIII know how I feel.”

By now, I was on the edge of my seat.
I wanted - no, I needed more.

“It’s a new dawn…it’s a new day...Milwaukee…”

The crowd finally lost it.

“It’s a new life for me,
Woah...woah...woah...woah wooooo….”

I thanked the arena gods for keeping the lights off.

“And I’m feeling...Milwaukee, y’all make me feeeeeeeeel….so gooooooooooooood.”

I pretended I had something in my eyes. I didn’t want anyone to see these tears.

And for the rest of the concert, I would go in search of the same feeling.

Pa Kou didn’t cry. I bet she’s reading this right now thinking, “Oh, I remember that performance. It was nice, but I didn’t feel anything.” (It’s ok. I still love you.) And you may be feeling the same too after this video.

As a lifelong singer and music lover, in any song or performance, my ear drums first go in search of the unique layers of a singer’s voice.

I listen for a story in her voice.
I listen for pain knotted in her voice.
I listen for love scents lingering in her voice.  

And Nicole Scherzinger’s voice alone, in that dark arena, where thousands were engulfed in the vibrations of her only sound, penetrated the heart of my soul. I heard the story, the pain knots, the love scents. It felt as if two eternal lovers had finally found each other...again.

That’s why, in any given (preferably dimly lit) performance, tears can fall from my eyes. It’s why this moment is one of the best music experiences I’ve ever had.

This experience reminded me that the voice, this instrument I've nurtured and learned to love since I was 10 years old, will forever tug at my heart in all directions.

The singing voice will forever have me.

And I’m grateful it’s part of why you’re here. Thank you.

Okay. You have me teary-eyed now. Good bye. 

YOUR TURN! Have you ever experienced a voice or sound that touched you so deeply? How does a voice impact how you listen to music or performances? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time...

Dream BIG,

Behind The "Ib Tiam" MV: Kong Lor


For nearly a decade now, there've been three Lor brothers from North Carolina who’ve been at the heart of my music career. They’ve given me more than a record deal on their label, Evolution Records Entertainment. They’ve believed in me since day one, supported my decisions, provided guidance when needed, nurtured my artistic growth; and most unexpectedly, they’ve shown me the beauty of the Hmong North Carolina community.

I am truly blessed.

So when it was time to bring my songs to life, I knew exactly who I could go to. Today, I’m excited to share an inspiring interview with the Kong Lor, the individual behind the Hluav Taws and Ib Tiam music videos and one of the most talented individuals I know.
It’s also his birthday TODAY! Enjoy!

PAGNIA: Hello and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Kong! It’s your BIG "3-0!"

KONG: Thank you!

PAGNIA: How are you doing and how do you feel?

KONG: Doing good! I feel young. I feel like I’m unstoppable.

PAGNIA: [laughs] Cool! That’s awesome. So most people know you as Kong from The Kong & Shu Project. But what they might not realize is how active and talented you are. You’re a music artist, a songwriter, a project coordinator, an event promoter, a community member, and a video creator. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t list everything here, but after receiving your graduate degree in graphic design in 2016, you’re now a full-time graphic designer as well. With all of these amazing talents, why video and film? What excites you about creating videos and films?

KONG: I believe it’s the fact that I get to tell stories. Whatever I do, I’ve always been a storyteller whether it’s promoting an event: trying to tell the story of why people should be there, you know, leading them up to the event. It’s telling a story. Making them believe that they should be there. Not only that, but storytelling through the arts whether if it’s through photography, graphic design, or video, I think that it’s important to preserve a part of time and really get my thoughts, to display my thoughts in a visual way. Like I have a lot of ideas, but you know, it’s always in my mind until I can actually turn it into life and also let other people see my vision and share my thoughts with the world.

PAGNIA: Yeah, that’s like the best part about being an artist, I think. ‘Cause I love seeing the creativity of an individual such as yourself. And then I love seeing just how your brain is working, because obviously what you’re sharing is how your mind has already envisioned it, which leads into another question for later. Actually, why don’t I just ask that question? So I remember telling you that there were shots from the Ib Tiam music video that moved me – meaning I wanted to stop and capture that moment, frame it, and then hang it up on my wall. What I’m trying to say is your shots were stunning. Do you have a favorite shot in this music video? How did you go about planning, creating, brainstorming, and bringing Ib Tiam to life?


KONG: I think that after the location scouting, right after that, I already knew what I was trying to go for as far as the look and feel. I did a little bit of planning here and there, but even with the short time there, I already knew what I needed to do in order to create those scenes, especially when it comes to lighting. I already know, going to it [the location], I already know where I need to shoot a particular scene in order to get that look and feel. So everything worked out. But as far as my favorite scene, I feel that the night scenes were really nice.

PAGNIA: Ahhh. Why?

KONG: I think although we didn’t have a lot of time and you know, we were kind of working against the clock, I think that’s something I like to do too – is work against the clock and try to get what I can in before the sun goes down or a particular time of the day.

PAGNIA: The challenges. You like the challenges.

KONG: So I like the challenges. I think it really pushes me to really think outside the box and you know, think quick, think on my feet. “Oh shoot! I gotta do this now, so I better capture it right now.”

PAGNIA: Yeah, kind of like, you know when – I didn’t even realize there was a light back out there [by the river] until it came on, right? And if we didn’t have that light, the night scenes wouldn’t have came out the way they came out.

KONG: Actually that light annoyed me.

PAGNIA: Oh! [laughs]

KONG: ‘Cause I was like, why does this light keep coming on? But I think that’s the beautiful part – just like what I said. It’s like whenever you’re put in a situation, you just got to make the best out of it. And when that light came on, I was annoyed and then when it came on a second time, I was like, “Oh shoot – we gotta use that light to light you up.”

PAGNIA: Yeah. All right, so you and I have worked together on my very first two original music videos, Hluav Taws and Ib Tiam. And you’ve also created other videos. What’s one of your favorite video projects and why?

KONG: I would say the interview with you - the interview video one.

PAGNIA: Oh, the Plhis Suab: The Story one.

KONG:I really enjoyed that one because it goes back to storytelling. I think it gave me a chance to really think about what you wanted and creating it my way of like how I envision it.

PAGNIA: How you could create something from someone else’s vision.

KONG: Yeah, kind of like that last scene in the video where you’re watching like the – your old video.

PAGNIA: Yeah, competitions.

KONG: Yeah, I think when you told me, I think that already popped up in my mind. What if we wrap it up where it comes back in a full circle? And it worked out.

PAGNIA: Yeah, I still love watching that even though we created it, it’s always so refreshing to go back and look at your previous work. ‘Cause A) you get to see how far you’ve come and B) wow - how your mind created it into life. I think that’s just incredible. So you know there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from fans all over the internet after the Ib Tiam music video was released. Now as the director, the cinematographer, why do you think that is?

KONG: I think because the video was so abstract. It gave everyone the opportunity to step into your shoes and see it from that perspective. I think going to this, I didn’t envision anything typical as in two lovers, you know, the guy lets the girl go and she thinks about it. I think what I wanted to do here was to challenge myself to use one character, which is you, and just let your emotions loose. And let it go all over the music video. And I think the challenge was to capture that. You know, just one person in a 3-4 minute music video and for the music video to still be interesting. Rather than like your typical storyline, because I think anybody can do that. But like, when you just have one character like that and you’re able to express your emotions, it’s kind of like yus saib tsis dhuav. It’s kind of like you want to watch it over and over again. There’s so much emotions where you become that person in the video. You know, you’re sitting at that couch, you’re sitting outside, you’re walking outside around the house. And at the end of the video, I wanted the audience to feel that “that was me” in that environment. And to feel like a sign of relief at the end, like the day’s over and I’ve gotten through it.

PAGNIA: Yeah. [sighs] I like how you just said that, because even I felt relief, just thinking about that scene in this moment, about how lub hnub poob lawm, tsaus ntuj lawm. It’s the end, you know. It’s relief. That’s a really powerful statement there. It’s interesting that you mentioned how you feel about just the challenge working with one character to tell the story. As you know, there were a few fans wondering why another character was not added to show more of the back story. Would you be able to add on? What’s your response to that?

KONG: It leaves everything open-ended, so it gets the audience, the viewers to also use their imagination. To really think about, “Oh shoot! What did happen?” You know, I saw a lot of people raise that question, but the good thing is that it allows those people to imagine, and it gives them a chance to imagine that the person in the video is their life. And then they start to use their own experiences. I think that’s the power of using one character and making the best out of it, because you know, you’re challenged to create a music video that actually makes sense and shows a lot of emotions. For those individuals who’s asking why there’s not a secondary character to tell the back story, it’s because their imagination is the second character.

PAGNIA: Ahhhh. Beautiful.


KONG: I think to make them wonder, I think that’s when you know, it’s a good music video. Because like you know, people are thinking about it. People are thinking about why isn’t the second character there. Because I don’t think that, like, watching the video and people are asking, “I wanted to see a guy break her heart.” It really doesn’t mean that it’s a guy that broke her heart. It could be that she lost someone, right? So I think that to let the audience run wild with their imagination, I think that’s the best gift, as a storyteller, that I can give to people.

PAGNIA: Right. You give power to the viewer too at the same time. You allow them to be an active part of the creative process. That’s really what it is. That’s so cool.

KONG: Yes. Yes.

PAGNIA: Okay, so what do you hope people take away from your film/video work? Anything you have and/or will put out?

KONG: I want to say to think outside the box. Do something that is not familiar. Do something that can push the boundaries. Something to challenge the norms. And I think most importantly, something to make people feel comfortable.

PAGNIA: Yeah, that’s true.

KONG: Not in a bad way, but in a way where people will go, “Damn, I don’t think no one would do that.” I think that whenever you can do that, be the first to do it, whether it’s lighting, whether it’s storylines, or your characters, I think that it can go on to inspire other filmmakers to do the same too.

PAGNIA: Mmhmm. That’s powerful. So, for anyone, young and old, who’s interested in filmmaking, what would you say to them?


KONG: I would say that it does not matter what equipment or what you can afford to use to shoot a video. I think we all have access to it, our phones and stuff now. And as long as you’re willing to tell a story and as long as you’re willing to take action to turn it into real life, I think it all comes down to how you can tell the story. It goes back to it doesn’t matter what equipment you have. There’s no excuse not to do something just because of what you have. So don’t let finances be an issue.

PAGNIA: Cool! So in this new year, what are you planning? What are you hoping to create whether it’s film-related or not?

KONG: This year I would like to focus more on music, creating new music for sure. Not only but a few documentary projects that I want to pursue. Also, the possibility of going back to school.

PAGNIA: Sweet! Wow – BIG projects. Cool! So if people want to reach you, connect with you, where’s the best place to do that?

KONG: They can connect with me on Facebook.

PAGNIA: Okay, Kong Lor on Facebook. Great! Thank you for your time and more importantly, for inspiring the next generation of artists. I can’t wait to see and hear what you create in this new year!

KONG: Thank you. Ua tsaug.

YOUR TURN! Did something Kong said in this special interview resonate with you? As always, I love hearing from you. Leave a comment below! 

Until next time...

Dream BIG,

5 Great Things That Happened in 2017

Mele Kalikimaka from Lahaina, Maui!

Mele Kalikimaka from Lahaina, Maui!

This past December, I had a couple goals for the month:

(1) Plan Maui trip, and
(2) Close out 2017 with reflection.

Maui happened. Beautiful trip. Mom loved it. #MaosDreamTrip

But it’s already January 4th, 2018, and I’m still closing out 2017. Honestly, it hasn’t hit me yet that 2018’s begun.

When January comes around, I alllwwwaaayyys want to reflect on the past year and start planning the new year. I research how to reflect, gather hundreds of questions from life experts, & could probably teach you too.

Realistically though, you’d find me reflecting and planning mid-year. BAD HABIT.

This year’s different.

I’m already week 3 into on an important goal for 2018.

I’ve made the executive decision to focus on no more than three big 2018 goals. I don’t need goals in every single role and category of life.

And I’ve started reflecting.

One of the reflection questions I came upon asked me to:

List five great things that happened in 2017.

As a way to remind me of what made me happy and also how much I’ve grown as a human being, I’d like to share them with you.  

  1. I recognized I had made physical fitness a part of my lifestyle. I’ve led a sedentary life for most of my life. Working out = hard, unwanted pain. Then in my mid-20s, I discovered yoga. I took beginner classes. Challenging, but just enough to want to return. No expectations. Purely the need to feel good in my soul. And nearly a decade later, I recognize that working out has become a normal part of my life now - just like showering and eating. No questions asked. No second guessing. I just do it now. Yog yus tsis ua, yus lub cev yeej yuav hais yus.
  2. I started my journey toward self love. In my teens, the start of my dating adventures, I first heard the saying, “You must love yourself first. If you don’t, how do you expect someone else to love you?” It’s taken me 15+ years to get it. This past year, I started to learn how to love myself - really liking the woman who looks at me every morning in the mirror, accepting my flaws, and focusing on staying in my own lane. I have a long way to go, but smiling at myself in the mirror isn’t so awkward anymore.
One of my favorite moments: Twin Falls before the twists and turns of Road to Hana. 

One of my favorite moments: Twin Falls before the twists and turns of Road to Hana. 

  1. I helped make Maui a reality for my family. This one was especially important to me this year. For many reasons, taking a family trip with working adults who all have their own lives is/can be nearly impossible. This trip *almost* didn’t happen, but with an extra push, we spent the holiday season there. Niam, seeing your adventurous spirit in the mountains, fruit farms, beaches, and markets of Maui made it all worth it. Kuv hlub koj os.
  2. I paid for a huge meal for my family (& gave a speech). This may sound minuscule, but supporting my family in this way has been a looong time goal of mine. There are 10+ adults and two little kids in my family, and to be together in one room is a miracle all in itself. So to have my family with me and to confidently spend my earnings from my music career (a career that's been questioned by others) on them means a great deal to me.
  3. I am a leader simply by doing what I love and being myself. A special thank you to Hmong Women Summit for the awakening.

From my sharing, I hope you're able to take a moment and make your own list. Do it. I imagine your happy center will light up just like mine.

Cheers to a very happy new year! May 2018 be an unforgettable one, dear.

YOUR TURN! What’s one great thing that happened in 2017 for you? What's one amazing thing you plan to repeat in 2018? As always, I enjoy hearing from you in the comments below!

Until next time…

Dream BIG,

WATCH: Official Music Video for "Ib Tiam"

What Barack Obama, Beyoncé, a Murderer, George Bush, and I Have in Common


This week, I shared this photo with you from my last performance of 2017. Hi Mom! Hi Scarlett, Pads, & Pa Chia! I also told you that as soon as I get off the stage, I ask my family this one question:

“Did I do ok?”

We all know Oprah Winfrey, the bold woman revered as the “Queen of All Media.” A few years ago, I watched a video of Oprah revealing the one question every guest - over 4,589 shows and over 37,000 people who she interviewed - has asked:

“Was that ok? How was that?”

She explained that at the end of the day, this one question is the "common denominator" for all her guests no matter who they are (including Barack Obama, Beyoncé, a murderer, and George Bush).

In other words, they wanted to know:

Did you hear me?
Did what I say mean anything to you?
Did I matter?

And I believe that is 100%, the absolute truth.

You see, not every performance in my career as a music artist has been amazing.

I’ve performed at events where afterwards, I know that what I shared wasn’t received by the attendees. People are on their phones. There’s a lot of chatter. There’s limited eye contact. Yet, I keep going and do my best knowing there are those who are open to receiving what I have to offer.

And when there are events where I have delivered what I came to share and people respond with light in their eyes, full engagement, and lots of questions afterwards, my heart is on fire. That means:

I did ok.
They heard me.
I said something meaningful to them.
What I did, mattered.

Just in time for the holidays - *Limited Edition* 11x17 prints available now!

Just in time for the holidays - *Limited Edition* 11x17 prints available now!

And then I go home as the happiest camper on earth. I’m super proud. I thank the Universe. I get in the car and relive the experience by talking highlights with my siblings.

These are the opportunities I seek for every time I perform or give a keynote concert.

Everyone wants to be heard and wants to know that what they have to offer - whether it’s a video, advice, a speech, a gift, or a song - was received well. Everyone wants a valuable connection with others.

And I believe that's what Barack Obama, Beyoncé, the murderer, and George Bush meant after each of their interview with Oprah.

And I believe you want that too.

In the new year, I not only hope for myself, but for you as well, opportunities where everyone you meet wants to meet you, everything you share is accepted with a warm heart, and every possible connection is made with appreciation. Happy Holidays!

YOUR TURN! Do you find yourself asking “Did I do ok? Was that ok?” too? What do you do after sharing or giving something of yourself to others? As always, I enjoy hearing from you in the comments below!

Until next time…

Dream BIG,

I Came Prepared With a Speech, and Left Speechless.

“[...] When we sometimes say, ‘This person empowered me,’ I always say, ‘No, nobody empowered anyone. People create platforms of empowerment so that we step into those platforms to empower ourselves.’ And I think that’s what my mother did to me, and many women and men who looked straight into my eyes and saw something that I wasn’t seeing and created that platform - yes, it’s a platform. A very big platform.”

- Dr. Tererai Trent, an internationally acclaimed voice for women’s empowerment and education & Oprah Winfrey’s “all-time favorite guest”


On October 27th, 2017 in our hometown of Eau Claire, WI, my sister Nancy and I got dressed and on our way out, we bid farewell to our family. My mom was the last person we spoke to as she loaded fresh produce into the van to be sold at the farmer’s market the next morning.

Neb yuav mus dabtsi os? Where are you two going?”

Wb yuav mus koom lawv ib lub rooj sab laj nyob tim UW-Eau Claire. We’re attending a conference at UW-Eau Claire.”

Los? Mus cev rov qab los tsev. Tsis txhob nyob lig lig os. Is that right? Well, go and come back home. Don’t stay out too late.”

We nodded and quickly left.

That night, I was awarded the Authentic Emergent Leadership Award.

The award goes to “a Hmong woman who is emerging and has exhibited qualities of authentic leadership through her actions to inspire others to seek challenges and personal growth, and has qualities of showing up as a leader.”

Yes, I know. Really. Deep. Stuff.

When I received the phone call in early August, I thought long and hard: Who was awarding this to me?

The award selection process belonged to the founders and planning committee of the Hmong Women Summit: The Authenticity Project (HWSTAP).

The summit’s intentions are to “educate and empower women from various backgrounds on the topic of Authentic Leadership. Through workshops and collaboration, the summit seeks to create a space for participants to come together, dialogue, and learn from one another about being an authentic Hmong leader.”

As a 2x summit participant (I blogged about my first time here), HWSTAP undoubtedly fulfills that intention.

On this night, I had prepared a short acceptance speech. But minutes before accepting the award, I soon realized I was completely unprepared for what was happening right before my eyes.

With Mai Zong Vue before the award banquet, October 27, 2017.

With Mai Zong Vue before the award banquet, October 27, 2017.

Caitlin Lee, one of the co-founders of HWSTAP, came onstage to start the award ceremony. She then began to speak directly to me and Mai Zong Vue, a phenomenal Hmong woman pioneer, who would accept the Authentic Leadership Impact Award that same night.

The words Caitlin said that stirred my heart and remained with me were:

“Please keep doing what you’re doing. Keep doing what you’re doing.

And then Mai Zong Vue took the stage to accept her award. I’ve known Mai Zong for years. We’ve sat hotel poolside, chatting until my eyes could no longer stay open. Mai Zong continues to inspire me, and this award night was no exception. I felt a deep honor to have received an award alongside an exemplary mentor and Hmong leader.

Next, to introduce me, Mai Vang, a co-founder of HWSTAP, shared a story only my siblings knew (which of course is how she found out. Thanks, Nancy.).

Long story short: I always, always played the role of niam whenever my siblings and I played house as little kids. I took that role very seriously.

And then this video came on.

You see, I filmed, edited, and watched this video 10x before it was submitted to HWSTAP. I knew what to expect. No surprises.

But when it came on, I lost it.

How do you sit in a room full of leaders, mentors, role models, idols, allies, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends -- many whom you’ve looked up to since you were a kid -- who are now all watching you as you accept an award you never, ever expected to receive?

I could feel the energy of each one of them.

A Hmong sister from Hnub Tshiab who I had just met, who melted my heart with her moving story of her late mother.

My oldest sister who was sitting right beside me, who paved the way for me to attend college away from home.

The HWSTAP co-founder who inspired me years ago when I saw her front page feature in the newspaper as "the very first female president of the board of directors for the Eau Claire Hmong Mutual Assistance Association Inc. — notably the first woman to do so out of the 14 statewide HMAA boards in Wisconsin."

How do you sit in the same room and not wonder how you got here?

How do you sit in the same room and act as if that’s not you in the video?

How do you sit in the same room and believe that it is you in the video?

I watched myself on the screen and for the first time, I felt the emotions of an outsider looking in on a Hmong American female music artist named Pagnia Xiong and her work.

I unexpectedly felt the effect of my being, the effect of my work.

So when I got onstage to accept the award, I pulled out two tissues. I was speechless. Tears beat my tongue. This was definitely not a part of my acceptance speech.


To all the leaders, mentors, role models, idols, allies, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and HWSTAP -- many of whom I’ve looked up to since I was a child: 


I received this special award, because you created a platform of empowerment so that I could step in it. You saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. And I am so honored and still at a loss for words.

Thank you, for the platform you've provided I can empower myself and live and lead authentically.

Oh, and Niam, I also received an award that night. I’ll show you next time now that the farmers market season is over and you have more time. I love you.

Until next time…

Dream BIG,
Pagnia Xiong

Pagnia Xiong Named Authentic Emergent Leadership Award Recipient


Selected as the recipient by the Hmong Women Summit – The Authenticity Project (HWSTAP), Pagnia Xiong accepted the Authentic Emergent Leadership Award on October 27, 2017 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. 

The Authentic Emergent Leadership Award goes to a Hmong woman who is emerging and has exhibited qualities of authentic leadership through her actions to inspire others to seek challenges and personal growth, and has qualities of showing up as a leader.

HWSTAP aims to educate and empower women from various backgrounds on the topic of Authentic Leadership. Through workshops and collaboration, the summit seeks to create a space for participants to come together, dialogue, and learn from one another about being an authentic Hmong leader.

For more information on HWSTAP, visit their website.