The reason why I left this place is why I returned

Still learning the ropes of being Pagnia Xiong.  August 2000.

Growing up in my traditional hometown of Eau Claire, WI, I experienced firsthand the direct and indirect messages of what it meant to be a Hmong girl.  For a long time, I listened...and willingly accepted them - even when they didn't feel right.  

I bet you know these messages too.  

As I got older (or wiser, I like to say), I knew I wanted something different.  I didn't know what, but I knew I wouldn’t find it in my hometown.  

So I left.  

Leaving didn't make it any easier for me though.  After years of others telling me who I am and what I should do in life, I didn't know how to find the real me -- the authentic me.  

Two weeks ago, I attended the first ever Hmong Women’s Summit: The Authenticity Project.  50+ women and a couple men from all over the US gathered to explore the topics of authenticity and leadership.  

I met a Massachusetts woman who's beaten every level of Candy Crush who said, "It's all within you" when I told her how impressive she is to be a prison guard.

I also befriended a super sweet fan who drove hours with her beautiful mother just for 71-year-old keynote speaker and peb Hmoob thawj tug nurse, Choua Thao.  

With the remarkable Blia Vang Schwahn

And then I listened to Blia Vang Schwahn, a revered educator and active community member who I've known since high school empower us by proudly saying:

"Yog koj tsis ua poj laib, ces yus tsis laib.  Yog koj ua poj laib, cej koj laib (zoo). #pojlaib"  

(She really said, “Hashtag, poj laib.”  Love her!)

And as the summit came close to an end, I laughed with a hilarious and life-loving pack of middle age Sheboygan mothers who appeared to on a best friend road trip with the Hmong Women’s Summit as their final destination.  

These are just some of the Hmong women I was positively impacted by in that one short weekend.  I'm talking about them, because they showed me what being an authentic Hmong woman means - the one thing I've been searching for years.  

It's not about fitting society's definition of what it means to be a Hmong girl, daughter, wife, mother, or woman.  

It's to lead your life with your truth.
To live your heart's deepest desires.  
To say it like it really is.  
To be a "#pojlaib."
And to own your story, unapologetically.

And by doing that, you move others to lead in that way too.  
That's what these women below and around me at the Hmong Women's Summit did for me.

Leading Ladies: Blia Vang Schwahn, Sophia Ntxawm VueLo, Choua Thao, & Mai Neng Vang

In a unique conversation with Caitlin Lee, one of the co-chairs of the summit and the first Hmong woman to become President of the Eau Claire Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, Caitlin shared this thought on a new generation of Hmong women:

“We are not bi-cultural.  We are a hybrid.  Bi-cultural means there is a visible seam.  A hybrid is a whole new breed.”

WOW.  

(Go back and read that again.)

After this amazing weekend at the Hmong Women's Summit, I realized I was having challenges in defining myself as an authentic Hmong woman, because I am part of something completely brand new in the Hmong community.   

And that feels so damn empowering.

Wanna know the irony?  The Hmong Women Summit took place in Eau Claire, WI - my hometown - the place I left in search of my authentic self.  

Your turn!  How do you define being an authentic Hmong individual?  How are you leading with your truth?  Do you know a Hmong individual who is leading with their truth?  I’d love to hear from you -- leave me a comment below!

Until next time…

Dream BIG,
Pagnia