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.
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.