11 days ago, I came across this post by someone dear to me on my newsfeed. It was the first time I had seen anything about #MeToo.
I’m sure you’ve seen it. But in case you haven’t and are wondering:
What is #MeToo all about?
The me too Movement™ started in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, whose own personal story ignited a movement to help young women of color who had survived sexual abuse, assault, and exploitation.
And recently, with what’s been happening in Hollywood, women and men across the nation have been sharing personal stories of sexual harassment and assault across social media with the hashtag #MeToo.
That’s why your newsfeed has been flooded by #MeToo...from family, friends, and friends of friends.
And now...from me.
“I NEED HELP. PLEASE SEND SOMEONE!!!”
It was a wet, cold day at a Hmong New Year. I was dressed in Hmong clothes and had been up early setting up our booth with The Kong & Shu Project. Two of my sisters were also with us to assist during the event.
We were excited to meet our fans and promote our new music.
Unfortunately, it had been raining all morning, so there weren’t many people walking around the New Year, especially in our area as our booth was secluded from other booths.
In a 15-minute time span, no more than a few people would pass by, but we stayed put knowing our fans were expecting us at this New Year.
It was a slow day and my sisters needed some rest. So they headed to the car while TKSP and I stayed at the booth.
Shortly after, a young event coordinator came by to take TKSP to the main stage for their performance. We had expected this as she had also came earlier in the day to remind TKSP.
With how calm the event had been so far, I knew I’d be ok managing the booth, so I wished them good luck and watched them walk away.
Standing alone in full Hmong clothes and looking at nature on a cold, rainy day under a booth, one can only look for so long.
So I tried to keep busy.
Straighten the CDs for the tenth time.
Pick up garbage for the fifth time.
Triple check nothing was wet.
It had only been a few minutes since TKSP had left.
Then suddenly, a tall, elderly Hmong man wearing a neon green safety vest and a badge appeared before me.
I had seen him before. Throughout our time at the New Year, he would walk in front of our booth with the same vest on, assisting other vendors. So I knew he was a part of the Hmong New Year committee.
I greeted him with a simple, “Nyob zoo os” and waited to see what he needed.
I thought maybe he was going to ask how we're doing at our booth or share something important that all vendors needed to know.
Instead, he smiled and walked right into my booth, behind our table, next to me.
He started saying things - things I can’t and don’t care to remember.
Something was not right. He wasn’t here to tell me anything that I needed to know.
Then in a split second, he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled himself onto my body.
I pushed away immediately and stepped out of my booth.
I can't believe this is happening.
What I am gonna do?
I can’t leave the booth.
All our CDs are here.
No one’s here.
I can’t make a scene.
All these thoughts came across my mind.
Not a single word could come out as he stood there in my booth, as if he belonged there.
As if I belonged to him.
I quickly grabbed my phone and called my sisters.
Pick up! Pick up!
Then I realized TKSP had just left and might still be waiting to perform, so I text one of the brothers:
“I NEED HELP. PLEASE SEND SOMEONE!!!”
I paced off to the side…
...keeping my distance,
...watching my booth,
...hoping he’d leave,
He stood there. No talking. No eye contact. Just a lurking presence.
All I could do was stand in shock.
I was at a loss for words.
I had too much respect for Hmong elders. I couldn’t say anything and didn’t know what to say, because disrespecting Hmong elders seemed more of a violation than what he, a Hmong elder, had just done to me.
Then for what felt like an eternity, a young woman came to my booth, completely oblivious to what had just happened, and with a chirp in her voice, she said, “Hi Pagnia! The Kong & Shu Project told me that you needed help? I’m here. What do you need?”
And then he was gone.
Do not be ashamed. You are not alone.
Sharing my story with you today still shakes me up a bit despite it happening years ago. Yet for some reason, I knew one day I would need to share my story. It wasn’t meant to stay with me.
Thank you to the me too Movement™. It’s moved me to use my voice and share my story.
To my dear reader, please know that sexual harassment and assault can happen anywhere and to anyone -- even at an iconic cultural event like the Hmong New Year and by someone you’re supposed to respect.
And when it does happen, more times than not, it will not be reported. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Finally, to my Hmong sisters and brothers who know my story all too well, please do not be ashamed and know that you are not alone.
As activist and founder of the me too Movement™ Tarana Burke stated:
I see you. I hear you.
I understand you and I'm here for you. I get it.
Until next time…
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline
Sexual Violence Center & Asian Women United of Minnesota
24-Hour Multilingual Hotline
Stop Street Harassment & National Street Harassment Hotline