Learning American history as the daughter of Hmong immigrants, of refugees, and as a part of the very first generation of Hmong in America, I can tell you now, I have zero memory of the first African slaves to dock on American soil, stolen from the country of Angola, in all of the history I learned in my K-12 education. In fact, until I looked it up recently, I didn’t realize the integral role black slaves played in building this country with the blood on their backs. Even when I learned about the cotton gin, growing up, most of the commentary was about how cool of an innovation it was because it made production faster and life easier for workers, and yet, there was little or no commentary about black men, women, and children working the fields in hardship! Most of the images I’m finding today of the cotton gin are of African Americans beside it! I went most of my life thinking black slaves showed up right before the Civil War. HOW? I feel ashamed, but I also feel wronged. Like, how was an 80s Hmong baby, born in Lakewood, Colorado, when her parents got to the United States in 1979, supposed to dispute anything she was taught when learning the history of the country she was born in but didn’t originate from? I trusted the textbooks. I accepted the lies as truth because I thought the lies were truth.
I’m only now starting to understand the threads of corruption that stem from a system built to oppress Black and Indigenous people since America’s origins. Sometimes I wonder why it took so long to get to this understanding, but, we can’t undo lies until we start searching for truth.
My siblings can correct me if I’m wrong, but our family did not grow up differentiating color. All I knew was we were ESL, and I didn’t even know that ESL signaled that we were different from the masses, until long after I tested out in 2nd grade. Learning the nuances of the English language and American culture was our family’s first real step to assimilation and acceptance in America. We basically did what the norm was, and only now do I realize, we did what predominant culture taught us. Predominant culture in suburbia Colorado was and is white. Honestly, it’s a miracle and I’m impressed that my mom and dad were able to buy a house west in Colorado where we attended good schools, starting in my 3rd grade year, as definitely the minority in a mostly white neighborhood.
There’s nothing wrong in and of white culture itself, but left unbalanced, that’s an issue. Look how bent the textbooks were that I didn’t see slavery as the tragic issue it was and grew to be until years later into my adulthood!
If it had not been for teaching at a Hmong school where many of the kids and families were recent immigrants to America, inspiring a desire in me to learn about my own history, steeped in oppression from China to Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, and teaching black and brown students from kindergarten to middle school to high school, gaining a better understanding of the broken trajectory enough of my students walk, I would be blissfully living in total ignorance of the realities of oppression, and systemic oppression at that.
As an Asian, if I didn’t know or speak English well and wasn’t able to articulate my beliefs and advocate for myself when I felt I was wronged, do I really believe America would accept me as I come? NO. I did it to my own Hmong mother as an American child! AUGH. Thankfully, before her death, I repented and corrected my faulty approach to humans and began learning what it meant to understand, embrace, and love unique image bearers of God, but I still have a lot to learn.
I urge everyone to step out of their current lives and worlds and step into their history, as well as the lives and histories of others, to understand why #BlackLivesMatter is not just a hashtag, it is a declaration of truth for those of us who want “justice for all” in America.
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