Transcript: Disk #2 of 2
Farm Yoon (Susan) Lee (Mien)
Interview by Anne Morin
July 18, 2005
1 And your dad? What about him?
My dad is still alive but he is paralyzed, so he has many times strokes, so he cannot move so he just live in the bed.
Where does he live?
In France. Living with my brother at home. He’s staying home, but they have a nurse come to stay at their house twice a day, in the morning and at night time to help him, to clean him up and take care of him.
Does he know you still?
Yeah. Last time I was there he knows me. I talked to him.
2 When you think back, you’ve been to France and seen how people live there, and you’ve lived here in the United States, which do you think . . . are you glad you came to the United States?
Yeah. I will say ‘no place like home!’ Laughs. Yeah, it’s like I think America is the best place to live – nowhere like that in the US. No. We have so many things and so many opportunities that another country – I think nice, but they have such small spaces. You know, too many people for a small country.
In France. The room, like space, housing, everything, don’t have that much room, don’t have that much land?
4 How would you say, what have you done, have you done anything to give back to your community, your Mien community in Portland. I know that you helped with the Mien girls’ dancers. Right. By driving them back and forth, and so forth. Are there things that you’ve done?
I’ve done so many things. And when they come here there are people there are a lot of people we sponsor. We’ve sponsored about 19 families. So I’ve been helping them a lot, taking them to the hospital, take them to doctor, take them to apply for a job, do this, routine things. I’ve helped them so much.
Even today, if someone needs help to call the doctor or to call social security office, unemployment office, I still try to help them out. And every time we have a party, like a community gathering, New Years, and they have graduation party for the childrens, I go help them sell something like do some fund raising for the community so they can continue have their association going so we can have that, so people will notice that we have community association, so if anybody have problems they can get together and solve the problem. So I’m still being involved in that and help a lot.
6 The Vietnamese people have the Vietnamese school for their children. They have about 500 children that go to that school every Sunday during the school year. Do you think the Mien people need that and what do you think about that?
I think we probably need it, but we don’t have a program to do that, but they still have people like in church, you know like church members, the Christians, they do have Sunday School where the people go to learn how to write Mien language and how to read and write Mien language. So it doesn’t matter you Christian or not, whoever want to learn they can go to register in the church. There’s the friendly Baptist church down on 111th – Long San goes to that church. So if you want to learn you can go and do that – they been teaching that every Saturday and Sunday.
7 Tell me about – just short – history of where the Mien came from. Mien came originally from China. Right? And then moved down. Can you tell us about that, how that goes – where in China were they and when they moved down to Laos. How did they end up in Laos?
Originally, they all from China. They lived in China. Back 1950s, something, it was – that Chinese guy that killed a lot of . . .
Yeah. . . . kills a lot of people, they then have to escape. That time they escaped from China to Laos. And they lived there for a long time, and then maybe 1965 (?) I’m not sure, maybe ’62, they escaped again from that area to Mekong River, next to Thailand. So it was really bad. A lot of people got killed, so they had to escape.
Most Mien people read and write Chinese?
No, not everybody. Only some older Mien people that want to be the shaman, and then their father teach them a little bit. That’s all. Not everybody know how to read Chinese and write Chinese.
8 Explain what a shaman does.
Shaman, they have a book that they follow, how to, it has a routine, you know like a step-by-step, what ceremony that they need, which book, so they have to be able to read that and to write that to be able to talk to the spirits.
Explain that to us.
Then so they can tell them how to, tell them go away, not to come and get sick with these people and they worship them with chicken, and pig, and burn some paper money to the spirits.
Okay. And so the shaman helps them get in contact.
Yeah, the shaman contact with the spirits and tell them what they need. Sometime they need to worship with a pig, worship them with the chickens and they follow that and do that.
Have you ever used the services of a shaman?
Yeah, I do.
For? Give us an example.
Yeah. Like for example like sometimes like my mother-in-law, she’s getting old so we ask them, ask the spirits, what kind of things she need when she’s not feeling well. And sometimes the spirit will say, ‘Oh, you know, your mom and dad go to somewhere where they have nothing to eat, and they want you to worship them. So that’s why I call the shaman come over and I kill chickens and clean them up and boil them, and put on the table and put some glass in there and help shaman and do a ceremony for them.
So you help with the ceremony?
I just prepare for the shaman, and the shaman have to do all that. I don’t know how to do that.
Is there music involved with that?
No, no music. But they do a three days, do for the parents, like all that. They have some kind of drums, and they do that.
I thought there was something like that somewhere in there.
Yeah, drums and some um, yeah.
Yeah, flutes and drums.
The Native Americans have a similar thing.
So it’s wonderful that we’re in America and that can happen. If you were in China, they would probably stop that, not allow it.
Yeah, in Laos, we can do that. In Laos we can still do that thing. Sometimes you just have to, even you want to do it, you don’t have no money to do those things, you know.
So you do have to pay money?
Yeah, the shaman, you have to pay the shaman for the money from ? to help you do it. Like if you do a small ceremony, but if you do more, like a big ceremony, then shamans – you have to pay them some fee.
Do the shaman here go to the hospital sometime to help people who are sick there?
No, they don’t go to the hospital, they stay home and do it.
Yeah. Because I know some of the Hmong shaman actually go to the hospital.
I think some Mien shaman do, too. In case, like they have something scare them really quickly, then they might have to go to the hospital and try to scare the spirit away, or something.
9 What are you plans for the future?
Well, my friend, plan for the future try to stay healthy and be happy.
And you are one of the few people I know who is Mien who is divorced.
What has been the response of the community to your divorce?
Well, in the Mien community, the Mien people, we don’t have women get divorce, but in this day in the US, it’s becoming more common about people getting divorce. For the Mien woman, as simple as myself, I think when you marry, your husband supposed to be faithful to you. You know, if your husband’s not faithful to you and he’s doing something have like fidelity in your marriage? Also, sometimes they want to have another wife living together in the same house. I feel like I am a woman, but I feel like I am not that cheap. I don’t think it’s fair for the man can have two wife. You know?
Is that allowed in Mien culture?
Yeah. It’s not allowed, but they do it anyway. In Laos, even today, some people might do it. I don’t know. But in Laos, they have that – womens don’t have that much to say about your culture about your things. So the Mien, it’s a man dominate society. So you really don’t have much right to say a lot of things. Even though you have a right to say it, even you know that you are so right, but sometimes you say they that, they not listening to you. You are a woman, you are supposed to listen to me! What ever I said, you do whatever I said. You know.
It’s good you’re in America.
Yeah, it’s good in America because now people are get more divorced, more divorce, because they don’t want to put up with those days that man treat them like that. Okay. You know. This is the way it is, the way it’s supposed to be. And women have a rights now because you feel like if they do the right thing, it’s okay, but do the wrong thing, you don’t want to put up with it. Sometimes you do give a chance to them, even fidelity, you give them a chance, tell them to stop. They don’t want to stop and then not much you can say, just get divorce. Because if you keep holding on that situation, it’s going to eat you alive, and the only way to get out is to get out, and even it’s very hard to do it but sometimes you have to do what you get to do. You know, I know my situation is not easy for me because my husband was a Mien community leader, well-known, everybody knows both of us. You know, we’ve been helping the community – not only in Portland but throughout the whole United States, all the Mien people knows us. And also in France people knows us, Canada. And the Hmong community, Laos community, even the Cambodian community and people knows about us. When I get divorce, it shock to the community. So even doesn’t matter how it is these da, it doesn’t matter how you do it, it doesn’t matter how the husband do it, no good, but they always blame it on woman. They always think the woman is no good. The guy always better. So that is the case. I mean, I feel like okay, I tried to hold on to my marriage as long as I can for the community sake, the family sake, and I tried to hold on so long, but I cannot do it anymore, so I finally file for a divorce, and. . .
You don’t regret that decision.
No, I don’t regret that decision. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again. Because I feel like the man, a lot of Mien woman will say, ‘You are our role models’ – to teach these Mien men that they cannot fool around and then, commit fidelity and still there and let them push us around.
So there are Mien women who are grateful to you.
Yeah, there are Mien women, some people will be appreciate it, like at least you will be one of them. So maybe now you can stop some of Mien men will think twice before they do that, they think ‘Oh! I can really do that. My wife will never leave me; she depend on me all the time. She will never have the gut to do that. But, I feel I work very hard since I come here. I was married to my husband, I was very young. And my marriage was arranged, and I was not even in love with him. The two parents just arranged our marriage and we got married. But I tried to do the best I can to keep this marriage together, to raise our two daughters and I thought we was having a good life but when the situation happen, and I have no control over, and then the only thing I can think of to do is to get out of the marriage. But it’s okay, you know, divorce women – people will treat you some education people and some people like they will be really intelligent and smart, and they know how to think, and then they will think it doesn’t matter and it’s your problem and they will respect you. And some people don’t know that much thing, they looks you down but well, anyway, I have to, I do whatever I can. I have a roof over my place, and no one pay for my bills and no one do anything for me and I pretty much take care of myself and if you want to respect me, talk to me, okay; if you don’t want to respect me, don’t talk to me. It’s yourself. Even if you talk to me, I’m not getting legal and you don’t talk to me, I’m not getting any smarter. It’s myself. You want to talk; you want to talk – okay. And, if not, I don’t care.
I admire that.
So I just do whatever I can and I just cannot say anything. I can’t say too much, but I say I’m standing on my own two feet and doing well. That’s all I can say – be a divorced woman.
10 You said there were some new Hmong refugees coming in to America now. What would you advise a Hmong woman who was coming into this country who doesn’t speak any English if you could talk to her? What kind of advice would you give her?
Well, my advice tell them to go to school to learn as much as you can and try to get a job and try to help yourself to be somebody that you want to be. Take care of your family and learning as much as you can and pick up that things you think is good and think it not good don’t pick it up because in America there is golden opportunity for you to learn. And if you want to be success if you put your mind into it, you can be a millionaire in next ten years if you put your mind into it. But there is good things; there is bad things. Bad things don’t take it. I know I am really Americanized, but I am a really Mien woman, too. So in the Mien community I try to help out as much as I can and with the old people, you know, like the Mien old womens, I respect them, I talk to them nicely, and I don’t talk bad about anybody. And in the American culture, it’s a good thing, there’s a good thing – there’s a bad thing. Kids – when they grow up they don’t want to live with their parents any more. And moving out.
How do you feel about that?
Oh, you know, I feel sad, but you have to let them grow. Just like a bird, you feed them, they have a wing, so they have to learn how to fly. If you keep holding on and nurturing them, they don’t have opportunity and they cannot go. So it’s good thing. But you also have to take care of your parents. They’re the ones that give you life; don’t leave them in nursing home. Let them stay with you and take care of them. I think that’s a good way to do.
It’s hard, though, if you’re alone and working.
You have to have some family.
Yeah. Exactly. Even when Ay Choy move out, then my mother-in-law live with me for a long time, and until she decide to move out with the other son, because she said I’m by myself I cannot take care of her. But if she doesn’t move out, I would be taking care of her today. I mean I love her; she’s just like my own mother.
You must miss her.
Yeah, I miss her.
Do you see her sometimes, though?
Yeah, once in awhile.
11 What – is there anything you think Americans don’t understand about Mien people?
I cannot say too much about that but I think a lot of times that maybe they don’t understand why you guys live together all these people in the same house. I think they don’t understand that part.
How would you explain that to them?
I explain it to them, it’s our culture and also we just want to be close together, live together. Just the way it is. We ways this way and it happened that way. I can see more and more today, and kids moving out, they don’t want to live with the parents any more. And sometimes the parents don’t want to live with the kids anymore! They say ‘If I live with you, you always leave the kids home for me to take care. I want to live my life, and I cannot go.
So they’re getting to be Americanized themselves!
Yeah! They’re getting to be Americanized themselves.
I want freedom, too!
Yeah! Exactly. Like me today. If my daughter get married, have children, you know, if they want to go somewhere, they’ll have to make arrangements with me because I’m pretty much enjoy my life. I want to exercise, I want to do this and this on the weekend. No, I don’t want to stay home and watch your kid all day. I work five days a week.
But there are Mien grandmothers who do that? Right? Who take care of the grandchildren without question.
Yeah. Exactly. That’s the Mien way.
But that’s changing.
Yeah. That’s changing. Even in the Mien culture, there’s good things and also bad things. Sometimes I think the children, the kids want to move out when they get married have their own family. They want to move out and you tell them not to move out and get mad and then force them to live with you, it’s not healthy environment, even you live together and be upset with each other. I think if they want to move out so badly, you should let them go. At least, they live close by and if you get sick you will take care of each other. They come by and take care of you – take care of each other – and it’s not like forcing them live together and your relationship is going to get worse instead of getting better. So I think those are good things.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wished I’d have asked?
I’m not sure. I don’t know.
Can you think of anything else you’d really like to say?
The only think I want to say is I know that when I come here I don’t know any English at all. Everywhere I go, it’s like I don’t know how to speak the language, I don’t know the culture or anything like that. It’s very hard for us to adopt to the different culture.
And sometimes I feel like we have a generation gap between the kids and the parents because the old people they just want their own way. They don’t want their kids to go do all these things, go out and do different things. The old people want the children to be the Mien kids, but they cannot be. And sometimes I see the Mien old people feel like they are losing the control over the kids because the kids not listening to them any more. And it’s really sad to see that happening between the old and the young kids. The generation gap. And sometimes they have a lot of problems.
What do you think accounts for that? What makes that happen? Is it just because of schools and education or the American way. What do you think it is that makes makes that gap?
I think it’s also the education and also the American way. Probably the parents don’t speak English and don’t know reading and writing that well and then kids they go to school and they know how to read and write and speak, and their parents are supposed to tell them, ‘You’re supposed to listen to me, whatever I said. You have to listen.’ But sometimes it doesn’t mean that they know better than the children. The children here they go to school, so they are really knowledge so they learn a lot of things. And if their parents tell them something, they say, ‘No, this is not right; it’s supposed to be this way.’