An Unexpected Opportunity Tracing My Hmong Roots Through China

Written by: Dr. Song Lee, Associate Professor of Counselor Education and Rehabilitation at Fresno State

1In May of 2019, I traveled to South China Normal University in Guangzhou, China to attend a conference. I presented to a room full of educators on the “Ethnic Identity of Hmong Youths in the United States”. Little did I know that my academic presentation would turn into a journey throughout China, tracing my Hmong roots.

Traveling the Villages of China

After the conference ended, I traveled for two weeks with six other Hmong professors, all from different countries: U.S., Thailand, China and Australia.

Our travels started at a museum in Kaili City, showcasing embroideries, musical instruments and farming tools. I was delighted to see how similar these museum items were to my Hmong people. We then visited a Hmong village and caught a glimpse of the funeral of a local teacher, which brought tears to my eyes. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being in the land of my ancestors and realizing the odds and honor of our group of Hmong professors to be greeted by the passing of a Miao/Hmong educator.

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Over the next few days, we traveled to Xijiang and visited one of the most majestic Miao villages. As we reached our hotel and entered the courtyard, we were greeted with music of the qeej (a Hmong pipe), drums, and women and men dressed in Miao clothing.

Mr. Zhao and Miss Dong, our hosts at the Xijiang Research Institute and Xijiang Tourism Company, treated us like family. I especially liked that Mr. Zhao called me his sister. They treated us to Xijiang cuisine, sights, daily living, a children’s parade and a concert showcasing the mythical legend of Mother Butterfly, Chi You and numerous Miao clothing/designs.

After two nights in Xijiang, we left for Renhuai City. Our new hosts, from the United Front Work Department of Renhuai Municipal Committee of CPC, took us to a Hmong village in Ximiao Guili at Houshan, China. Here we visited with Miaos who speak similar to my Hmong language.

I realized that some of the Miao speak the same Hmong language as Hmong Americans. I learned that the Miao have 3 dialects (eastern, western, and central). The western dialect is the dialect of Hmong Americans. However, through years of immersion, separation, and immigrations, there are some Miao who speak languages/dialects that I could not understand.

The biggest impact for me was seeing the money tree stump at Ximiao Guli. This tree stump, once an 800-year-old tree, is believed to be where some of our ancestors met for the last time before dispersing to different parts of China and Southeast Asia. When we arrived at the city to pay respect to the money tree stump, the villagers welcomed us with Miao music and dances before performing a ritual for us to pay respect to ancestors and the tree trunk.

 

This is just a glimpse into my two-week trip to China. During my stay, I learned so much about my ancestors and the similarities/differences between Hmong Americans and Miao in China.

Enrichment of My Ethnic Identity

Since childhood, I have heard of my people in China and their journeys. But my personal journey had only included Laos, Thailand and the United States because I am a descendent of the Hmong who left China during the 18th Century. However, this summer, I had the opportunity to meet my people who remained in villages high in the mountains of China. It may “take a village to raise a child” (African proverb), but it took many villages for me to trace my roots. There are still many more villages I have yet to visit and many more historical events and facets I have yet to learn of my roots.

Personally and professionally, this visit enriched my identity and expanded my knowledge of the Hmong beyond literary sources and professional conferences in the United States. As a professor, I am now cognizant of the impact of international education and travels for educational and self-growth. Additionally, our hosts and the people I met inspired me to be a better host to our visiting scholars and international students at Fresno State. Representatives/officials, professors, students and friends hosted us selflessly during our stay. We were treated with the utmost respect and as families.

I will forever be grateful for this journey back to my roots in China.

Giving Thanks

Thank you to Professor Zhang Xiao (organizer of the trip) and officials/representatives of the following organizations: South China Normal University (Guangzhou, China); Sun Yat-Sen University (Professor Long); Xijiang Research Institute and Xijiang Tourism Company, The United Front Work Department of Renhuai Muniipal Committee of CPC, Renhuai Municipal Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, Renhuai National Bureau, Renhua Municipal Hmong Society, Renhuai Municipal Qeej Society, Renhuai Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Renhuai Municipal Bureau of Nationality and Religion Affairs, and Guizhou International Travel Service.

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