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You Bring Out the Hmong in Me

(Inspired by Bao Phi’s “You Bring Out the Vietnamese in Me”)

You bring out the Hmong in me.

The natural, sunlight-blond hair

that darkened as I grew,

the yellow and red dirt paths of Thailand in me.

You bring out the scars of my ancestors

the “30 year Secret”:

Their blood spills all over the rice fields in me.

You bring out the Mekong to Mississippi

the refugee camps to the Twin Cities,

the journey that shapes Hmongness in me.

You bring out the Hmong in me.

The warm voices recorded behind cracked cassette tapes

sent from families across the ocean,

the promises: Niam Tais (“Grandma”),

kuv mam rau siab kawm ntawv os (“I will study hard in school”) in me.

You bring out the Hondas and Civics

hogging the neighborhood block during family parties,

the scattered shoes at the door steps

the communal cooking in me.

You bring out the East Side, Frogtown, McDonough Homes

the dhia ya (Chinese jump-ropes) in me.

The Twg kom koj mus thab lawv?! (“Who told you to bother them?”)

from your parents when you get beat up by other kids in me.

You bring out the disses that don’t make sense, but they sure burn:

the Ntsej Muag! and Tsov Tom!

(which translates to “Face” and “Tiger bite”) in me.

You bring out the Hmong in Me.

You bring out the “Got rice?”

during non-Hmong meals in me,

the pan-Asian food

because when asked, “What is Hmong food?”

we’re like Mov ntse dej (“Rice with water”) or “boiled chicken with herbs?"

because Hmong food is

technically just a collection of Laotian, Thai, Vietnamese and other Asian food.

You bring out the tribal, ancestral song of khwv txhiaj,

the mournful, mellow calling of the Qeej instrument,

the ancient stories hidden in the weaving of red, green Paj Ntaub in me.

You bring out the Hmong in me

the countryless, but we got national pride in me

when you stereotype me through Gran Torino,

when you ask “What is Hmong?”

when you start to lose your culture,


yes You

bring out the Hmong in me.

Poem: CHIA “CHILLI” LOR is Saint Paul raised and graduated from St. Catherine University. She sees herself as an artist organizer, with writing themes revolving around identity, racial justice, and youth empowerment. She has been invited to perform at open mics, reading series, rallies, conferences, and a variety of community events.

Photo: DEBORAH COSTANDINE, Hmong Butterfly Dance. Deborah loves historic Saint Paul and all its interesting nooks and crannies. Deborah is mostly an artist, art therapist, and mental health practitioner and an occasional writer and storyteller. Deborah comes from a long line of misfits and whopper tellers.


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