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My Mother

  • Date Submitted: 04/15/2010 10:18 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 72.8 
  • Words: 969
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"Tell me what you were like when you were my age," I asked my mother, Chee Lee one winter afternoon when I was home from college.

My mother stopped her sewing and looked up, surprised at my question. After what seemed like a long time she answered, "I was never like you. I never dreamed of being a lawyer, professor, or anything, other than a wife, mother and grandmother. I was the eldest of twelve children, and every waking moment was filled with work and responsibilities to keep the family clothed and feed. Back then, there was only one career for girls, and it was being a hard-working woman".

My mother grew up in Laos where, like most other people from the Hmong tribe, she lived with her family in a remote mountain village. She fled her homeland during the war in Vietnam, and became one of the thousands of Hmong people now living in the United States. Most Hmong refugees brought little with them but their traditions--including the custom of marrying young to preserve the race under adverse condition. In Hmong culture, honor, respect, and family solidarity take precedence over individual desires--and men, the bearers of the family name, take precedence over women. Most Hmong women like my mother accept this so deeply that unconsciously they put themselves down in social clan gatherings, in the presence of their daughters, nieces and grandchildren.

"Men are important," my mother would tell me when I asked why women always ate last during any kind of a celebration. "They are stronger and wiser-- therefore they always eat before us."

That winter afternoon, I sat in silence and watched her sew, until she spoke again. "This story is shameful for me to tell you because I should know better than to hold a grudge against anyone. But I hated my mother when I was growing up. I worked so hard for her. Every night--before washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and preparing rice for tomorrow's meal--I would go into my parents' bedroom, wash their feet with warm...

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