Koua Her

Growing up as a member of the Hmong community, I never had the opportunity to question or challenge my religion and faith. Raised to believe in Shamanism, I never studied my beliefs or religion from an academic or critical perspective. As a child, I always attended rituals and ceremonies; I was never ashamed of my culture, nor was I ever aware of why things are the way that they are. The idea of going over to a cousin’s house during the weekend is something that I looked forward to as a kid. It was not because I was interested in the rituals and ceremonies, but purely for the chance to roam freely outside all day, to play with my cousins and to drink soda pop. This was my always my simple way of picturing all the social events that were and still are a part of my life. I specifically recall when I was a seventh grader and I learned about Christianity and Jesus. I learned about various things, from the Bible to Sunday Church sessions through my cousins at shaman ceremonies and rituals. I was, in fact, very jealous of them and the opportunity that they had. I wanted to experience the same thing as my cousins, so I asked my dad if he would allow me to attend one of the Sunday Church sessions. My dad was not as open about it as I initially thought and he responded with a stern “no.” I was shocked and bothered by his response and I refused to take that as an answer. I insisted that I only planned to attend one session and would not partake in any of the activities, but simply to observe. I stopped imploring my dad only when he told me he would not consider me his son, or for that matter, a family member if I decided to take part in another faith. Questions ran through my mind, as I thought about why my dad would say such harsh words to me, especially when I was so little and saw no harm in it. The more I thought, the more I become curious, and at the same time confused about my religion. I see this project as an opportunity as a way to fully engage myself in trying to understand my religion from a scholarly perspective. In addition, I find that there is so much beauty in documenting the traditions and voices of Hmong practitioners because the Hmong people have no written history. In other words, the Hmong people and their traditions and rituals have never been documented, but exists as a practice carried out simply following the oral history. I want to take this opportunity as a chance to put myself out there and challenge myself to do things I would not normally do. For example, interview my family and listen to their stories and document them down so that one day my children can hear their stories as well. One of the things that I wanted to pursue was the gender norms in the Hmong community, simply because I am always intrigued by what I see. During the fieldwork, I learned that many people were never concerned with gender norms. Many people that I conducted interviews with or talked to off record saw it as a part of the culture and our everyday life. One thing that has stuck with me was the interview with Judy Yang. During her interview, we asked her about her thoughts on the view of gender favoritism in the Hmong community. For example, back in Laos and Thailand, the birth of a son is highly praised over the birth of a daughter. It was very important for a man in the olden days to have a child of his own that could bear his name and continue his legacy. This was something that only boys could do. However, in America, this view has changed. While some traditional parents still value sons over daughters, many parents value the reciprocal love from their child more than the respect and continuation of the family name. She said, “sons will always be sons, until they get married. But, daughters will always be daughters forever.” Although, I am a son, I see where she is coming from. She was stating an idea that I accept and see as true, because once a son marries, he will have to love and provide for his own family, but a daughter will always have the love for her parents regardless. This is something that I will always remember because sometimes we often forget to acknowledge the importance of both sexes. My experience studying Hmong Shamanism has been very positive and eye opening. At the beginning, I must say, I was pretty nervous to conduct these interviews. It is highly unusual for a Hmong individual who has been raised in a family that believes in Shamanism to suddenly ask about his religion and faith. However, throughout the process, I learned that the Hmong community is fairly open to discuss their faith and traditions. I am glad to have been a part of this experience with Yer Moua and Jessica Gick. Thank you so much for your support and guidance. Thank you, Professor Shana Sippy for giving me this opportunity to reflect on my life, my culture, and my faith, because it is something that I rarely get the chance to do.

—Koua Her