My Journey To Belong
I remember throughout my younger years I wanted to belong to certain groups and to conform to certain social norms. Growing up in a small New England town, Fitchburg, Massachusetts was not a culturally diverse community. The Asian population was very small compared to the predominantly white community. My family was one of the few Hmong families that resettled in Fitchburg in the late ‘70s and as a result there was hardly anyone to converse with in the native Hmong language.
A childhood memory that sticks out in my mind was when I was five years old. My father at that time had given me a haircut. Yes, you guessed it, it was a short above the shoulder blunt cut with bangs that were cut way too short. The next morning on the school bus, while sitting next to my older sister, a student pointed at me and made some Asian noises that mocked my haircut and my ethnicity. I was so embarrassed. From that day on I was determined not to be different so that I could fit in. I would change everything about myself so that I would belong. If I could not change my appearance, I would make sure that my speech and accent was nothing but American. My maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother would lecture my siblings and me, “you need to speak Hmong or else you will not know any of your native language.” As a naive young girl, I did not think I would ever need to speak my own language or move out of the community, so their warnings were ignored.
I realized that He has been with me every day throughout my life. He walked alongside me even before my Asian haircut experience at the age of five. My experiences of being different and feeling shameful are something I now praise and is my testimony.
I got married as a teenager and then became a young mom, as a result I had to grow up fast. A year after getting married my young family moved from Fitchburg, Massachusetts to Pella, Iowa. I could not believe it. Pella was even smaller and even less culturally diverse than Fitchburg. There were only a handful of Asians among the largely Dutch Christian community. Attending my senior year at the high school as a wife and a mom was daunting. While my fellow classmates were chatting about dates and shopping, I was taking care of my two children and family at home. My very traditional mother-in-law, who was also a nam xwbfwb, sat me down and said I should not eat lunch with the other students in the cafeteria but instead sit in the teacher’s lounge with the adults. I understood her perspective, but this was a reality which revealed to me that I was different.
In early 2000’s my determination to belong came full circle. My young family and I moved to St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the largest Hmong communities in the United States. Trying to communicate in the Hmong language was a struggle for me to where oftentimes it was better to avoid Hmong conversations than to try to compose a response in Hmong. During the same time, I started to attend a local Hmong church and became active with the local Alliance Women Ministries. I was eventually called to serve on the leadership team as the secretary/treasurer. Accepting this position was intimidating in the sense that I would have to speak and take notes in Hmong. Little did I know that when God called me, He would give me the strength, knowledge, and courage to serve him successfully. From the moment I stepped into the leadership role I felt so much love from my sisters in Christ. The namtsev encouraged me to be me and to speak and write in the language that I felt comfortable with, whether it be in Hmong or English.
Through the precious blood of Jesus Christ I am made perfect in His eyes. The norms of this world have no hold over me. The societal chains that tied my life in the past have been broken by the cross.
Participating with the Alliance Women Ministries fostered my spiritual growth. During my service in ministry the Lord spoke to me. I heard that I belonged to Him. I realized that He has been with me every day throughout my life. He walked alongside me even before my Asian haircut experience at the age of five. My experiences of being different and feeling shameful are something I now praise and is my testimony.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)
In the past, I allowed society to pressure me into thinking how I should look like or how I should think. I allowed social norms to dictate what was good or bad and what was acceptable or not acceptable. When worldly ways transformed my character and my thinking, I was not able to see that I belong to Christ. Additionally, I followed the ways of this world instead of God’s way. Through my journey I learned that I am a child of God and I belong to Him. I may have worldly flaws, but as a child of God I am no longer different. Through the precious blood of Jesus Christ I am made perfect in His eyes. The norms of this world have no hold over me. The societal chains that tied my life in the past have been broken by the cross. What I thought were my faults Jesus has accepted and He has made me strong because I belong to Him.
Madelyn “Maddie” Yang (N. Xeem Ntxhw Yaaj)
Madelyn “Maddie” Yang (N. Xeem Ntxhw Yaaj) lives in Coon Rapids, MN with her husband, 4 children, son-in-law, and a granddaughter. She and her husband attend Hmong American Alliance Church in Maplewood, MN. Maddie has served as part of the local Alliance Women Ministries and Young Couples ministries. She is an IT professional working in the financial industry for the past 20 years. She is an avid outdoors woman and enjoys traveling, hunting, and gardening in her spare time. Her favorite travel destination is Australia.