Growing up as a girl in an African American family, I was always told where I couldn’t go, what I couldn’t do, or when I couldn’t go. Usually my mother was the one in charge, and I absolutely had to listen to her. My older brother, however, got to do whatever he pleased.
I didn’t think this was fair. I figured out that my mother did this because I was a girl. She always told me, “You’re the baby of the family,” or “Someone’s gonna kidnap you,” and other times she wouldn’t give me an excuse at all. She always told me that when I grew up I could be whatever I wanted to be, but how could I be if I was a girl?
At the time, I didn’t realize my own mother was oppressing me. Now that I’m an adult, I can do whatever I want, but my mom’s voice lies dormant in the back of my mind, nagging at me not to do certain things because I’m a girl. Maybe because she grew up in a place where being a girl meant you didn’t have opportunities, or it wasn’t safe.
I don’t blame her at all for trying to protect me—she grew up without a mother to worry about her. Fortunately, I know now the difference between oppressing someone and being protective. Despite the fact that she doesn’t know, I still appreciate her concern.
It was on a weekend, my uncle was going to take my brother and me to a local amusement park. My uncle only had a few weeks left before he would relocate to Minnesota.
I asked my mom and as usual, she replied with, “Go ask your father.” I asked my father and he quickly replied, “No.” I was really angry. I wanted to go so badly, my brother was going to be having all the fun while I was stuck at my grandma’s house watching everyone eat longans. I didn’t eat any because I was too busy thinking about why I couldn’t go.
I knew it wasn’t age because I was probably eleven or twelve at the time. My brother is younger than me. Back then I didn’t know, but now, I’m pretty certain it was because I was a girl. As I grew older, I realized that I had to grow up fast.
I felt like I missed out on life and fun and whenever I argued my views, it was seen as disrespectful. I wasn’t ever able to speak up, especially because in my Hmong culture, it’s usually viewed as wrong for a girl to speak up. Don’t get me wrong, I love my culture, but I still disagree with women in general being oppressed and not having a voice.
But from what I’ve seen in my culture, I’m glad things are changing and many Hmong women are finally stepping up to take on leadership roles. It makes me feel like I’m not the only one trapped in this world where men are considered the “dominant” gender.