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Hmong “Galentines”

As much as I appreciate the romantic notions of Valentine’s Day, I most welcome the opportunity to celebrate family and friendship. Last night Takeyla (of We Write Too) and I got to participate in a uniquely fun and meaningful Valentine’s Day party at Kajsiab House. In 2017 our Madison LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER show supported Kajsiab House women’s support group– a place where multi-generational Hmong women come together for peer socializing and support**

With the LTYM funds raised and a matching grant, this past summer the women took a three-day weekend trip to the Wisconsin Dells. They rented cabins, went swimming, played mini-golf, went shopping and enjoyed what served for most of them as the first girlfriends trip they’ve ever taken.

We knew the women wanted to give us a small thank you, but there was nothing small about it. We joined them for a Hmong feast (complete with rice and noodles leftovers my kids gobbled up–the ultimate gift for a busy parent). They shared stories of meaningful Valentine’s moments- a step-mom whose kids celebrated her as a mother for the first time, a woman who helped a family member out of an abusive situation. We did a speed-dating style activity in pairs, taking turns delivering kind and loving words to our partners. Some of the women knew the English words for “welcome” and “thank you,” and I repeated after them the Hmong words for “smile,” “laugh,” and “beautiful hat”–whatever struck me about the human facing me.

Thankfully, hugging needs no translator. We took full advantage.

Whenever I sit with this group I become keenly aware of how hard it would be at this point in my life–as a middle-aged mother– to learn a vastly different language and acclimate to a foreign culture. It requires extra energy and attention to stay present with a group when you don’t fit-in or understand, and it affects your confidence and sense of self– even with translators, even in a welcoming social situation (versus, say, fleeing violence and war as a grieving widow and trying to find safety, then create a life for your family).

The women gave roses to each other and practiced what they might like to say to their loved one. Singing and hilarity co-mingled with the recognition  that this American holiday stretches a people not accustomed to this type of open display of affection. The exercise served a function, and these ladies were definitely game.

For privacy reasons I cannot share photos of the women, but look at these gifts!! The handmade tapestry and needle work brought me to tears as did the many acts of kindness. How do you say thank you for such a thank you? I think sometimes the most gracious thank you includes receiving–openly, fully present, and with love.


This post is not sponsored, except by profound gratitude. If you feel inspired, you can donate to Kajsiab House here and designate the funds for the Kajisab House Women’s Support group.

**A high percentage of Hmong elders live with severe health problems, such as depression, post- traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain that were caused by their war and refugee experiences. These experiences impact the family as well– children born as refugees became the first English speakers and their children became first-generation Americans.

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