Hello! My name is Longkee Vang, and I’m honored to be a guest blogger today. I’m a Youth Minister, college student, and avid comic book/Doctor Who connoisseur living the great state of Minnesota. Also, not that my name gives it away or anything, I am Hmong. My family comes from Thailand and Laos, and came to America due to the Vietnam War. The Hmong people were allies of the CIA in their ‘Secret War’ to fight the North Vietnamese. Since the biggest Hmong village sat in proximity to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, we were asked to disrupt supply and weapons restocking. When American troops pulled out of the conflict, only 2,000 of the 130,000 Hmong people in the village were able to leave. The rest, including my family, had to flee and live in refugee camps until something more ideal came along. It wasn’t until 1980 when Catholic Missioners gave my dad and his family an ideal opportunity to come to America. It wasn’t until 1986 when my mom and her family were able to come. And then my parents met, and I was born 2 years later.
In my family, 3 events happen all within weeks of each other. Thanksgiving occurs on Thursday, the Hmong New Year runs from Black Friday until Sunday, then Christmas at the end of December. That’s been my winter holiday for as long as I can remember. My holidays were always interesting as well due to cultural and religious differences. On my dad’s side, my family and I are the only Christians. Everyone else is a Shaman, which is the native belief for Hmong people. When we would eat our meals, my family and I would pray and then everyone would eat. About halfway through the meal, my uncles would come, tap me on the shoulder, and remind me about my dad. Since his death in 2008, at every big family meal, I would set out a plate of food as an offering to him. Then, I would invite his spirit to come and join us for our meal.
Then the fun begins. I get a lot of heat for this from my friends who sit on different sides of the religious spectrum.
“You’re a Christian, why are you calling on family spirits? The only spirit you need is the Holy Spirit.”
“You go to church; you don’t get what real Hmong people do.”
And it always ends with,
“So what are you, are you Hmong or are you Christian.” When I was younger, I would just shrug my shoulders and keep quiet. I never knew how to answer that question. Now that I’m older, I’m still not quite sure what the correct answer is, but I at least have an answer now.
“Hmong is not a belief dude, it’s who we are. Unless you wear a cross, or a John 3:16 t-shirt, or carry a Bible or something, sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is a Christian. But you can’t mistake me for NOT being Hmong.”
And that is my Christmas story. It’s the same routine over and over again, every single year. People often ask if it ever gets annoying; it does. As Christians, we always try to live our life as Jesus would, or as Jesus would have liked us to. Though we don’t always get it correct, at least we’re trying. People talk about all the great things that Jesus did: healing the lame, carrying for the poor and sick, fighting the status quo; rightfully so, they should. When Easter rolls around, people celebrate that He is risen; and again they should! But we should also remember the biggest lesson of Christmas: that He is born. And with his birth, it brings hope. Mary and Joseph had no idea what to expect when an Angel visited them and said they were going to have a child. But I assume, like any parent, they were just hopeful that they had a healthy child. And then to be told you were having the Son of Man, how crazy is that? But again, I assume they only hoped to see their son become a man.
All though being a Hmong Episcopalian is a burden to bear, it’s one I do full of hope. Hope that those who come after me won’t have such a difficult time navigating as I do. Hope that sticking to my guns can change people’s opinions on culture and faith. Hope that we never forget where it all began, whether it’s a manger in Bethlehem, or the mountainous jungles of Laos.
Today’s advent author is Longkee Vang from St. Paul, MN. He is on the Young Adult Ministries Network board and is an active youth minister for two churches in St. Paul. One of those churches is Holy Apostles which is the first Hmong Episcopal Church. Also, if you are interested he can teach you to make the best geek costumes ever!