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WISE staff, Cydi Yang, shares her story as a child of refugees

Written by Cydi Ywj Siab Yang

“I was taught that education was the only way to self-invest — that if I got an education, a good job, and married a good husband, I would be happy.”

Self-love. Self-Care.

Growing up as a young Hmong American and a child of refugees, these terms were non-existent. I grew up with two brothers, two sisters, six cousins from my mom’s side and 20+ cousins on my dad's side of the family. Our parents, aunts, uncles -- no elders or adults -- ever mentioned such a thing as self-love and self-care.

Cydi (right) with her family

What is self-love and self-care? If education and getting good grades were self-care, I was doing great. If it meant going to my relatives for ritual gatherings, I was spot on; and if watching TV dramas and playing games were self-love, I was nailing it! But clearly, these aren’t exactly what self-care means.

What is self-love, self-investment, and self-care? For me, these terms mean to tend to oneself, to follow one’s path to their true purpose, and to listen to one’s heart to fulfill themselves completely.

I was taught that education was the only way to self-invest -- that if I got an education, a good job, and married a good husband, I would be happy. I don’t blame my elders for wanting this for me as this was the norm and desire back in their homeland.

I really had no purpose to why I was going to school but to please my parents. I didn’t have a dream to become anything significant. I was unbalanced. I felt a lot of pressure from my parents to know what I wanted to study in college and what job I was aiming for. I had no idea. I was unconsciously taught that my worth was only defined by my grades, my level of education and the amount of material wealth I could accumulate -- something common I see in refugee and immigrant families who come from poverty and lack of education. I never saw and experienced poverty firsthand, but I felt the effects. There was an internal struggle between what I felt was meant for me versus what was being told to me.

Cydi in traditional dress with her siblings and cousins

I was doing many things to please everyone around me -- to succeed in life the right way: get good grades, have a Hmong boyfriend who I could potentially marry and keep me stable, get my license, etc. Yet, I felt stressed and unhappy.

I was empty yet heavy at the same time, feeling unsure of what it was and unsure of what to name it. Anxiety, depression. The feeling of never being smart enough or as smart as my peers, especially around white students; the fear of sounding stupid because I couldn’t formulate my thoughts verbally in English; and the feeling of distinctness when I saw how other students were joining major extracurricular activities like the student council and the dance team.

There was always that one Asian student that was part of those groups and whom we always identified as “white-washed.” There was even a stigma if you stepped out of your “group”. The truth was, I never thought I was good enough to be part of those groups and activities. I was in a space that subconsciously unwelcomed me. Only by being persistent and self-driven like a so-called “American” could I have a place. But how can I learn to do that if I’ve never been taught to do so? How can I learn that I was just as smart and worthy as anyone else?

Cydi as a 2016 Media Scholar

Again, what is self-care and self-love? It means to love yourself with the skills you have and the skills you will gain, with the way you talk, and the way you carry yourself in the world. It means to be comfortable in your skin in any room you step into and to be comfortable with your bi-cultural tongue. It is then can you truly step into your purpose. It is then can you finally work hard in the direction that is meant for you.

It means to know oneself and accept oneself despite what the collective is thinking. I live in all the intersectionality of being born a woman but not fully feeling that way; being born a child of a refugee but also an American; being born to love the opposite sex but not completely feeling that way either. Self-love and self-care means to embrace your true self. And once you do, you will be able to reach your best self. I am on my way there.

Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. These words never uttered in the mouths of my people. We believed they were things that only happened to white people, not Hmong people. But, it’s everywhere -- in the eyes of our elders, in the hearts of our mothers, in the throat of our fathers. Our young Hmong brothers and sisters are dying from this.


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