End Game 

© 2015 Jules Xiong

They were struggling to stay alive

So they bought the man’s lies

But truth be told

The lies grew old

They needed more proof

More than the shingles on their roof

When they were dying to live

They said anything is what they would give

What they didn’t know

Is that they would lose their souls

Their bodies would become weak

Their minds would go numb

Chasing the dream, trying to get some

Their hearts would break

To see their children take

Their struggles and sacrifices in vain

And fall into the man’s cycle again

What will end them is the pain

Of knowing they fell for the man’s plans

As this was his end game.

-Jules X

white picket fences

White picket fences

Don’t safeguard you

From sorrows and heartbreak

Or from feeling down and blue

 

Behind white picket fences

Real is false and fake is true

Lies and secrets come alive

And marriage isn’t the glue

 

Break down the white picket fences

See the practical truth

You don’t need Prince Charming

You need to love you

 

Don’t rush life for white picket fences.

Father Time is here for you

Life will work out and all will be good

Be happy and do you, boo.

Ethnic fashion and ethics

Little village Hmong girls

Tribal and ethnic prints are everywhere. Fashion and design are deeply embedded in my roots as a Hmong American. Hmong women have designed and sewn their own clothing for thousands of years. I started cross-stitching in first grade and watched my mother sew all our traditional Hmong clothes for the annual Hmong New Year’s Festival. Today, you can find Hmong-inspired jewelry and fashion almost everywhere. When I was a young girl, sewing with my mom, sisters and cousins were special bonding moments. It’s when we shared secrets, gossiped and traded patterns. Below is a piece I made in collaboration by my mom and sister.

Mothersworks

All over the Internet from Etsy to Instagram, third parties sell authentic Hmong text tiles from Vietnam, Thailand and other parts of Asia. I wonder if these third parties are making a profit. These third parties are sometimes travelers and most of the time boutique shops. When I see these familiar items being sold online at high prices, I can’t help but feel hurt, upset and a little betrayed. Are the women and young girls who created these beautiful purses, earrings, necklaces, skirts or jackets getting the short end of the stick? I wonder what the living conditions are for the ethnic minority Hmong women and young girls who make these beautiful items. I wonder if somehow these Southeast Asian Hmong women can cut out the middlemen and sell their items online themselves. I’m not sure if they have access to electricity or running water, not to mention own a computer. I don’t know what jobs are available to the self-subsisting and often poor ethnic Hmong of these developing countries. I’d like to find out.

Vietnamese Hmong Women Cross StitchingPhoto above by Brian Snelson

North Vietnam Market

The cloth looks closely familiar even though I only see it from my laptop screen. I know how many hours it takes to make just one cross-stitch pattern for a sleeve. It’s countless hours for a skirt or jacket. I imagine my hands holding the needle and painstakingly stitching the pattern together, picking out the colorful thread one by one that has already been neatly organized next to me. I cry a little inside imagining how proud the Hmong woman or girl would have felt of this piece and to see it being sold for such a high price, how many days would this item have fed their family?

I set out on the world wide web to investigate. Tales of travelers trekking through Vietnam tell of the Hmong women selling their flower cloth. These travelers’ blog posts are a limited point of view. We can’t possibly tell how the women are living except by examining their health from appearances. Their bodies are elaborately layered and therefore don’t give much away.

I found some research by Associate Professor Sarah Turner about highland Hmong ethnic minority semi-subsistence farmers in North Vietnam. You can read more about it here: Associate Professor Sarah Turner’s Research. Professor Turner made me think. Maybe the Hmong in Southeast Asia are content in their way of life and the sales of their text tiles are priced appropriately to help them earn a decent living, to their knowledge of a standard of living. Who am I to impose my first world view of standards of living on them?

Outsourcing and the globalization make companies more profitable. They, in turn, can offer cheaper products to their end users. These Hmong women do not work in factories and there is nobody to oversee their labor conditions. Their products are not being mass marketed either but they are being put on display on the internet and being sold at a far more expensive price. You can argue that the traveler is simply offering a service and supplying the goods demanded by consumers who cannot travel to South East Asia. You can also argue that the profit they make are to cover the costs of travel and shipping. At what price is it fair to resell these textiles on the internet?

Hmong Market VietnamPhoto above by Brian Snelson

Hmong women

Hmong youth

The world is not fair but there is a social responsibility we hold to each other. We cannot know the intentions of online boutique shops and travelers who seek out bargains and purchase ethnic text tiles aboard. Yes, they are beautiful and intricate pieces of fashion. I adore the many pieces I’ve seen on Etsy and Instragram. I wonder, who made this piece? Where is it from? You see, I could have been the young lady who made that ethnic text tile you just purchased. That could have been me.

Below are great reads and beautiful pictures of travel in Southeast Asia and of the Hmong:

Chiang Mai: Hmong Antique Textile Market

Ethnic Groups of Northern Thailand: The Hmong

Chiang Mai Shopping

Exploring Vietnam with Explore Indochina Motorcycle Tours

Vietnam: The Colorful Hilltribe Market of Bac Ha

Flower Hmong: A Colorful Trip to the Bac Ha Market

 

 

 

Regret

I’ve done and said things I regret. We all have. It’s difficult to be our best all the time, especially in the heat of the moment. What can I say about regret?

Regret is an aching sadness that begs for a chance to turn back time. Mistakes are humbling. Take responsibility and make amends. Right your wrongs. Say sorry. Every second going forward is an opportunity to make the present, and possibly the future, better.

You can find the cover to The Fray’s How to Save a Life made by Costantino Carrara here.

 

Tupac

Tupac

Tupac Shakur would have been 40 this week on Monday, June 16. Tupac rapped about social issues as well as violence, sex and alcohol. He changed the rap game. He was an idol, an influence, a role model and his works are an inspiration to many.

My older brothers were fans and blasted his music defiantly loud on their boombox with the detachable speakers, those were the illest back then. I was a young lady who was coming into my own. I rejected chauvinism and hated sexism. I opened my own doors, burped loudly without saying, “excuse me” but still wore skirts with floral print and lipstick. I didn’t let being a girl stop me from loving rap and cars. But I hated rap’s depiction of women, then I heard Tupac’s Keep Ya Head Up, the first lines blew me away:

Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots
I give a holler to my sisters on welfare
Tupac cares, if don’t nobody else care

 
My interpretation of his lyrics is that here he challenges the media’s portrayal of beauty and the stigma of having dark skin. I am a darker skinned Asian American and here Tupac made me feel beautiful. He follows it up with how he cares about sisters on welfare, another stigma. Poverty is not something to glorify or look down on. It is our society’s way of providing a safety net when times get worse than bad. And if you hit rock bottom and have to succumb to public assistance, feeling all sorts of emotions, Tupac cares. Although I was too young to understand some of the struggles Tupac rapped about in this song, the rest of his lyrics made me fall, hard, for him as an artist. Events in my life that soon followed my discovery of Tupac would make his lyrics real to me.

I was a teenager during the late 90’s and saw a lot of violence in my small, sleepy town in Calfornia’s Central Valley. My mother and I had a rocky relationship and I was quite rebellious in my own ways but kept trouble at bay. I saw the error in others’ actions and learned from their mistakes. Then, my father suddenly passed away when I was 15 and that same year a friend was murdered in a drive by shooting. Things were changing and I was devastated. I didn’t understand why gangs hated each other so much and fought and killed each other over basically nothing. Young girls where having babies and dropping out of school. I dreamt of more for my life. I wanted to escape the terror and problems and live a big and fun life in the city. Tupac’s music was escapism for me. I’d listen to Life Goes On, Me Against the World, Ambitionz Az a Ridah and Starin’ Through my Rearview. His lyrics expressed my own frustrations and exposed me to social ideals I’d study later in college.

I was a straight-A student and fortunate to have great friends, good teachers and school counselors who guided me. I attended the University of California at Berkeley after high school. UC Berkeley was where the first university course was taught on Tupac in 1997, titled “The Poetry and History of Tupac Shakur” taught by Arvand Elihu.

I can’t analyze every song lyric in this blog post so I invite you to take a listen for yourself, if you aren’t already a fan. Tupac’s achievements in his short 25 years remind me to strive everyday. His songs unite us and remind us that everyone’s struggle is different. There will never be another rapper like Tupac Shakur. Tupac Shakur is the best rapper of all time. May he rest in peace.