My mother, a woman who defines the beauty of survival | Women

My mother’s name has long been forgotten. It was given when she was born in 1961 in the village of Dej Tshuaj, a small village in the Phou Bia Mountains, in the war-torn nation of Laos. Her name was changed when she turned three.

It was a cold and stormy day. The two rivers that surrounded the village were flooded by heavy rain. Mist rose from the rivers like smoke from a fire towards the gray clouds that loomed low over the treetops. The child was at home with her parents. Her mother was pregnant. Her father felt a cold coming, so he rested by the fire. Nobody noticed the girl’s disappearance. When the girl’s mother started looking for her, it was almost noon, almost lunchtime. In a panic, her parents looked all over her house, called her to all of her rooms. Outside the swinging bamboo door, they saw no footprints moving away from the house. However, when it became clear that the girl was not inside her, her father went looking for her. The herb garden behind the house was drenched in rain, the land slippery and the orchard behind it seemed empty. The path leading away from the house was empty. The whole village was warned and everyone started looking for her, on foot and on horseback. Fear grips the village. What could have happened to the little girl with the thick black hair, tiny hands and feet? Before sunset, under a light drizzle, a frantic brother found the girl sitting on the banks of a large puddle away from her house. He crouched at the edge of the dirty water, splashing her reflection with both palms. To his relief and dismay, when he picked her up, despite the rainy day, the girl was completely dry.

My mother’s name was immediately changed to counter whatever nasty force had taken her away from home. My grandparents called a shaman. After an arduous ceremony, it was decided that the girl would now be known as Chue, the Hmong word for bell. A bell rings. A bell warns. A bell commemorates; produces a sound that passes through silence.

My mother would only know about herself as Chue, the name of her past buried deep there.

Chue was the only girl from her farming village to go to school. Her father, an old merchant and peasant, could do without her work. At school, she ran past the boys, memorizing her letters and learning to write them with a careful hand. She loved her books, carrying them in her arms, close to her heart.

When he was nine, his father died, leaving his mother a house full of children. They buried him in the family orchard, among the citrus fruits, his favorite. She visited him often and always associated him with the fresh scent of orange blossom.

When Chue was 14, the war that had divided the nation between monarchists and communists, a war between colonial powers he could not name, came to his small village. One day, he was on his way to school. The next day there was no more school to go to. The war was over. The old government had been overthrown by a new regime. Large trucks arrived in the village trying to bring boys and men to be “re-educated” in the system. Fearing, his older brothers arranged a leave.

Their departure took place with the favor of the night. The family had little time to say goodbye. They gathered what they could, wrapped the smallest of the babies in swaddling clothes and baby-carrying clothes, and then took to the skies.

From village to village, Chue saw the animals abandoned in their pens, the piglets still suckling their mother’s teats, the hens crowding the yards. The houses were burned. The stench of human corpses came from different directions.

For two years, Chue and her family have moved from village to village in hopes of finding safety, space and a place to get up and somehow rebuild a life lost to war. Then, at the age of 16, she met my father and his life changed forever.

It was a day like any other in that hot, humid jungle. Chue and her mother were out looking for cassava roots and other edibles. They ran into two young men looking for game. My father was one of the young men.

His hair was dark and wiry. She had no shoes on her feet. His chin, unlike many others who had lived through the worst years of the war, was tilted up. She saw in him a challenge to the times, a rebellious spirit unwilling to bow to the circumstances of their world.

He saw in her a young woman with shoes on, her face clean, her hair tied up, a single strand of beads surrounding her bun. He saw in her a kind of cleansing he hadn’t known for a long time, a version of a world before and after.

The two young people have chosen a path that ultimately led to marriage, to children, to a life that many will never perceive as incredible but that I know as such, a life that has brought me and my brothers, a life that carried away from that jungle, to the resettlement dust, across America, to freezing Minnesota, where my brothers and I would grow up away from the bird calls of the past, the dropped bombs of their childhood.

Chue and Bee got married. Chue got pregnant. The women and children of the family were captured. Bee and her brothers have fled into the jungle to escape certain death. Months passed. A baby was born, my older sister. Men risked their lives to save captive women and children. Bombs exploded in the night, flashes of red and orange, and people screamed in pain as the family group rushed up a slope so steep that they only managed to climb it by pulling hard at the roots of the grass and touching their faces.

Somehow, Bee and Chue and their little girl arrived in Thailand. There, Chue had another daughter, me. There she learned to write in Hmong, a baby tied to the breast, a baby held tightly in her hand. There, she wrote letters in the United States and at home in search of the family that raised her. A nephew who had fled to America received her letter and he replied. In the envelope he had sent, he had put a single $ 100 bill.

With no principles of economics to guide her, Chue used that $ 100 bill to do her heart’s work. She fed her children. She has clothed them in dreams of a future where their feet and heads don’t have to rest on the earth, where their travels don’t have to be controlled by circumstances.

When I was six, I believed in the dreams my mother had dressed me in. I believed that, when I had the opportunity, I could learn to be good at school (as it had been before the war), and that with school, I could get money (that precious $ 100 bill that his grandson had sent when his words had reached him). With money I could do my heart’s work: take care of those who sought safety, nourishment, love in me (the work my mother had done with such calm and courage all my life with her).

When I was six and a half, my family had been resettled in the United States. Unlike many of the refugee women around us or my father, who was afraid of school, my mother couldn’t wait to get back into the classroom. There, she worked through the basics of the English language. When she made mistakes in class, she would come home, laugh and practice. My mother had more children in America, yet she refused to give up the learning job; she went to night school for four years to get her high school graduation. She too shy to go get her graduation at the ceremony, she drew the gold letters when she arrived in the mail, over and over with shaking hands and a big smile. Her fingers moved to the C, H, U, E which represented all the things others cannot see when they see my mother in the world.

In the world we lived in, my mother was a little refugee. She spoke English with a strong accent. Although she had worked hard and earned a high school diploma, no one saw him for the achievement that she was her in her life. In the life we ​​shared in America, my mother was a pair of hands along an assembly line.

Nobody knew that even after the long hours spent in the factory, my mother would come home and read to my brothers and to me. We bought the nickel books and dime from thrift stores. We borrowed them from the library. Her finger stopped under each word and slowly moved across the page. Our eyes followed the directions of his fingers: towards the world of books, the world of learning, the world of those distant dreams that had cloaked us with hope despite the poverty of everything.

When people talk about women who have had a positive impact on the world, they don’t think of women like my mother, unless they are her daughters like me and my sisters, sons like my brothers, people who can hear the toll of its bell. Her is a silent influence. It is an influence that the world has ignored, that the world may never feel needed or lacking, simply because it has always been there. The weight of the world falls on her shoulders like hers, gently curving, tightened by tension, quivering with love.

Chue Moua, like poor women all over the world, women who live and act beyond the sphere of knowledge and know-how of others, is a woman who for generations has defined the beauty of survival, the art of care, the thing money can’t buy: the constant commemoration of what it means to live by believing in what the world can still offer to others, even if it has failed you over and over again.

Chue, your bell rings. I know who it plays for. Today I live in your sweetest dreams; I live in the music of your words creating a world in which lives like yours and mine are possible, indeed, remarkable.

I will remember the name that was given to you, the name that brought you home and kept you safe forever, Chue Moua.

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