This Fellowship journey has helped me explore other realms of my life more than I have ever done before. It’s flexibility and the supportive way that folks at the Bush Foundation provided gave me an unspoken permission to dive into a deep introspection that has led to a sense of personal liberation I didn’t even know I needed. Sure, like many in my cohort I could not fully implement my original plan due to the pandemic (travel restrictions, meeting face to face with leaders, taking courses, etc.) instead it allowed me to sit with myself and those closest to me to reflect about this new season of my life, the fear that I have a limited time on earth and to consider the many options for my next journey beyond the Fellowship and my career.
My original plan consisted of three things - to expand my knowledge about gender justice from other racial communities, gain a credential in public policy and learn about healing and mindfulness modalities. The last item was very personal and I didn’t think I would spend much time on it. To my surprise, when I started the Fellowship, it became the most powerful and most mysterious undertaking. I knew that to be an effective leader in the next phase of my life, I needed to address the healing and self care that I poorly lacked and was quietly making my soul suffer. It dawned on me that I have been living and breathing my job for decades. My community was the priority among all else. As I wrote in my first learning log, HONOR equals being a servant to my community. Deep down, I knew that I must prioritize myself, physically and spiritually but I didn't know how to do it. So, the first ceremony to launch my Fellowship journey was a healing ritual conducted by a Hmong shaman. Shortly before I received the Fellowship, I felt a spiritual imbalance but didn’t know enough about how to bring back that state of equilibrium. I asked my mom and aunt to seek a shaman to help me. They were amazed at my request and were eager to do it. Since then, the last two years have been a kind of ‘ride or die’ spiritual and mental adventure. I also made time to reconnect with friends and family I have neglected throughout the years because I was in pursuit of my own professional priority.
I have had several transitions in my life, however, this current one is probably the most transformative. I think rolling into my 50’s plays a critical role in it. The thought of living well and leaving a legacy worth remembering have become more real than ever and often in my mind. Transitions in the past were more focused on career and professional success, measurements of achievements that were honorable, but it meant I had to put myself secondary to my work and community. My identity became indistinguishable with my career of 20+ years. While it was extremely rewarding and showed that I embodied the values of the movements that I affiliate with, I started to feel a serious depletion of energy in my mental capacity to be creative, courageous and developed a low tolerance for leaders who don’t take action. The prospect that I have a limited time to make a difference brings a sense of urgency.
Fortunately the Bush Fellowship came at the right time. As mentioned above, many moments throughout this journey, I focused a lot of time on building my knowledge and tools to take better care of myself, to not only practice self-care but grow that into self-love. I have gone to more retreats to repair and relearn healthy habits to gain sustainable mindfulness than I thought I could bear. I could not do this without this Fellowship. My friends, family and colleagues see the difference in me and are constantly supportive of this transformation.
The demands during the pandemic took its toll on me as it did on everyone. My multiple leadership roles and commitment at my job made it impossible to carry out my fellowship plans so I had to pause it in the middle of 2020. A testament to my endurance, at work, I was extremely productive, engaged in zoom daily, all day. I led community researchers to publish two major reports, one on redefining cultural assets in the Asian Minnesotan community and the other on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Hmong and Karen community. During the 2020 legislative session, I oversaw three legislative efforts - ethnic studies for K-12, creation of a $2 million grant program for small BIPOC organizations and extending the time limit for post conviction relief. By the end of May 2020, I was completely exhausted! I resigned from my job and restarted my Fellowship in June. It's worth noting that my daughter kept asking me, who would I be if I didn't have my job anymore. I reassured her that I would still be me even without the title. I would not be able to quit my job – MY LIFELINE – during a global pandemic if I didn’t have this Fellowship. What a privilege it is to finally know that someone else has my back for once. Thank you!
The last six months have truly been a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am learning and creating a financial foundation for my retirement. I spent a lot of time with my elderly parents even though we don’t talk much. Being in each other’s presence has been comforting. I reached out to old friends and colleagues with the intention of learning from them and reciprocating their wisdom and love. I contemplated my next journey. Yes, this is the end of this Fellowship and soon I'll be on to another journey. This next journey is not well defined, yet, but I have come to accept without humility that I have an abundance of social capital, knowledge, wisdom and love.
Serendipitously, the last two events I attended were conversations on aging well hosted by AARP/Pollen and a Hmong shamanism panel by young and rising shamans in the Hmong tradition. The aging conversation had over 100 participants and the speakers were in their 70’s and older talking about their work and activism. I live in intergenerational family settings but the elders that I interact with are often ailing or seen as older wise people who are too frail to engage in work. At least that’s how they portray themselves. At the AARP event, the elders talked about their continued physical and mental intellect. They made me feel that I still have time and that I don’t have to consider growing old as being the end of my activism. Even though I know it, that conversation shifted something in me. I am among the 1.5 generation who came as children of refugees and I grew up in this country. I can and will redefine what aging looks like in my community. Simple but powerful for me to get to this point.
The second event was about the astounding proliferation of shamanism among young Hmong Americans. In a few of my reflections, I have talked about the need for collective healing. And in the animist belief, an individual becomes sick when there is an imbalance in their equilibrium. I started my journey with a shamanic ceremony to call my wandering soul back into my being. Over the years, I have been curious about how this can happen for a collective community who have experienced an immense amount of historical trauma. I also started to hear and meet more young people, under the age of 50 and some as young as teens or younger who have the calling to be a shaman/healer. Could this be the culmination of our ancestors' work to help us heal? The young shamans spoke of their spiritual guides who are teaching them how to use their gift to heal. Young Hmong Americans who don’t speak Hmong are interacting with the spirit world in Hmong or another ancestral language. Because they grew up in this country and some have a social justice awareness, they are trying to incorporate those values in their practice. One rising shaman is a Hmong woman, married to a non-Hmong, therefore in our patrilineal world, she is no longer a Hmong person. She is grappling with the contradictions. Also because she is trying to dismantle patriarchy in her daily world, she has received less support from her own familial network. This has raised a lot of questions about the purpose of having a powerful gift that can’t be accepted and nurtured by all. This speaks to the harmful patriarchal practices that persists. I was glued to the zoom screen and fascinated by their stories. Their work will have a huge impact and implication in our community and it gave me so much hope and inspiration.
These two events were encouraging and are a validation that my next journey will be defined by me and that I am not alone. Whether as a leader and or an elder serving as a bridge to other generations and communities, I am well equipped. I am learning and growing every day and the journey will not end until I say so. The transitions in my life are truly synchronicities that remind me to trust the universe and that my ancestors are my guiding angels.