"Many may say that living with the collision of two cultures is a burden, but I find it a blessing in disguise."
The Blake School
The tunnel linking the Hopkins Lower School to the Middle School is undergoing a colorful transformation thanks to art teacher Seexeng Lee and a group of Blake student-artists. Look for more on this project in the months to come! (Video by Nadia Lee) [read more]
Post on: June 8, 2015 9:56:00 AM
Post on: April 7, 2007 2:11:27 PM
TExerpts from the presenting topic:
"Identity in Transition"
University of Wisconsin Law School
April 20th, 2007
Speaking at U of W-Law School Spring 2007
Photo courtesy of U of W Law Student
Hi! My name is Seexeng Lee, an American, but to be more precise, a "Hmong-American" who is currently teaching art at Patrick Henry High School.
It is important for me to point this out because I am still very Hmong-Not only on the outside but everything else as well. Things such as I still speak the Hmong language, active in the Hmong community, practice many of the traditional Hmong rituals and still live with many of the Hmong values that has been passed onto me by my fore fathers.
At the same time, I am also very American. I've got the documents that says I am! I speak English as much as I speak Hmong. I live within the law, pay taxes, perform my civil duties and taking on responsibilities to better our community.
There were times in my life that I didn't want to be one or the other. Simply because it was too hard! It seemed as if I was living two separate lives! But now I am very content with my dual citizenship, dual centralism and dual responsibilities.
Something to think about: Back when I was still in college I was traveling with a few friends to go to their Hometown of Fonduluc, Wisconsin. As we traveling through a small town in Wisconsin we've decided to stop by the local McDonald to get a quick bite before continuing on with our journey. As we were sitting in the restaurant eating, someone in the restaurant yelled out! Why don't you all go back to where you've came from! I didn't respond, but one of my friends did. He replied by yelling back, so are you saying that I should go back to Fonduluc? Because that is where we're heading! (He was born there!)
Prof. Hillmer, history professor at Concordia University St. Paul once said- we, the humans are equipped with a very special tool- a tool that is capable of anything. This tool of ours is what catapulted us to become the dominant spicy of this planet. But keep in mind that this tool is not perfect! There is a flaw with this tool- the brain tends to categorizes and generalize.
Please keep in mind what the professor have said while you're listening to my journey.
In my early days: I was born in the high hills of Laos sometime during the harvest season right after the Communist Party has take over Laos. I spent half of my childhood in the refugee camp in Thailand and the other half here in the "ghetto" parts of town in Minneapolis. All that I could remember of Laos was the constant moving from one area to the next. All that I could remember of the refugee camp were my dad's nightly story telling to us kids in my neighborhood block, my dirt floor canvas (my parent couldn't afford pencils and paper so my art tools and materials then were a wooden stick and the dirt floor).
The first encounter: My fondest memory of the camp was when I first saw a "White"man. All I remember were some of my buddies running towards me grabbing me by the hands and screamed loudly. The American are coming! The American are coming!
No just kidding!
He screamed, there is an "Amelika" over there, come on lets go see him! To my surprise we weren't the only ones. There were about 20 other kids chasing after this very tall, very white, very hairy, smelly person. For a moment I thought he was one of the giants in my dad's stories a giant that would eat little children! I was afraid to get close to him, but yet was most curious. I would get close but as he turn or look towards me, I would stop and back paddled. All of the kids would do this for blocks. Only until the adults screamed at us to get away from him that we finally did.
Believe it or not I even had nightmares about him afterwards!
My first word: I came to this country at the age of 9 in the summer of 1984. One of the first things I remember wanting to do then was I wanted to "fit in". Not so much fitting in with the right clothing, shoes or hair style- nothing like that. I simply wanted to fit by having the ability to speak English, just like everyone else. I've tried to do so by listening to everyone's conversation hoping to pick up English words from them. I finally got one, a word that seems to reappear over and over again I convinced myself that I've got it! I know what they were saying and a few days later finally have the courage to try it out.
I've tried it with my third grade teacher, Mrs. Erickson and this was how it went. When Mrs. Erickson, my third grade teacher came to my desk and was hovering over my math worksheet I turn to her and say, "What". She then look at me and said something in return. I then say "what" again and she continues to answer me. I said it again and the conversation continues! At that moment I was so proud of myself claiming that I am in! I am actually speaking English! I am having a conversation with my teacher. Cool!
Shortly after she walks off but later brought in a Hmong lady. She quietly said to me honey, are you okay? Can you hear me? Your ear is not hurting is it?
I responded to her that I am fine and that my ears are not hurting. She then said why do keep asking her (your teacher) to repeat herself. I then told her proudly that I was simply having a conversation with her. The Hmong lady finally explained what the word "What" means and since then I couldn't remember the last time I've said anything to Mrs. Erickson.
The reunion: At the end of my college years (1997), I was putting on my senior art show. I thought maybe I could go back to some of my old schools and see if I can reconnect with some of my teachers. Basically I wanted to simply thank them for helping me and maybe could invite them to my show. So I went back to the elementary school (Keewaydin) and asked for Mrs. Erickson. Fortunately for me she was still there, teaching her last year before retiring. But now instead of 3rd graders, she teaches 1st graders.
Since I wanted to surprise her, I've told the office not to tell her who I am. Instead of surprising her, I was totally surprised with the fist thing that came out of her mouth as I entered her room. She took one look at me and said, "the artist", you"re back!
I didn't quite remember how I responded, but I did ask her later why would she say such a thing. Her answer was simple-- by the look of everything I would have held you back from going to the fourth grade had I not notice the complex drawings that you did day in and day out. I have never seen anyone who drew so much! She also said, it took me awhile to see it, but once I saw it there was no doubt in my mind that you should go to the fourth grade.
The youth group leaders and staffs: I finally could speak English somewhat fluently at around the middle school years. I picked up most of my English and my outlook of what it means to be an American mainly through watching tons of cartoons (WB's LOONEY TOONS) and by attending my church youth group (Powderhorn Baptis Church AWANA Club), as well as being apart of the Boy Scouts of America and the Salvation Army's after school youth groups.
I owed everything to these people and these institutions. Many of whom I have lost contacts with, but have never forgotten them or what they did for me. They all have gone out of their way to assist, teach and guide me. I am most grateful, but for the most part they left me wondering why would they do this? What were they trying to gain or would gain from helping me? I have nothing to offer them, I am simply a refugees that don't looks, don't act and have nothing in common with them?
I've finally had the answer from one of my mentor George Roberts (who also goes out of his way to assist others) while attending an art exhibition. He said, I don't know exactly why they did it, but I know that I do these things because I have had the blessing of having many wonderful and kind people who have done these kinds of stuff for me. I am simply passing it on!
In conclusion: We are blessed to have a wonderful tool (like our brain) that can helped us to be whoever we may want to be. But at times this tool tends to get us to fear things and not trust what we don't know or understand. It also gets us to over look the good quality of others. So please understand that in order for us to make the best use of this tool, we must understand how it works and not to give-in to its flaws. I challenge all of you to have the encourage to reach out to those that you don't know well, things that you don't quite understand and yes, please slow down and see the finer things in life.
Lastly, I will leave you all with these three questions:
What does it mean to be an American?