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Finding the Translation

Finding the Translation: Part One, From English to Hmong

So eventually I knew I had to tell the Grandparents, but first a little background so you understand why it was so difficult. Please note that this explanation is an excerpt of my own knowledge and what I know that were passed down from family. I am in no way saying that these are all facts and represent the entire Hmong Community as a whole. It is my words, and mine alone.

History by Me 101

Hmong people originated from Central Asia, where they lived among the Chinese people for many centuries, mostly as slaves. Many Hmong people were targeted and killed. In a result, it forced the survivors out the mountainsides of Thailand, Laos, Burma, and parts of Vietnam to find refuge and hide. They farmed and raised animals as a way of life living together amongst small village clusters.

During the Vietnam War, many Hmong individuals known as the CIA’s secret army were recruited by the United States to help fight against the Viet Cong. The Hmong men were trained to be fighters and a force to gather intelligence. Their responsibilities included finding equipment that was being moved on the Ho Chi Minh trail and to help rescue American soldiers, mainly pilots, who went downs in Laos. When the war subsided and American troops started to return home and withdrew from Vietnam and Laos, the Hmong became targets of genocide. Hmong families had to leave their homes and cross the Mekong River into Thailand to find refuge and hide once more.

The Hmong started arriving to the United State from the refugee camps in 1976. Some Hmong still practice traditional spiritual faith (Shamanism). With this, there are Hmong people who have a belief that illness, disease, death and unfortunate events are caused by spirits.  Ancestors are honored and believed in having answers. It is a strong belief that the spirits of ancestors linger looking and wandering for a place to rest, and then there are ancestral spirits who always reside with you like guardian angels. These guardian angel spirits are results of your family’s health, death, fortune, and misfortune. A common belief is that when you are ill, your soul has been led away by a spirit or a spirit has been disrupted, therefore a Shamanism ritual can be performed.

Shamans, which can be described as a medical doctor, holy people, healers, and advisors, are asked to perform these rituals. With these cultural beliefs, it has been difficult and misunderstood for many Hmong people to fully understand a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because essentially there are no physical signs or feature to distinguish the diagnosis. Even in the name itself including the word “Spectrum”, it was hard for me to explain in Hmong, that the range can be all over the place and all who have ASD are not alike.

In the States or western culture, having a disability or any diagnosis for that matter can be explained by using medical terms with a having a distinct description. However, with Hmong culture, disabilities can either be seen as gifts or punishments from God or a sort of higher power and this could also be dependent on your generation.

Now On To The Search

So my search began by finding a way to tell the Grandparents in a way they would understand, but who or where to go ask? My first project, of course, was to search the internet. There must be something out there! Boy, was I wrong, but here’s a few I found, with a quick search and to the best of my knowledge trying to translate them into English for you. Please know that I am not a professional Hmong language translator, this is just my own translations from Hmong to English of the terminologies that were found. As you will see, a one-word English word would not exist and often broken into terms for clearer understanding. tsi txawj has lug = doesn’t know how to talk

Google translator: kev puas siab ntsws ntsig otism = way of the broken brain autism

From Twitter @HmongAutism: Kev hais lus muaj teeb meem = Way of talking has problems

Eau Claire City-County Health Department, Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association Inc. Healthy Communities, Terminology Glossary by Wisconsin Hmong Mental Health Professional Group: Kab mob ua ib tug me nyuam muaj teeb meem ua phooj ywg nrog tib neeg = a disease where a child has difficulty/problems making friends/relationships with people.

As I successfully publish this one, my son awaits my attention. To be continued…

-Anna MV



Anna MV

A Hmong woman practicing life finding art in everything. Blogger of Family, Life, Culture, Autism, Self Awarenes

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