It is a sunny day in Minnesota. I haven’t watered my dwarf snapdragons in the last month but they continue to bloom, buds of yellow and purple, splash around the parameter of my little gray porch. I am surrounded by the blessings of small beauties. At night, the Christmas lights my husband has strung glitter and glow. This morning, the City of Minneapolis was struck by the rise of the morning sun, the glass windows on its tall buildings reflected the light, and from our bedroom window, I watched gray disappear, grow light, and shed glory.
I have many things to be thankful for. Big and small.
A small blessing: the neighbor’s dog who pees and poops in our yard and has left spots of yellow, drying grass amidst the once relatively green lawn, has become my friend. His owner is a middle age woman who doesn’t seem to like my husband and me much. When the dog is on his leash, in her arms, outside—they barely look at us—never mind that they use the patch of lawn connected to our house as a doggy bathroom. This summer, after the loss of my pregnancy at nineteen weeks, in the many long days of staring out the window, letting the free wind filter into our little house, letting the breath in and out of my constricted chest, I noticed the dog looking down at me from his second-story perch on the window ledge. His head bent to where I sat, his gaze unwavering, he looked at me. When I moved away from the window, his gaze shifted, he turned his neck to stretch, to take a breather from his post, and then when I returned, he’d be right there, looking on in. When I’m away from the house, I started thinking about him sitting up there in the hot sunshine, wondering where the neighbor was and when she’d be home to release him from his watch. When I’m home, I search for him in his window, and seeing him there, takes the loneliness away.
A big blessing: In late September, Radiolab, a popular WNYC Program, aired a podcast on Yellow Rain in which my Uncle Eng was interviewed and I’d agreed to serve as interpreter so that the Hmong perspective and reality of Yellow Rain could be shared with its some four million listeners. Two hours of an interview had been cut down to five minutes; the comprehensive and controversial research on Yellow Rain had been reduced to the conclusions of one Harvard doctor’s theory of bee dung. The Radiolab team made editorial decisions to take out my uncle’s long explanation on the Hmong knowledge of bees, on the particulars of his position within the Hmong experience after the Americans left Laos in 1975—when the Vietnam War ended and Laos fell to Communism and instituted a program of genocide to “exterminate down to the root the Hmong minority.”
They chose to make the Hmong sound like an ignorant people whose unfounded assessments of chemical warfare proved a deadly possibility for Ronald Reagan and America. They aired my cry for the interview to stop, my voice breaking, my words falling, my breathless struggle for the world to hear as an effort to monopolize and interview—an interview in which they had full control. It was humiliating. In the days after Radiolab’s podcast of Yellow Rain, listeners started writing to the show, saying, “You can’t badger a survivor of genocide”—few knew the truth of what had transpired, that it wasn’t just badgering a survivor of genocide, that it was indeed using prejudicial research and editorial technology to consciously discredit the experiences of an entire people. It was media injustice and racial privilege at work.
My heart hurt but I did not know how to respond, where to begin, or how to proceed, and then a handful of dedicated people, strangers reached out to me, and showed me heart that gave me hope that led me to write a response to the program that was shared and read, and the waves of consciousness began to form, and the little waves began to ripple, and now we look desperately for the big waves to come.
When I went to school in the autumn, I learned about Thanksgiving. I learned about the Native Americans and the European settlers. I learned about the guns that had been fired, the bodies, like those of my people, who had fallen to the ground to be buried by the seasons, the rise of concrete buildings, the countless pages of history and research that would erase and misrepresent for generations to come the complicated realities of the past, silence the death and despair that had been thrusted by the blades of imperialism and conquest into the heart of the Native American population.
Thanksgiving and the holiday season for me have always been a time of reckoning, a time to call the spirits we love and the spirits we have yet to meet together, to one table, to reckon with life, and celebrate the possibilities that hope delivers. This holiday season, I bow before strangers and friends. I ask you for a few minutes of your time to sign a petition to call the big waves of change forward, so we can sit at the same table, share the same meal, call upon what is the heart of humanity to broaden its hold and open up a bigger welcome to the weary travelers who have come looking for a home.
Please sign the petition, put forth by the Asian American community, to call NPR and WNYC and the people at Radiolab to a conversation on ways in which media can be more representative of diverse populations and more accountable for the information they publish.
The sun is shining today. The sparrows scatter to and from the feeders. They sing their little songs of faraway seasons, of spring and summer no more, of the autumn cool and the oncoming cold. The neighbor’s dog watches from his second story window, eyes solemn and sincere as I write this. He is my friend in the landscape of love and belonging, of gratitude for life and all that it can be, still—even in the tragedy of loss.
Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong American writer working from Minnesota. Her first book The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir is the only book to have won two MN Book Awards. She is finishing up her second book Still, Fluttering Heart: The Second Album.