"As their mom, I know it starts with me": A Call to Advocacy
Having four sisters, a mother and a grandma who helped raise me, I’ve always been surrounded by women. We lived in a traditional Hmong household where women were expected to be obedient and meek; men were superior. It was considered respectful to always obey your elders and husband. The fear of shaming my family name was greatly installed in my upbringing. I have a lot of childhood memories of “this is how you should do things,” and “don’t do this, don’t ever say that or else your future in-laws will not like you.” A lot of my chores and responsibilities as a young girl were meant to prepare me to be a perfectly ideal daughter-in-law in the eyes of the Hmong culture. But through my teenage years, I witnessed a lot of things that changed my perspective. From experiencing culture shock, witnessing domestic violence, struggling as a young mom and working hard to earn an education, I built the confidence to pave my own way so that others can follow. That’s why I’m an advocate. I advocate for those who don’t have a voice, the ones who have lost their voice, and the ones who are trying to find their voice.
From experiencing culture shock, witnessing domestic violence, struggling as a young mom and working hard to earn an education, I built the confidence to pave my own way so that others can follow.
I was twelve years old when my two oldest sisters got married. They were only 16 and 17. Young marriages were common at the time for the Hmong culture. They also became young mothers. Despite their young marriages and early motherhood, I admire them. They never considered their circumstances to be setbacks and continued their education and later pursued their dream careers. However, it wasn’t always an easy journey for them. It was when I was 15 years old that I experienced my first heartbreak. It was a tragic moment that I’d rather not remember. Seeing your sister crying, covered in bruises does not paint a pretty picture. That very moment, the fear I saw in her eyes broke me, and it broke my mother and sisters. At such a young age, the weakness and frustration I felt of being helpless built a determination in me to never stay silent. I changed that day. Everything I learned growing up, on how to be an obedient woman was no longer of value to me. I was a 15 year old girl with strong ambition to become my own woman.
At such a young age, the weakness and frustration I felt of being helpless built a determination in me to never stay silent.
I later learned in life that pain comes in many different forms, not just physical. A few years ago my sister-in-law committed suicide. The guilt of not doing more ate at my soul. All the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve came through like a train wreck. Why did I not notice? Why did I not ask the questions? Why didn’t I reach out sooner? All these questions made me realize that time waits for no one. As I was attending grad school for nonprofit and public administration, I focused most of my school papers on mental health awareness, researching and writing on how we can improve the laws, policies, and healthcare systems that affect the communities we serve. I also focused my studies on child brides - a topic sensitive to the Hmong community. I was educating myself so I could use my knowledge to advocate, to make a change and be part of something bigger than myself.
Motherhood changed my life in so many ways. It’s the driving force behind my advocacy. My oldest son participated in his first protest during a national school walkout against gun violence. During that time, I shared with him how I advocate for Dressember in the fight against human trafficking. It was a proud moment for me because we shared a common reason why we both advocate for our beliefs - for the safety and wellbeing of children, our friends and family, and for justice in our community.
My sister didn’t have a voice, my sister-in-law lost her voice, and now my children are learning to find their voices. It’s important for me to set a positive example for them.
I learned about human trafficking and modern day slavery through my research paper on child brides. I knew it was something I could not walk away from. I began looking for organizations and advocacy opportunities I could participate in. Which is how I discovered Dressember. I knew my small voice joined with other other voices would make a louder scream. My sister didn’t have a voice, my sister-in-law lost her voice, and now my children are learning to find their voices. It’s important for me to set a positive example for them. I want to encourage my children to use their voices in a respectful manner to help those in need and to spread kindness. And as their mom, I know it starts with me.
This year, do something different. Take on the Dressember style challenge and pledge to wear a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, learn more about the issue of human trafficking and have a viable impact on those trapped in slavery around the world.
Registration opens October 1st.
About the Author
Gaochen Xiong recently graduated with her Master’s in Public and Nonprofit Administration. As a first generation born Hmong American, who is dedicated to paving the way for her children and future generations, she is excited to expand her knowledge and fight for justice through Dressember. She’s an avid reader, lover of all things arts and crafts, and enjoys experiencing new adventures and traveling with her family.