The Colonization of our Identities

In mid-August, the fellows participated in the Cultural Resistance and Liberation: California Central Valley Immigrants Building a Social Justice Movement workshop led by Dr. Gaspar Rivera Salgado. The most important section of the workshop was the identity discussion. The discussion consisted of two segments: Create your own definition of being and belonging 1) Which community do you belong in? 2) How do you identify yourself?

1. Which community do you belong to?

Each member identified the communities that they belong to, such as hobbies, location, activism, gender, sex, creed, and race. It is a misconception that “community” only refer to ethnicity because in a diverse environment in which people of color often create space for themselves and congregate to celebrate and retain their culture or to gather resource for their group, the term “community” is attached to the group. The community that we are in become a part of our identity: I am a feminist, a woman, a Hmong, a Fresnan, a Californian, an American, and yeah, a Korean music fan. These are my communities, all part of my identity.

2. How do you identify yourself?

This segment was more about ethnicity than the rest mentioned above. The purpose was to list your history and how that history led to your self-identification.

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All of us came from somewhere other than here and a lot of it was due to colonization. When one country or one group of people colonize another country or invade another group, they take power and becomes the dominant power who get to decide what is appropriate, what needs to be retained and what needs to be thrown away. When people don’t resist that dominant power, they get assimilated into the dominant culture and loses their authentic identity. They adapt and adopt the dominant culture.

One of my discussion member mentioned how the Spanish occupied Central America and divided the region up to many regions; that his ethnic people have more artifacts in another country other than their own of El Salvador because of the land division.

I choose to identify myself as a Hmong American because that is what my history and heritage led me to become. I wasn’t born a Hmong American, I became one. I choose to say that my ancestors came from the region that is now called China because it wasn’t the People’s Republic of China when my family lineage broke off from that region and migrated to what is now geographically and politically known as Southeast Asia. Recently, I have met Hmong American youth like myself who self-identify as Hmong Chinese because they disregard the Hmong history and the cultural heritage from Laos and Thailand, and try to attach themselves to China.

But Tibet have been occupied by the People’s Republic of China since 1950 and if the Tibetans had gave in to China and incorporated as part of that country, would the children of exiled Tibetans in 100 years refer to themselves as “Tibetan Chinese?” It doesn’t make sense. A Tibetan who was never a Chinese don’t suddenly becomes a Chinese outside of China. Just like a Hmong who was never a Chinese don’t suddenly becomes one.

Colonialism do not just only occupy space, economy, and politics, it also occupy our identities. It shape the culture and communities that we live in and it takes from our culture and our people become influenced from those who took our space. We adapt and we adopt from each other but when we don’t resist, we lose ours and we dwell in their’s.

Decolonization is “the undoing of colonialism, where a nation establishes and maintains dependent territory (courial governments).” Tibet is still occupied but we as ethnic communities can resist the white-washing and Euro-colonization of our culture and our human rights. Often I hear Hmong youth say “I am American, we don’t do that anymore” when they want to defy Hmong values and traditions. Others have asked “I am American, how can I be Hmong?” These are those who don’t understand that ethnicity and nationality are separate but co-exist.

Photos by Eduardo Stanley

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3 thoughts on “The Colonization of our Identities

  1. Hi Chelsey,
    Great post. I would also add nonetheless, that colonization is also a state of mind that sometimes goes beyond our self-identification and/or the denial of our cultural values, which I believe, makes us more vulnerable as individuals or groups to engage in hurtful cycles (depression, alcoholism, domestic violence, gang affiliation, among others). Yet, colonization has thought us to oppress our own people, and members of other groups (gender, sexual preferences, creed, etc). Thus, the work that we have as cultural organizers is important to bring people together and help us reflect, and reconnect all. Thank you for your great article, keep up the amazing work!

  2. Your findings shows that culture is a human construct that is bound to change when a big change such as moving to a different and distinct geographical location, from Laos to the United States, takes place. This is disruptive to the continuity within the cultural identification so that when a new generation is born within the new country, what results is a cross-culture identification. (Of course, being under colony rule, cross-cultural identification was already underway i.e. French-Laotian-Hmong.) Successive generations will cause an evolution in cultural identity or become assimilated if there are no ethnocentric resistance. This evolution or assimilation takes place because there might not be a strong cultural continuity to no cultural continuity.

    But, a person can choose, which is rare, to deconstruct their current cultural construct in order to build a new one that is either a purer Hmong cultural construct or choose to construct a different cultural identity.

    Have you also consider how the role of religion and/or pop-culture (technology as a medium) influenced cultural identity?

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