Making HerStory

My Lee

As a first-generation Hmong-American growing up in Fresno, California, My Lee learned the importance of balancing emotions and choices from a very early age.  Her parents divorced when she was about 7 years old, and as the third oldest of seven children (and the oldest girl), she quickly assumed a mothering role that she has carried with her through her life.  Even today, she has a very good relationship with her mother and acts as a mediator between her parents and siblings.  That skill has also been honed over her years as one of only about 70 Hmong attorneys in Minnesota.

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My, center, with her sister in Hmong clothing, in Fresno (photos courtesy My Lee)

Growing up in poverty, far from extended family, My had a strong mother to teach her “to be the mom I want to be.  She spent time with us.  She empowered and inspired me to be a strong Hmong woman and mother.”

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My’s family at her graduation from William Mitchell College of Law, May 2010

My’s parents divorced when she was about seven years old, and the judge declared that three of the seven children were to live with their father.  It was at that tumultuous time that My met the Hmong woman who inspired her to become an attorney.  Although she doesn’t remember her name, My will never forget the family advocate who worked to help abused women transition to living their new lives as the sole head of the household and to help the children adjust to their new normal as well.  Over the year that the family advocate worked with their family, she taught My by example that she could grow up to help people feel safe, strong and confident.

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My with some of the other Hmong women who are attorneys in Minnesota

When she was fifteen years old, My’s mother and siblings moved from Fresno, California, to Minnesota to be closer to her grandparents.  She enrolled at Harding High School, and just a year later, at age sixteen, My married her now-husband of eighteen years in a traditional Hmong ceremony. “I’m sure my mom wasn’t happy about me marrying so young, but you make choices, and you make them turn out right.”

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My and her husband on their wedding day

That positive attitude of determination showcases the grit that, My explains, defines the Hmong culture.  The word Hmong means “free,” and My feels that the strength of the Hmong community is due to their relatively recent experiences of persecution and loss of their homeland.  Her grandmother is about 94 and recalls living in China with My’s mom and siblings and fleeing to Laos after her husband died.  They then relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, which has the largest Hmong community in the US.

The Hmong people have made a choice to survive against the odds, and that choice helped them persevere through difficult life circumstances.  When My’s father visited them for the last time after the divorce, she was feeling sad and missing him.  Her mother gave her simple advice: “Don’t miss him.  He’s not coming back, so don’t miss him.”

My quickly learned to suppress her emotions to get through tough times when there is no other option, and she has taught her children to do the same, explaining that “You are strong enough to do anything you put your heart and mind to, regardless of resources.”

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My and her mom (center) with her daughter (left) and sister (right)

That inner strength comes from their family’s values.  Although both My and her husband are Hmong, My was raised in Shamanism and her husband is Christian.  My converted to Christianity, and although she is a self-defined liberal, she is also very spiritual.  She believes that a higher being helps shape her life and gives her that strength and fortitude to keep moving forward through life’s challenges.

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With her husband with his parents at their church’s New Year celebration

Sometimes we need to build a wall around our heart to protect it during times of trial and rejection, as a true survival mechanism. The trick is being open to love and trust, and knowing when it’s safe and appropriate to let down that wall so that we can continue to grow.

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A family celebration for My’s father-in-law, before his unexpected passing ten days later

My strives to have healthy relationships with her kids, so they know they can turn to her when things get overwhelming.  She spends quality time with them and puts their needs at the forefront of her decisions, and she makes sure that she’s both physically and emotionally present for them, despite her intense work schedule.

My clarifies that, “I’m the exception, I’m not the rule” for being emotionally healthy after being raised in a broken home.  She worked hard to develop her emotional intelligence, and she consciously strives to raise her two children to be strong and emotionally secure.  But she jokingly admits that she “won’t know if it works for another twenty years, when the kids are adults.”my-lee-family

My is especially proud of her Hmong culture.  She lives near the Hmong Village shopping center in St. Paul, a local tourist site for those interested in learning more about Hmong culture, foods, and heritage.  “I love the Hmong and mainstream American cultures.  Both cultures combined have created the person I am.”

When she thinks of the women she has admired, particularly her mother and the family advocate from her childhood, she has learned that the best way we can use our talents to make a profound impact in the world is simply by being generous and loving more.  That usually means tearing down the walls that we have built around our hearts.

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  • Stefani @ Crafty Christian
    October 31, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    What a great, inspirational story! It’s so rare that people who grow up in broken homes don’t repeat the cycle. Good for her!

  • Lillian Soza
    October 31, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    I love hearing about Hmong people’s stories and experiences. I went to school with lots of Hmong children but as a child I never asked them questions about their family life and culture. I just find it all so interesting!

    • Laura and Melessa
      October 31, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      I know what you mean! We kind of take history for granted when we grow up around the people it happened to.

  • Allison T.
    October 31, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Beautiful story! No matter what challenges and struggles come our way, we need to stay strong and positive and never give up.

  • Ashley | Spit Up and Sit Ups
    October 31, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    I am glad My was able to get past being from a broken home. I too am from a broken home and it was a struggle to NOT repeat the same actions.

  • Stacy- Taylor411
    November 1, 2016 at 2:43 am

    I love hearing about family values, it’s so important to pass them along. She sounds like an amazing woman!!

  • Jen
    November 1, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    What an amazing story! Love hearing about overcoming struggles!

  • Roxanne
    November 1, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Such an an amazing story! I am always blown away by such powerful women who can make a difference for themselves!

  • Becca @ Nappies & Nail Polish
    November 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    A truly inspirational story. Thanks for sharing!

  • Erin @ Stay at Home Yogi
    November 1, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    What an inspiring lady! So interesting to read her story and learn about her culture.

  • Elizabeth Doren
    November 1, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Super powerful story. Shows the power of moms and women in general. Thanks for sharing.

  • Shann Eva
    November 2, 2016 at 12:54 am

    So inspirational! It shows how powerful women really can be. Not only can they be caretakers, but providers for their families. Thank you for sharing My’s story.

  • Bart
    November 2, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I had Hmong coworker who I worked with for 5 years. I consider her a good friend. She was a strong, independent woman and a pillar for her husband and children. She was also true to her culture and family. She passed away from breast cancer in 2012. I still admire her.

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 2, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      It’s so wonderful when we can honor and remember our friends and family who have passed away. She sounds like an amazing woman. Her legacy continues.

  • Casey@mommaandthepea
    November 3, 2016 at 12:01 am

    What a wonderful story of strength and preservation…Amazing woman and amazing story! Thank you!

  • Candace @ Fullest Mom
    November 4, 2016 at 12:07 am

    The more I read, the more intrigued I was. Thanks to My for telling her story so openly. There are some hard lessons, but as she stated, she persevered.

  • Tiffany | shortsweetmom
    November 4, 2016 at 2:24 am

    Thank you My for sharing your story. It is always inspirational and encouraging to read about real people that have made their lives better despite the cards they are dealt.

  • Inez
    November 8, 2016 at 1:13 am

    What a powerful story! Such an inspiration and encouragement that we can all overcome any struggle!

  • April
    November 8, 2016 at 5:13 am

    Thanks for sharing your incredible story! You are providing encouragement for all of your readers. 🙂

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