Juju Xiaaj

Hey! My name is Juju Xiaaj, she/her pronouns. My Hmong name is Kao Kalia given to me by my kick-butt grandmother, and I am a second-generation Hmong American. I’ve often struggled with understanding what that label means to me. I don’t quite know the language, most of my peers don’t know what Hmong is, and I don’t know what to do with this pressure (I place on myself) to be the representation that I so desperately yearned for growing up. I’ve often felt like I had to choose between accepting my ethnic identity or fitting in with my predominantly white peers. This wasn’t because I didn’t find pride in my ethnicity. Rather, I felt a tremendous sense of injustice set upon the Hmong people in America.

As a kid, my grandmother and parents told me stories about the Secret War, and I rarely understood what to make of what seemed like a daunting real-life odyssey. My confusion lasted until I realized that none of my teachers, friends, or acquaintances knew who the Hmong were. I learned that my ancestors, people like my grandfather, received no recognition as US Secret Service veterans before passing. Despite this, I couldn’t blame people for what they didn’t know- More than anything, I was frustrated with myself. I did not know how to relay this information to my peers. 

But it was from moments like these I realized- giving back and bringing awareness to the Hmong community was vital to my identity. I wanted people to understand that the Hmong were far from “basically Chinese,” and that achievements weren’t because of the “hardworking” ethic of “Asian-ness.” And especially, the Hmong weren’t just “Asian refugees.” They were unrecognized heroes who fought on behalf of America and the principles of freedom; it is the literal translation of our name, “free people.” So as of today, rather than looking for spaces to belong, I’m coming to learn that I have to be the one to create that. I’m still trying to figure it out, but one thing is for sure: I am proud to be Hmong, and I am grateful to be blessed with the opportunity to share it with you.