Multicultural Expression: Psychology, Healing and Art
Double Peer Days, August 22-23, 1995
(makes these No. 7 and 8)
© 1998 John Perkins
Conveners: Bert Kae-Je with John Perkins. Learners: Pamela Buffington,
Carol Lark, Rosemary Vienot, Francis Fischer
From my notes after the first 13 hour day: "Jammed packed peer day--as
scheduled--Bert is a bundle of organizing energy. A rich day of talk, listening
and sharing. Very affirming group. Many disclosures. Good group—into
peer day and all have good programs, all heavy hitters."
Bert had recruited four speakers, which we literally crammed into the first
day as we ourselves crammed into her Ford Taurus. We more than met the peer
day goal of increased learner contact.
The speakers provided well-prepared presentations. Sue Thao, at the Science
Museum in St. Paul began our day with what I will call the "official
history" of the Hmong in the United States. We learned of the secret
war the CIA enlisted the Hmong into joining during what we called the Vietnam
War. The Hmong lived in Laos, a supposedly neutral country.
We saw a live cotton plant (interesting that I can never recall seeing a
live one, given the importance of cotton plantations to the history of slavery)
and learned of the Hmong's rich heritage in needle-work skills like weaving
and embroidery. We saw a typical Hmong village family's house, with table,
chairs, bowls and altar. Some Hmong who have immigrated and moved into the
middle class write with understanding of how some of their fellow immigrants
might continue to prefer public housing. One ironic result of additional
education which Sue pointed out was that families no longer eat from one
bowl, as they once practiced back home, due to concern about the spreading
We ate a buffet lunch at a Lee Ann Chin's and admired their jade art works.
Next to Yeupeng Xiang at the Hmong Arts, Books and Crafts store, also in
St. Paul. He shared with us 10 approaches Hmong use for healing. Like Sue,
he took his responsibilities seriously, giving us a handout with the 10
approaches listed. Yeupeng also spoke of his efforts to encourage the Hmong
here to contribute to the betterment of the lives of Hmong still in Thailand,
Laos and China. One successful effort has been the recording of 16 popular
Hmong singers onto a benefit cassette he sells to raise funds.
Next, we zipped back across the Mississippi for two presentations. Ann Garwick
researches the challenges families face when caring for children with long-term
disabilities. (For her project, long term means an illness or injury lasting
two years or more.) Since the Patton Research Methods Seminar had brought
me to Minneapolis I questioned her about her methodology. Right now she
has been using many participatory and qualitative approaches and speaks
enthusiastically about the information and experiences collected. She said
shifting to quantitative will help gather more information across many families
in order to better make a political and medical case in support of families
faced with caring for children with long term disabilities.
Our last speaker, Dr. Bob Malcomb, has worked as a missionary in Asia and
now works with Christian Laotians in Minneapolis. I think Bob is the first
missionary I have ever spoken to while he or she actively worked as a missionary.
As a student of history I have mixed feelings about missionaries. My feelings
run close to 75% against with the rest undecided.
The Hmong and Laotians have been converting to Christianity. When we asked
our first speaker, Sue, about this he said that Christianity is much simpler
than their traditional practices. It didn't have prayers to ancestors, many,
many spirits to appease, complicated shamanic rituals which required animal
sacrifices. With Christianity you just show up on Sunday and then go about
your life. With Hmong, many have converted to Christianity, perhaps as many
as 50 percent. Among the Lao, many also have converted.
Bob shared D. Larson's (1986, no other reference provided) conception of
culture which I will put to good use. His handout says:
Group life is a human phenomenon. Group life functions in five
different ways. People exchange things in networks. Networks require
different roles, different 'faces.' People facework. In social groupings
people build relationships, binding or "sewing" themselves together.
People seamwork. Network, facework and seamwork are all part of teamwork.
Group functions depend on an internal group or cultural map of reality.
"Where are we?" Where are we going?" "How do we get
there?" This is cultural mapwork.
A pentagram chart included on the handout provided a visual map of Larson's
map of cultural and group life functioning.
Reading the newsletter, Hmong Diaspora, I learned more about the
Hmong. I was surprised to learn that there are still Chinese Hmong, as they
were driven out of China 2000 years ago into Laos and Thailand. I guess
some never left, or have moved back, or made assimilatory choices, like
Jews converting to Christianity during the Inquisition.
Their story joins our American story during the war in Vietnam when they
were recruited to support the CIA/US secret war in Laos. Wonderful tapestries
recording their experience clearly show the then secret (to Congress/taxpayers)
helicopter base. They fought the North Vietnamese. After the war, whole
villages fled from Laos, risking their lives to cross the Mekong River into
Thailand. Young babies who may have cried, revealing their hiding places,
were killed to protect the lives of the rest of the refugees. Many people
drowned trying to cross. Their enemies shot and killed others.
From the newsletter I learn about part of the story Sue chose not to tell
us. Those that made it have had to endure the squalid conditions of Camp
Vinai refugee camp in Thailand. Some that reach the city in Thailand become
heroin addicts. Younger and younger girls in the villages are being recruited
for Thailand's sex industry as the demand for AIDS free prostitutes intensifies.
In Minneapolis, gambling addiction as emerged as a problem as Native American
reservations lure Hmong to their casinos with free bus trips and cash. Rumors
say some Hmong have gambled away $10,000 - $20,000 within a few months.
Some Hmong in Thailand do not acknowledge their heritage, even when directly
confronted by other Hmong. This may be a modern echo of an older Hmong survival
strategy. Two thousand years ago, with the Chinese pursuing them into Laos,
some Hmong changed their dress and even their speech, creating a new dialect.
When the Chinese came upon them they did not look or sound like Hmong, and
so the Chinese left them alone. They are now called the White Hmong and
put down as "hillbillies" by the other Hmong. The Green Hmong
maintain the older Hmong traditions.
I feel strong pangs of recognition as I see in their experiences many of
the experiences being suffered by African Americans. In a way, I see both
of us being in this country involuntarily. Slavery, by definition is involuntary,
but the CIA brought a a secret extension of an "undeclared" war
to the Hmong. Look at these similar themes we face: prostitution, drug abuse,
shame about one's heritage, the need for unity and the hunger to sustain
As Bob the Lutheran missionary pointed out, the Hmong and Lao, though coming
from the same country, have dramatically different social structures. The
Hmong have 18 clans, and clan affiliation can be identified by their last
names. The Hmong arriving in Minneapolis first got themselves established,
and as other Hmong clan members arrived, the first would direct them to
which jobs were available and the new comers were expected to work at them
With the Lao, people value their individual choice and will not work long
at jobs which brings them little personal satisfaction. Bob shared the story
of one Lao man who opened a grocery store which turned increasingly higher
profits. But he really enjoyed car mechanics, so he sold the store and found
a position in a garage which he enjoys much more though it pays less.
I predict that Lao adults and youth will quickly take to American concepts
of 'freedom.' Indeed, my second day at work after returning from this trip,
one of my co-workers presented in clinical consult a teenage Lao girl who
was asserting her independence in the face of her mother's disapproval.
She showed this by insisting on continuing counseling after court required
hours due to a shoplifting charge were over. The mother doesn't like it,
but she hasn't forbidden it either, implicitly accepting her daughter's
right to make this type of choice.
Peer to peer sharing included Rosemary Vienot speaking of her experiences
with EMDR. She is very much involved with Frances Shapiro, its discoverer.
I regret we did not have time for her to demonstrate it, nor were she and
I able to arrange a private session for me during our time in Minneapolis.
I still must wait for my chance to experience it.
Late on the first day, I shared my understanding of hands on healing, actually
demonstrating on two learners who volunteered. This satisfied a private
longing I have had recently to share my gift for healing with other learners.
I have come to understand hand-on healing from being trained and many many
hours spent healing and being healed. After a frustrating year of seeking
someone to trade sessions with here in Seattle, I decided to hire someone
to provide this service. Since receiving sessions again I have had much
more energy particular for organizing my time and completing tasks.
We began the second day with me discussing how my internship relates to
healing some of the mistrust blacks have of the medical establishment as
demonstrated in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. I also described the innovations
my internship has brought forth.
Bert showed us her fabric, jewelry, and leather collage she has made as
part of her multi-cultural learning component in her program. She also read
a moving poem about her sincere efforts as a woman from the dominant culture
trying to understand the experiences of African Americans and others. She
read it to us the second day, preferring to stand as she did so. As she
read it I could see the platform presence of Bert-the-minister and feel
the sincerity and struggle upholding the words. Just getting into the history
of slavery and its repercussions like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, she acknowledged
in her poem, has brought to her more tolerance and compassion.
With dwindling time, Carol Lark directed us through an arts therapy exercise
which helped us explore the impact of Bert's poem through art. Looking at
mine now I recall drawing one picture which showed for me the rain (reign?)
of pain Western colonialism and expansion has visited on the planet. The
rain collects into a river of blood which constantly flows through society.
For a second drawing we had to represent (recalling from memory, so this
might be accurate) the emergence of hope and healing. I drew a multi-colored
circle with has a big opening spiral inside. Each time we speak to the positive
and hopeful, each hopeful action widens and enlarges the space of healing.
Its progress tears away the pain, denial and complacency which lets some
in society benefit from the pain of others.
Early in the planning process I realized Bert and I had different models
of how adults learn, and what a peer day can offer. I felt frustrated trying
to communicate my perspective to her. Not only are we adults, we are learners
in a Ph.D. program. I trust that people's life experiences and scholarship
can contribute to each of us learning from each other. From receiving her earliest
drafts of the agenda I knew we might clash on the issue of how to arrange
the activities and time. The quick, speaker on top of speaker schedule the
first day left too little time for learner to learner discussions and reflections.
We did have some time to talk, but not enough. A reasonable expectation?
I think one hour of discussion per hour of presentation. I would say to
Bert, and other learners like her, "Calm down. Trust. Scale Back. Spaces
with nothing planned will be filled with either deep conversation or deep
I place a high value on learning about other learner's programs. This also
takes time which I prefer happens as early as possible during the peer day.
During these peer days we got to know each other over meals and while traveling
from speaker to speaker. This worked out fine.
On a scale of 0 to 100, this peer day scores about a 93. So my complaints
are minor. We had a great convener, wonderful food, interesting speakers
and sufficient peer to peer sharing. Overall, though I feared that this
peer day would leave me too drained for the Patton seminar, I actually left
it feeling revitalized and hopeful. I truly admire the energy and creativity
Bert displayed, both in the planning of the peer days and in her creative
expressions of her personal journey in understanding our multi-cultural