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 of germs.

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 hope.

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 without question.

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 silence."

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 society.