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Monologue by Xang Ly

Ly, Xang
Ly, Zoua
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Relationships with people and places; Stories and storytellers; Cultural identification
Xang Ly talks about his escape from Laos, the history of the Ly clan, and Hmong culture.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Zoua Ly interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
XL (Xang Ly): I will start off by telling my name. 59 years old. I live on 1477 Hilltop Street in the state of North Carolina. The month is August and the date is the 15th, 2002. Me and my wife brought our children from Laos. We have lived in the United States for 27 years since this month, August. The year that my family and I migrated to the United States was in 1976. When we came, there was five in the family, my wife and I and our three children. We left our land for the United States in August of '76 and we stayed in the refugee camp, Vinai and it took us two days to get to Bangkok. And my family and I were on our way to America, we came, we flew from Thailand to India, and then from India we flew to Brazil, then from Brazil we flew to New York and then from New York we flew to North Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina ( ) Hmong families that immigrated from, um, Laos, normally take the route of going to Hawaii and then, uh, flying in to California into such a city as San Francisco. ( ) Families would go to Saint Paul or Texas. Hmong families that were coming that were coming to the southeast, we flew to India and Brazil and New York. The day when we were getting ready to escape Laos was 1975. We came, we finally cross the Mekong River and arrived to Thailand, Bangkok, Thailand. We lived in Thailand for about a year and perhaps one month and then from there on, we came to America. To leave Laos we had to pay some, um, Laotians to take us across the river and we came to Thailand by boat, by boat, and we came in, in early morning. We got to Thailand early in the morning, around five o'clock. If we did not, um, escape in the dark or early in the morning like that, then the communist Laos would arrest us and force us back to Laos. For at least five families, uh, including mine, crossing the river, uh, if I remember it included my wife's mother and his, her dad and their children all came together to Thailand. We all survived. Now I'm going to talk about the Hmong clans in Laos. There were at least 18 different clans in Laos. Um, back in Laos each believed in Sh-, in Animist and Shaman, but if I was to compare it to Christianity, I feel that we, as Hmong people back in Laos, had more faith in Christ than, um, than most people here. Um, the reason why we did not really know how to relate religion to Jesus Christ is because we, the Hmong people did not know of Jesus but our customs that we practice are so similar to Christianity. For example, when a person passes away in the Hmong community back in Laos, we would take the corpse of that person and, um, literally, um, put him on a tree almost like how Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross. But for the Hmong people, um, this did, all we did this for was that so the person who passed away, his family members and friends that come by and, um, morn him or her. There are still several Hmong people now in Laos now who still practice this and, and if we were to compare this to the religion of Christianity, you know, we, we do believe in that and literally do practice that. For example, if we were to go and like, you know, um, and start a brand new farm on a new land, we would need to go and, um, make a little wooden cross and, and put it on the land. The Hmong, the Hmong word for that is called Moi Poi and that means that we literally, um, cut the piece apart into a cross. On the farmland it acted like a stake to the others that, you know, the other people that come around to the land, this would let them know that this piece of land has been taken, and you know, that it's got an owner. For generations within the Hmong culture, um, ancestors has done this for centuries and centuries. The reason why we were able to do this was because during that time living in Laos, you know, there's all this land that was not yet divided by the government to individual people and so, um, the land was pretty much op-, left open for kind of like 'first come, first served' and whoever went on that land and, and staked it with this wooden cross, you know, uh, claimed, claim ownership to the land and, um, anyone that could come by and this would that, you know, that it belongs to someone else due to this wooden cross on the land. And if the land has several acres, you would have to, um, put down several cross stakes all on the acreage of the land, so that way no one else would come and claim it. And for example, if, um, let's say someone did come and notice that even though there was a cross-stake on the land and they decided well, you know, "Well we don't know what this is put here for. We are going to need this land to farm," they can go ahead and farm it, but you know, sh-, if it goes to be taken let's say to the court or, or to be judged by someone else, definitely the pers-, the first person who came and put this cross-stake on the land would be the winner of the case. And, um, back then if, um, a woman gave birth, the child must be, the child must be, um, born at the house and the mother and child is not allowed to, um, the mother and chi-, child are not allowed to go out for a whole month. They must, both mother and child, must stay in the house for a good 30 days and then after that 30 days, the mother and child can go out, finally out of the house, um, however, prior to, after she was leaving the house, um, during that time, uh, pots and pans, or stovetop was really just kind of like, just, you know, indoor with a like log and stone, um, stone, um, cook-, stone oven kind of type. And so the pots would get dirty on the bottom and, and would, the dark part of the bottom would, like the charcoal part, before the child can actually leave the house after 30 days, the child must be, um, marked with this charcoal from this pot. Now I want to talk about marriage. The reason why, with the Hmong culture, um, there is a head price for the bride is because our ancestors said that due to, you know, uh, being fearful that their daughter would not be loved by either her husband or her husband's family, they, they, um, requested a bride's head price. And, um, this is how, uh, the custom of paying for a Hmong bride started. If I was to compare the custom of marriage in the Hmong culture such as paying for the bride, I can compare it to the story, um, of how, um, a particular, um, man for the story had to work seven years for his, um, bride, however at the end he didn't receive the one that he loved but then the received the older sister instead of the younger one. But also, um,( ) the father, the, the man that, you know, um, we cannot allow the first daughter to marry prior, we cannot allow the second daughter marrying prior the first daughter marrying and so I had to go ahead and give you the older daughter first. But anyways, this man was working for seven years for the younger daughter who was ( ) the gentleman did work for a full 14 years before he was able to marry the younger daughter. And then comparing this to the Hmong custom, we do practice similarly to this story from the Bible. Um, the older sister [cough] if the older sister is still unmarried, then the younger sister should she get married prior to her older sister getting married, she would have to pay kind of like a fine. It can be in between a 100 dollars and whatnot or more. And literally this is translated as wrapping, um, like a gift wrapping for the, on the sister's, um, ( ). Even today, the Hmong people still practice this custom in the Hmong people in, in Laos, you know, still practice this custom of paying a fine for the older sister should the younger sister be married first or the younger daughter be married first. In other words, um, I reckon the Hmong, the Hmong people due to their, um, practice of such rituals, you know, we literally, um, believe in Christian-, Chris-, believe in Christ and the in policy or whatnot. In addition I want to talk about, um, some types of food that children are not allowed to eat such as the head of a chicken or like intestines or gizzards of the chicken, and the reason for that was that, you know, this would make the children not smart and they wouldn't be able to go to school and make good grades and children or boys cannot eat chicken feet because, um, there was a saying that should they eat chicken feet, then this would scratch their stomach and, um, and then another part of, you know, chicken parts that were like the chicken wings, girls could eat the wings but boys can't. ( ) and the story was ( ) children, boys, were um, one of their main jobs was to make currents. But I think he misunderstood the current part of it. I think what he meant was to make yarns and, and, and, and what not, and if the boys were to eat chicken feet, then, you know, the, the yarns they made wouldn't turn out good. In other words, this is a bunch of superstitions that Hmong people have practiced since way, way centuries ago ( ), you know, we realize now that parents just wanted the children to grow up to, um, to do good and be kind and so they used such superstitions to, you know, not to scare their children, but to educate them and probably, really I mean put fear in them to make them a better person. ( ) Anyways, um, due to the different customs which we practice such as paying for bride, um, certain, you know, restriction on food, um, I feel that we, the Hmong people, um, truly believe in the religion of Christianity. Um, now I'm going to talk about differences in the Hmong clans. ( ) Several groups and, um, ( ) for example the numbers five, number seven and number nine, um, clans with these numbers, um, what they did was, would, um, sacrifice a cow or, or a pig and separate, separate like, uh, finer, um, meat, to like, you know, meat into like five different bowls, nine different bowls and then, um, ( ) occur for, you know, the, the pig. Um, for the, for the cow, the sacrificial cow they would use for the sacrificial bowls, they would use 13 bowls. This is where the different, um, clan group or what they believe comes in. Some clans even have 30 bowls. Now we're going to talk about my famil-, my family, you know, which branch I came from or which clan I came from. Uh, as a Ly myself, and this also includes any other Ly clan, Ly, uh, with any Hmong families with the last name Ly, here in the United States, or all over La-, Laos or all over the world. You know, um, there's the five, there is number seven and number nine. For myself personally, if I visit any other Ly clan I can ask them, "Well, how many, how bowls are you-, is your clan from?" And they can say, "I'm like, you know, five or eight or thirteen or," you know. ( ) And somebody asked me, "Well, what about the pig's bowl, how many do you have?" And if they answer seven, then I would say, "Well, no," you know, "We're not of the same lineage." Um, and let's say that they say that they're nine bowl, well, I would say, "Well, OK, we're not. We have the same name, Ly last name but due to the different numbers we're not blood related in any way." ( ) Sacrificial fish, um, ( ) the sacrificial pig they would use, um, the meat to cook and have a celebration with it. This can be compared to a Thanksgiving, um, in the United States. Um, ( ) during that time the Hmong people worked hard and, you know, they would kill the sacrificial fish ( ) pig and, um, would, um, you know, give, uh, divide it into five different bowls and give it to their, give it to the, you know, wife of the house or, or the daughters of the house or the grandmothers of the house. For example, I would give one bowl for my mo-, to my m-, my, uh, mother, one bowl to my wife, one bowl to my, uh, sister-in-law, and one bowl to, to, uh, my daughter-in-law, and if there was like another daughter-in-law then we would give, like, her a bowl also. Giving out of the individual bowls to like the mother of the house or the, uh, wife or the daughter-in-law or sister-in-law, it's kind of like to respect or honor all the hard work they've done for the year prior to the harvest, you know, prior to the celebration. So, uh, they did this as a respect and, and kind of like a thank you for working so hard throughout the year. For example, should, um, another female relative come and visit during this time, whether it's one or two more, um, they would, you know, the, the families giving out the, the, um, different bowls, um, must give each of the, the f-, new female that came to visit a bowl also. And this makes seven bowls instead of just five. As families grew and more daughter-in-laws, or sister-in-law were inco-, you know, married into the family, then, um, the, the bowls were expanded to nine or however many sister-in-laws or daughter-in-laws they have. And in my family, my clan, the Ly clan, my Ly clan, um, started off with just five bowls and from there on it branched on to seven bowls and then branched on to nine bowls and that's the reason why there's three different, um, number to represent the clan, the different Ly clan. For the younger generation, wherever they may go and visit if they should meet another, let's say my children, if they were to meet someone, um, another Ly clan, let's say from Australia, they can just mention, "Oh, we are from the Ly," you know, like the, uh, uh, "The ancestry of the five bowls." And if that, that Ly family says, "Oh, that's what we're from," you know, "That's where we are from, too." Is that, you know, our ancestors were also, uh, represented by the number five or five bowl, then that means they came from the same, uh, great-great grandfather or grandmother and they do belong within the same, um, family tree. By the different years or the several years of separation, it still comes down to that we, that, you know, we are related somehow. ( ) Ago, that's how we used or this is how we, uh, ( ) acknowledge, uh, relations to another Hmong family with the same last name such as, as I do, such as Ly. I want to talk about the Yang clan. The Yang clan, they are not allowed to, to, uh, eat hearts of any animals. And the reason for this is because they're, you know, um, their history says that, you know, they were celebrating and, um, ( ) use the heart of the animal to come and, you know, to cook. But anyways, they, um, they, um, the person that went to, you know, get, get, get the food to set on the table discovered that, now they only had one animal and so that when, when that person went to get the meat to put on the table, they discovered that there was two hearts instead of one. Well, anyways, due to this, they, they're like, "Well, that's weird," you know, "Where did this other heart come from?" When, when they only, when they only, um, slaughtered one animal. And so the story goes that in that family, the Yang clan, there was a, they had a child, a mi-, a, a, a male child who did not know how to speak and was a little slow, and so apparently, you know, the, the, the brother of this, this young man, you know, asked him, if, you know, they said, "Did you-," "Did you-," "Did you-," you know, "Did you eat-" the, the, you know, um, you know, "How come there's two hearts? Did you eat it or whatnot?" And because this male did not know how to say, "No I didn't," or, "Yes I did," he just kind of repeated the story and repeated what the elder asked him and so, when the elder asked him, "Did you eat it? Yes or no?" He just said, "Did you eat it? Yes or no?" And so the man said, well, "If you ate it son, you need to tell whether yes or no." So he didn't know. He said, well, he repeated exactly that. And so apparently, they, they, they murdered this, um, this young man who could not speak, who was a little slow and from there on, that's where the two hearts came in. And so because they were mean and they, they killed one of their own and actually ate the heart, you know, now in this century today, no one from the Ly clan is allowed to eat the heart. And it's quite amazing because when, um, like for, for example when, when I go to dinners, with someone with the Yang last name would eat the heart and should for example should they happen to eat it by mistake, they automatically recognize that what they've eaten or what, what they've tasted is the heart and they would either get sick, you know, there's been stories of blindness from this. Of course, I've never met anybody that was actually, uh, a real proof of this but that's just what I've heard. Just want to talk about ( ) from my father's name was Fa Vo Ly. My mother's name is Tha Xong. My father passed away when I was only three months old and so I don't remember my dad's face or I never knew it since I was only a three months old baby. My mother however, is still alive. She is, um, you know, still alive and lives in, um, the United States. Um, my mother was born in, um, 1914, July the 10th. Where I grew, I went to school and, um, I was allowed to go to school because my big, my older half-brother, my older half-brother acted as guardian over me because my dad passed away when I was just a babe. My brother and his wife loved me and allowed me to go to school and because of this, I, that's how I became educated and this helped me with improving my life. And I am really happy. I would like to thank my older brothers for all, and my sister-in-law, my older sister-in-law for all they've done for me. I felt that I am obligated to them. Because of them and their help and their love and encouragement, I was able to go to school and my life, you know, is, compared to most is pretty, I'm well off but if I think back, if it wasn't for my brother or his wife then I would not have, um, had the opportunity to be educated and my life would not be as good as it is now. My brother has passed away back in Laos last year ( ) left several children behind and I do love them just like he had loved me back when I was left alone. I remember that he never, like my brother ( ) never loved me but I don't agree with that, uh, you know, I was the one that lived with them, I experienced whether they loved me or not. ( ) But they have done their part. I mean as a, as an orphan, you know, when you don't have any parents, you know, what little love you can get from, whether it's your brother or your sister, half-brother or not, I still feel that it was some type of love. If not for that, how can I be, you know, where I am now and still be alive at my age? The last grade that I completed, was, um, I guess compared to grades here in America, I would be like a sixth grader, like I finished, um, sixth grade. But in Laos, sixth grade was equivalent to, um, you know, like a high school graduate here in the United States. But I would love to read and write and, and be able do business dealings with, with, um, others and to make money. And maybe some, you know, finishing sixth grade in Laos allowed an individual like myself to seek government offices, um, and to be able like, uh, get, you know, executive jobs as compared to, you know, a child here just finishing sixth grade you can't do that. But as I said earlier, it is comparable to a high school graduate. Uh, by graduating or finishing sixth grade there, you know, you can take up, be accepted professionally as a professor or like I say government offices. I finished school in the year 1968 and then I was drafted into the military. And I worked, um, my, um, my job in the military, it was, um, I worked for a special force where we would, um, go in and, um, kind of like, um, prepare a town for, uh, you know, uh, prior to the actual infantry coming into town to attack, you know, I would go in and, and set up and just kind of like spy on them and see if there's anything that may be interfering with, once, once, once the infantry comes in. And so, you know, we, you know, by doing this, you know, I would kind of be like a spy and so I guess compared to the American military, it would be like special force. Upon entering the military and doing this, joining the special force, um, I was promoted to, uh, the equivalent to a lieutenant of like an officer and I led my s-, several soldiers beneath me. I had, um, 11 individual, um, soldiers that I looked after and, um, we were like, you know, like doing our jobs secretly for three years. The three years when, when I got through doing this job, I came, you know, and, um, they made me kind of like a supervisor where I would, um, disperse food to families and then children. And actually during this time because of the Vietnam War, the United States CIA or pretty much the United States was sending like food to Laos. Well, I was kind of like the person that distributed this, this food that was being dropped off. Um, as prior to my leaving the United, to, to leaving Laos to the US, I was promoted to the rank of captain ( ), you know, because we did leave for the United States, I was not able to keep my position for long. ( ) Day of 1967, I entered, um, um, um, the military. I had given the wrong date, but actually it was 1968 to that I married. Let's say that my anniversary or marriage date was December the 25th. And I'm positive about the date because, again, in Laos we did not have a calendar, so we counted our days according to the position of the moon. For example, if the sun, I mean if, if the moon was very bright, then we would count it as the early, earlier days in the month. Most Hmong weddings occur during the New Year's celebration which is toward, at the end of the year, such as December. I would like to backtrack a little bit here. Prior to me going to school, I remember that my ( ) half-brother, we had, uh, you know, several, several, uh cows. We had like horses and whatnot. Here in America, since I don't have ( ) to, um, cattles I, you know, don't raise chickens, I raise, you know, wheat. My family and I eat ( ) really would like to go and one day raise cattles. So that, you know, by, by raising cattles and animals would like chickens, you know, it's kind of like a form of exercise for me and a leisurely enjoyment for me. I am going to talk about, you know, when I came to America and what I've been doing since I've been here. Um, since I've been in the United States, I was here for two days, I, you know, I stayed, you know, for two days and then I started my very first job two days after I got here in America. And the first job that I got was to work for, um, a company called CNA and the company made carpet. At this time my wage per hour was dollars and 50 cents per hour. I worked at this job on first shift for six months. I worked at CNA from '76, well '76 to '79 and then I left CNA to go work for a company called Home by Fisher that made mobile homes and I was only there for one month. There job there, the job duty there was very physically laborious so I did not stay long, so, and it was too heavy for me so I came out. And after I left that position, job, I couldn't get a job anywhere. I was home, I was jobless for about a month and then I found a job working for First Baptist Church. There I worked as a custodian and, um, you know, kept the church clean and whatnot. Anyways I worked there until '79 and then I went to school. Uh, I also worked at the same time, you know, I would go to school at night and then go work during the day. Uh, for my school I would receive a certificate for, um, like, um, mechanics and also a certificate for, um, film developing and also, um, a certificate for like a brick mason. I also learned, um, studied about electrical. I did not receive a certificate, oh, I did receive a certificate for elec-, electronics, um, but I did not get a lic-, you know, receive a license for electronics. However [laughs], I did not, you know, when I did find a job I, it did not pertain, it was not in any of the certificates I received from college. You know, I just got them so I can say I know, I would know how to use it. I worked at the church, First Baptist Church from '79 until late 1989. And then since, you know, since that time my children were all grown up and they didn't really need me financially anymore, I started my own business. In, um, so in the early 90s I started a company, a boot company where I did a sub-contract with B.B. Walker Shoe Company and, um, you know, for the first three months, um, myself and my wife, um, and we had some employees that we take, took with us to B.B. Walker, which is located in Asheboro, North Carolina for training. After three months I was able to come to Albemarle and I bought my own little, um, boot company and we did upper leather parts of boots. However, it's really sad that my contract work with B.B. Walker lasted for about five years and after five years I received news that they did, they would not renew my contract and they were sending the boots to a different country. ( ) Not only that, but, you know, customers that we had, was not ordering as much any more and so they wanted to, um, at first they wanted to, um, just kind of put us, put us on kind of, uh, hold should, you know, demand peak then they would continue to, um, to renew a contract, but if it didn't then they wouldn't. Of course, what ended up was that, um, they never did renew my contract. And so we shut down my company the Ly Corporation in August of 1995. After I, um, shut down my, um, company, I started a specialty grocery store and what the grocery store is, is we sell, um, Asian food. Uh, I've owned this business for the past eight years now. It seems like time has flew by really, really quickly. It doesn't feel like I've had that business for eight years now. My arrival in America, you know, I started two businesses, I still have one. I have several rental properties, um, I had six rental properties here but I sold one so now there's six left. And I do have a rental property in Charlotte also. I have several land, acreages of land. I have one that has 10 acres and one 17 and then one that's four acres. And so total land that I do own in Albemarle is 20, let's see, 30 acres. I would like to do something with the land that I own but however, with the economy right now, it's not doing, um, so well, so I'm not able to do anything on my land currently. But I hope to do something, um, you know, one day. I also try to sell my land, but, um, like I say, the economy's not doing so good so the buyer's market is not such a great market and neither is the seller's market. I think I told you my name earlier already, but my name is Xang, Xang Ly and my wife's name is Chia Ly, my oldest daughter's name is Bo Xe Ly and, um, my second child is a son and his name is Nhia Ly. And then a younger son named Pheng Ly and my youngest daughter or the baby of the family, her name is Monga Ly. Both of my daughters are married and both my sons are married. My son Nhia has both a son and a daughter. My younger son does not have any children. My youngest daughter does not have any children, either. But my oldest daughter has a son. I would say the Xang Ly is my father-in-law and this is Zoua Ly speaking. Um, it was very, very hard for me to translate his, um, stories that he recorded because he didn't keep a consecutive, um, daily, or yearly record when he was talking so he would jump from one story to the next and it was very confusing, but I hope that, um, what he shared would, um, be, um, information for the department. Um, also, I apologize as this may be a little confusing to understand and I hope that this is OK.