Last night I came home from a trip to Minnesota. I went there with my boy, who has been home from his Minnesota mission for about nine months. This trip was a gift to him.
I loved seeing his joy on reuniting with the Hmong branch. Because it was a mission to the Hmong community within the United States, he spent most of his mission attending the same branch, much more time among the same people than other missionaries usually spend. So he became very close to the members there. He had been given a Hmong name and adopted into a Hmong clan. Visiting among the members there (so many of them busy raising children and managing work and hefty church callings, spread thin in ways that are probably common among non-Mormon-belt members) was a beautiful experience. I learned much about the Hmong culture. I know that it's probably wrong for me to assume I know anything about Hmong-American Mormon culture, and that to make any universal statements borders on stereotyping. But I'll report that I saw people who were very loving and very down-to-earth. Also, people who love to talk and especially to bear testimony on Fast Sunday.
While there, I bravely ate the food that was given to me, though I did pass on the super-hot peppers, which my hosts kindly kept separate. I ate pho (yes, I know that it's not originally Hmong, and that you can get it here, and that many Caucasians eat it and love it—I've just never tried it before) and a lot of rice and SQUIRREL! I survived the squirrel—it really wasn't bad, and the broth was very good. I heard interesting conversion stories. I smiled a lot as conversations went on around me. My boy translated MOST of what got said, which was kind of him. ("You should marry a Hmong wife!" "You've gotten taller!" "You need a haircut.")
One of my favorite moments was walking into the Hmong branch on Sunday and seeing the people's joy as they recognized my boy and hurried over to greet him. Another favorite memory will be the hour we spent at Hmong Village, a Hmong shopping mall. My son had so much joy in greeting each stall's proprietors in Hmong. I loved seeing their surprise and interest in his use of their language. I don't want to be so ethnocentric as to think that they were grateful a "Mika" (non-Hmong American) would take time to learn their language, but I think they were just friendly people, willing to spend some time in chatter when it was clear that he had so much enjoyment of speaking with them. I also loved seeing the huge variety of fruits, vegetables, meats and herbs at that market, many of which I hadn't seen before, ever.
Dear Hmong people of the Twin City branch, I can see that you loved my boy, and I am so grateful. I can see that you fed him and clothed him and made him feel useful. He came out young and a little awkward but full of a willingness to love you, and you let him. I know that he is just one of the hundreds of missionaries who have passed through there, but you are a big part of his world and his heart will be broken to be separated from you for years and years to come. Thanks for giving him an opportunity to try to show me what he loved about you. I can see that you deserve his praise and love.