Published on Life After Hate – Issue 2
February 18, 2010
When Arno invited Zebra Panel to join Life After Hate as a booth sponsor at the Sweatshop-Youthbuild Bboy Battle in Madison, I immediately accepted without hesitation. Why? Where do I begin?
I come from humbled beginnings growing up in a poor Hmong household where survival was our family’s weekly objective. I didn’t have formal dinners with my parents to engage in discussions about my academic achievements or future aspirations. I didn’t engage in any extra-curricular or athletic activities to supplement my learning. My parents worked second shift as laborers, so I mostly saw them on weekends. Life was hard.
It was around the time I was embarking on my teenage years that I can recall having the most difficult time in my life. I had always been an above average student with innate discipline and natural ability to achieve high academic recognition up until that point. In high school, I found myself becoming acquainted more with a rebellious crowd of friends. They energized and excited me and as my curiosity was piqued and boredom had set in, I gravitated towards a life of adventure with those friends. It was during that time I became acquainted with gangs.
Sure, I’ll admit that life was very exciting, at that time, but it was also very risky and dangerous. Deep down inside I knew I wanted to do more meaningful things like learn how to play the piano, dance hip hop, paint acrylic artwork, play on a volleyball team, or act in a school play. I was convinced kids like me didn’t get those privileges. So, I chose to have fun and lost sight of my dreams and goals. Lacking the resources to help inspire any belief I could achieve those aspirations or support my desire to pursue them became the impetus for my decision to become acquainted with the street life.
Shortly after realizing that the streets weren’t that glamorous after all, I married my boyfriend, moved to a new city, and decided to start a new life and a family. I am thankful I made it through some pretty good scares in my life. I left behind my youth. I left behind my friends. I left behind my family. I made a very hard transition between two very different lifestyles and cities. The kicker here was that I had just turned 16 at this point in my life. Now, life was even more hard.
Fast forward to seventeen years later, I am living very consciously and intentionally. Ironically, yet serendipitously, I have made a profession for myself by identifying the silver lining in all the good and bad that happened in my life to help inspire and support individuals to realize and achieve their true potential.
Last Saturday, I ventured out from Milwaukee to Madison with my friends to promote basic human goodness at an event aiming to bring social awareness and change to educate and empower youth to become leaders for positive social change in their communities. People from cities throughout Wisconsin and Illinois came to support the event as performers, artists, volunteers, teachers, advocates, ambassadors, families and leaders. When I saw the number of bodies that packed the venue, I was both touched and inspired by the unity and collaboration that was fostered by such a movement a Bboy battle could ignite.
As a youth, I had made every excuse in the book to convince myself that I couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t achieve all the things I aspired to, so I gave up without even trying. I had blamed it on my humbled beginnings. I had blamed it on my hard working parents. I had blamed it on my strict siblings. I had even blamed it on being a Hmong-American immigrant.
The universal languages of music and dance have long been sources of inspiration and tools for individuals to channel their own thoughts, feelings and emotions creatively and constructively through beautiful art forms. I witnessed in this single event a union of extremely diverse people who, during those five hours, spoke and understood a single common language where race, religion, gender, politics, age, sexual preference, culture, disability, income class, and body type didn’t matter. The message of inspiration, hope, diligence and staying focused in pursuit of your dreams spoke so loudly to me as a spectator.
As I stood in the crowd and really embraced that experience, I reflected on my reason for being there: to inspire and support individuals to eliminate limiting beliefs that prevent them from achieving their true potential. Little did I know that I would also reap the rewards as a recipient of such inspiration. I tucked away some of those old goals from long ago as I grew older and acquired more responsibilities as an adult.
I thank the leaders of this event and everyone who attended for inspiring me to bring out the inner kid in me. Since Saturday, I have seriously considered revisiting and exploring some of those old goals and incorporating them into my adult life. It’s never too late to dance. It’s never too late to paint. It’s never too late to try things that bring you joy whether or not you think you will be good at it. When you do more of the things you enjoy in life, it’s hard to fail at it. When you are doing what you love and living with meaning and purpose, it’s hard to hate anything. Life is good. Let’s go dance.