Interview with Mrs. Xee Lee, a shaman Spirit bridge Hmong vowel chart on the wall of Mrs. Thao Altar in Mrs. Lee home Shaman tools Wood carvings in the home of Mrs. Thao Food on the altar in Mrs. Lee's home Taking notes in the home of Mrs. Thao

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Visiting Homes at Bayview

Sara K. | Cristina | Abigail | Erika | Maggie | Izzy S. | Nico B. | Benjamin | Gabby

On a gloomy, rainy morning our class drove down Park Street to Bayview. Bayview is a big group of apartments where a lot of Asian-American, African-American, Caucasian, Latino-American, and Native American people live. It is a really neat, diverse place, and it would have been cool to look at apartments of all the different ethnicities, but we were there to study Hmong homes. . . . We split into 4 groups, and set off to tour [4] Bayview Hmong homes.

We got on the bus, headed to the Bayview apartments. When I just got on the bus, the bus driver looked at me and said “Hola.” He just looked at me and right away knew that I was Mexican. It felt kind of good having someone else who speaks the same language like me.. . . Mark [a Hmong student in the class who lives at Bayview] always was taking us where to go next because he knows where we are going and practically knows everybody so he is a good help in our group. He even had to translate for us. For him it got a little bit hard to translate because it’s hard to translate from one language to another.

Two things the homes had in common were: #1: they all had flowers (fake) for decoration. #2: They all have photos of family. Oh, wait! They all have gardens outside their doors. And they all have big families (Mark has 10 siblings!) 2 have altars and are shamans, 1 grows bamboo, 1 comes from a family of ministers, and 1 has a picture of General Vang Pao. So similar yet so different!

Each home was organized differently. Space organization is not at all the same because of culture. There is however one exception, the shamanic altar. All of the altars have rice, egg yolk separated into four cups, an egg in a bin of rice, the shamanic bells, and the traditional instruments (bells, horns, knife, gong, drums, etc.)

In the house it was dark. All the lights were off because Mrs. Thao only uses them when she needs them. I think it reminds her of Laos a little bit.
In the kitchen there was a rice cooker and a rice steamer. The family eats rice three times a day.

A very common decoration I saw was certificates for the men to prove they were in the Vietnam war. Some houses had certificates for the women saying they had lost their husbands in the war.

In three of the houses we went to there were shamans’ altars. Every house also had a bridge of string and sticks leading from the altar to the door. Mrs. Yang said that “if it weren’t for this bridge the spirits wouldn’t be able to come in and if it weren’t for the corn on the door bad spirits would be able to get in and either make the shaman sick or another member of the family.” On every altar there was food like egg and rice and water to feed the spirits. Whenever incense is lit it calls the spirits to the house or apartment. Paper is cut into patterns as some cut snowflakes and is used on the altar. Every year at the end of the year the paper has to be taken down and re-done and every day the food has to be replaced for the spirits. On the wall there was also a design made from folded paper to honor the spirits. These designs are usually made by men and the blood of the rooster is used in making two dots on each side.
–Izzy S.

Neng Leeyang is also a Shaman. She has some strings set up so the spirits can come in and out, a shaman drum, and a shaker, some buffalo horns, and lots of different kinds of medicine plants. She has a garden but only plants healing plants. There are flowers hanging from the ceiling of her house but they are just for decoration.
–Nico B.

The traditional way of how a shaman gets a taller altar is as follows: you have 1 level when you start being a shaman. After 10 years, you add another level. Then, after 30 years, you add the third level. On her shaman’s alter were incense, a knife, a gong, and modern medicines.

The next house we visited was the home of Xee Lee, another shaman. She has photos of people, family, the military, and Laos. She doesn’t believe in the altar levels thing, she’s been a shaman since the late 60s and only has 1.

To become a shaman, the spirits come to you in a dream and tell you you have to do or else you will die, not everyone can become a shaman. A shaman is like a doctor, a special kind of doctor. The tools that she has are from Laos.