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Interview with Hedy Tripp




Hedy Tripp was born in 1948 in Singapore. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Early life in Singapore - family history - going to school in Singapore - getting married and divorced - coming to the United States - getting remarried in the United States - moving to Saint Cloud, Minnesota - worries about racism in Saint Cloud - teaching - comparing the educational systems in the United States and Singapore - working for groups such as the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum - having breast cancer - calling Minnesota home.





World Region



Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Hedy Tripp Interviewer: Pa Yang



Cover design: Kim Jackson Copyright © 2012 by Minnesota Historical Society All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Oral History Office, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102.

The Asian population of Minnesota has grown dramatically since 1980, and in particular during the period from 1990 to the present. The Asian community is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, and is particularly noteworthy because its growth has been spread across such a wide spectrum of ethnic groups. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans formed a partnership to create a series of projects of oral history interviews with Asian community leaders. The projects are intended to help chronicle the history, successes, challenges, and contributions of this diverse and highly important group of Minnesotans. During the past twenty years the Minnesota Historical Society has successfully worked with many immigrant communities in the state to ensure that the stories of their arrival, settlement, and adjustment to life in Minnesota becomes part of the historical record. While the Society has worked with the Asian Indian, Tibetan, Cambodian and Hmong communities in the recent past, the current project includes interviews with members of the Vietnamese, Filipino, Lao and Korean communities, with more planned for the future. These new projects have created an expanded record that that better represents the Asian community and its importance to the state. The project could not have succeeded without the efforts of a remarkable group of advisors who helped frame the topics for discussion, and the narrators who shared their inspiring stories in each interview. We are deeply grateful for their interest and their commitment to the cause of history.

James E. Fogerty Minnesota Historical Society

Kao Ly Ilean Her Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans


Hedy Tripp in Oaxaca, Mexico with public art sculptures, 2011.


Family Photo (minus the dog). From left to right, back row: Hedy’s daughter Azania with Horus the cat, mother Margaret, husband Luke, son Comrade, and brother in law Michael. Front row: Son in law Derek, and daughter Ruth Sherman. 2010.


Christmas family photo with Satu the dog. 2011.





Hedy Tripp Narrator Pa Yang Interviewer February 17, 2012 Saint Cloud, Minnesota

Hedy Tripp Pa Yang


PY: Today is Friday, February 17, 2012. My name is Pa Yang. I am in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. I will be conducting my first interview with Hedy Tripp. PY: Can you please state your name? HT: Hedy Tripp. Hedy being short for Hedwidge, which I never use. PY: Hedy, when and where were you born? HT: I was born in 1948, so about three years after World War II. Where? In Singapore, so it’s in the middle of Southeast Asia. PY: Do you remember your parents’ names and where they were born? HT: My family is Eurasian and from many generations in Singapore, so they were all born in that area, although my mother was born in Labuan which is an island off of what’s now Brunei. Then she moved to Singapore. Hmmm, their names; my mother is Margaret, and her maiden name is McGuire. My father’s name was Harold Bruyns. PY: Do you remember your parents’ occupations? HT: Yes, my father was the bursar of the teachers college, so it was like an accountant. And my mother was a teacher, although she started off being a telephone operator. And then when I was born, in order to have a longer vacation times, she became a teacher. PY: Hedy, how many brothers and sisters do you have? HT: Mmmm, actually, I don’t have any birth brothers or sisters. When I was seven my parents adopted a little baby girl from a Chinese family. I think she was like the thirteenth or fourteenth child of a very poor family. So they, you know, gave her up for adoption. But she was Chinese. 14

But she was never taught her Chinese heritage because we were Eurasian, which is a mix. . . of mixed race Asian. PY: How old did you say the adopted child was? HT: Oh, she was an infant. PY: She was an infant. HT: But I was seven. PY: What dialect did you speak at home? HT: Only English. So you have to. . . you know, Singapore was a British colony. And so mixed race Asians for many generations really. . . you know, only spoke the colonizer’s language. Their other languages were lost. PY: What did you enjoy doing as a child? HT: Hmmm. Well, Singapore is an island, so it’s very easy to go to the beach, to the ocean, so I remember my father walking the dogs. We had a lot of dogs. I think I was as young as five when I started walking with him. Early in the morning, like five o’clock in the morning, you know, walking. So walking, especially on the beaches, really, that’s very beautiful. So, yes. PY: Do you know or remember who your grandparents were? HT: No. Oh, wait a minute. On two sides, right? So, on my father’s side, I only know her by pictures, my grandmother. My grandfather, I think, died quite early. That’s on my father’s side. Then, on my mother’s side, her father was. . . I did meet him when I was still about maybe oh, seven, eight, ten, eleven, twelve, you know, early. . . early teens, maybe. Not. . . yes. And yes, so I knew him. My mother’s mother died when she was a baby, so I never met her. And my grandfather married, you know, remarried. I don’t think I ever met her, I think she passed. So, really, it’s my grandfather on my mother’s side. And my. . . yes, pictures. So and I still have pictures. And my grandfather’s name, remember, was McGuire. HT: But his father was Chinese. Because there was this Irish family—McGuire, right, is Irish. And they didn’t have a son, so in order to get their name. . . to continue their name, they had to have a boy. And they adopted a Chinese boy, and gave him the name of Charles McGuire. But I have no idea what dialect he spoke or his family spoke, or where he was from. But he was Chinese, that’s all I know, so quite fascinating. [Chuckles] 15

PY: Wow. Yes. That is something. HT: [Chuckles] PY: Do you know where they were born, besides your grandfather who was from China? But it looks like it was pretty mixed. [Chuckles] HT: Hmmm. They were mostly born in that area in Southeast Asia, mainly in Singapore. PY: Yes. HT: I think maybe Malaysia. And again, it’s the history of colonization. PY: Yes. HT: So in the, you know, what, in the 1950s you get the Dutch East Indies, the. . . so the Dutch came in. My father’s name is Bruyns, which is Dutch. So it’s just on the names, but if you look at my genealogy, it’s all European names. The Asianness is colonized out. . . Asian names are gone. Because the women either had to change their names when they got married, or when they were Christianized then they took on a European name in order to get married. So again, you know, the Asian heritage is lost. But yet, I’m not white, I’m not European. Neither was my father, or grandfather, or great-grandfather, or greatgreat-grandfather. You know, they were all mixed race Asian. PY: Yes. Can you describe one important friendship or a few friendships that you had during your childhood? HT: Mmmm. That’s an interesting one. We had a lot of dogs. [Chuckles] That’s friendship! Hmmm. Yes, I didn’t have many friends. I remember though in pre-Kindergarten I went to school in a trishaw (a bicycle with a carriage attached so it has 3 wheels) The trishaw driver’s son went to the same place. And I remember kids were teasing me that this was my boyfriend, you know, so I was very angry and didn’t want to talk to him at all. So I didn’t. . . but I didn’t have many friends. . . [Chuckles] There’s a. . . oh, what do you call it? It’s a superstition. When you drop a teaspoon that means a child is coming to visit. If you drop a spoon accidentally, a woman will visit. If you drop a fork a man would visit. But if you drop a knife, and you don’t want to do that. . . a bad person will come. You don’t want to drop knives. And I used to drop teaspoons, because I wanted kids to visit! So it was very lonely. I had a lot of cousins and relatives, so birthday parties were very big, but I didn’t know almost all of them. So I was kind of alone. And then when, you know, my sister was adopted, I was seven years older than her. So it wasn’t really much of a companion. So really it was myself and my books, you know. Oh, the dogs were company, they 16

weren’t real friends. So I was. . . I got to be happy just being by myself. Being alone. I wasn’t lonely, I think. Was I lonely? I don’t know. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: That’s an interesting question. I think I only. . . You know, and when my sister was much older, maybe in her late teens, early twenties, I really started talking with her. Then I think in college and in school, I guess, in school I was getting friends, but not. . . not when I was really young. So probably, you know, sixth, seventh grade, then I started getting more friends, close friends. Interesting question, yes. PY: Did your family attend any religious service? HT: Mmmm. Catholic through and through. So I was born Catholic, whether I liked it or not. You know, I was born into a Catholic family so I was baptized, so both of them were practicing Catholics. You know, my mother is ninety-seven, she is still very, very religious, I guess. You know, she. . . if she can go, she’d go to Mass every day. So she prays. She prays for everybody. She has a long list of people she has to pray for. When we used to go to Mass my father didn’t like to go before mass started, he liked to be there just at the time that you don’t miss the important and critical parts. I’m not sure why. So we’d come, you know, everybody is already in church and you’d come about a third into the service, you know, and you have to walk through there. . . totally embarrassing. I hated it. And then they even had prayers at home. My father always said that, you know, ―A family that prays together stays together.‖ Ah, sorry. There is a sarcastic tone in voice right now. [Chuckles] HT: [Laughs] So we prayed every day. Had a little altar, you know, of icons, religious icons. And we prayed almost like an hour a day. Well. . . [Chuckles] Until I just rebelled, I said I had too much homework and I didn’t want [laughs] to pray anymore. [Coughs] Sorry. PY: Did you help with any chores at home? Can you describe your chores? HT: Mmmm. Interesting. In Singapore. . . and I think even now, servants are very inexpensive. So with both parents working, they always had a servant, you know, at home who would cook, who would wash clothes, dishes, who would feed the dogs. I mean, we sometimes had like twenty dogs at any one time. My mother never said no to a stray dog, you know. Mmmm, dogs, yes. What else did she do? You know, that was all. . . already considerable. Hmmm. So I didn’t really have to do anything. Not even sweep. You know, but I watched, you know, my mother, for special occasions like Christmas and stuff she would cook a lot. So I would watch. And I think watching helped me when I was on my own. Because, you know, [unclear] I was able to cook and survive. But. . . hmmm. Yes, didn’t. . . didn’t need to when I was growing up. PY: What were you like as a child? Were you nice, obedient? Or were you mischievous and disobedient? [Chuckles] HT: Mmmm. So a strict family. 17

You know. My father was clearly head of household. Even now, my mother is. . . ah, my father was like the alpha figure. You know, my mother was always subservient. Even to this day she is. . . I’m the. . . I’m an alpha figure now to her, you know. She’s annoyingly subservient. It’s really very difficult sometimes, very annoying. So as a child, it was understood that you have to, you know, obey your parents, but particularly your father. Hmmm. Was I mischievous? As a young child, you know, I mean, I had fun. I liked, you know, going for walks early in the mornings, school. I was a good student. And school is, you know, a large part of the day. Seven o’clock, you know, three or four o’clock I’d go back. Sometimes I would go to the teachers college where he was a bursar and just hang out there, read books. So I would. . . I think I was kind of a studious child, simply because that’s where I could let my imagination flow through books. I read the, you know, the junior library, I read all the books there. I mean, there’s a point there was no more books for me. Ah, very annoying. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: So I read. And I still read a lot. And I read fast, too. And. . . and, yes. I have a Kindle Fire now, it’s lovely. I totally love it! I’m just eating up books. So it’s like I cannot teach grammar, but I have good grammar. A lot of it is just from reading books. PY: Mmmm. HT: So I was studious as a young child. And as I grew older, I started to question. I started to rebel, you know, I did not agree with my father’s. . . you know, his dominance. So I. . . you know, by twenty-one, I had left home. So. . . which was nice and free. [Chuckles] PY: Did you have a good relationship with your sister? HT: So, as I told you, I was already seven. And they said, well, you know, we want to have a sister, that you can, you know, have a companion, a friend. But it’s really hard for a seven year old to have a baby as a companion and a friend. So I didn’t really have a good relationship with her. She was, you know, just. . . couldn’t really talk to her. At least I. . . you know, I had other friends when. . . as I grew older. And so when she was. . . just before she was supposed to go to college, my mother said that. . . can she work so that she can give her the money. . . My mother got into this very interesting scam. She got. . . it was a con. It was a con game where somebody that she knew said, ―Well, there are a few people, and they’re all going to put in a thousand a month, and so if you’re lucky and if your number is called that particular month you can get all this money.‖ It was a con; that person was a con artist. And she put in money, and put in money, and put in money. She lost. . . my grand-aunt’s home was lost, and finally she mortgaged even the house that we lived in. She was in debt, totally. And she didn’t have money for my sister’s college. And, you know, and she’s very stubborn. She refused to see it as a con, you know, a con artist that was doing this. So I told my sister, ―You have to leave home. You must stay with me. And we’ll put you through. . . 18

I’ll put you through college, at least the first few years, until, you know, you can get a job and stuff like that.‖ So. . . what was your question? PY: Are you guys close? HT: So. . . hmmm. PY: [Chuckles] HT: I think, at that point, she saw that that was, you know, the only way she could get away from that. . . a really unhealthy home life. PY: Yes. HT: And then she got married to an Australian person who. . . it didn’t turn out very well. She divorced in Australia and then she remarried. And then I visited her in 1998. So we are [sighs]. . . not really close. She. . . you know, I think she just had a difficult time. Being adopted, not knowing, you know, her birth culture. Even in Australia, you know, she wasn’t Chinese enough. She was Eurasian in culture, but who knows what that is, and especially when you look Chinese. So we. . . I don’t think she’s as close as my daughters are close. You know, she’s. . . and she had a falling out with my mother. . . So, you know, yes, it’s. . . it’s a difficult relationship. And she’s in Australia, so with. . . she has two children, two girls about the same age as mine. So we. . . she’s the one that, you know, sends presents regularly. I always forget. . . but I always forget. But I did send her a little package. [Chuckles] So it’s. . . yes, it could be better. But it’s not going to be, and that’s life. PY: Where did you go during your elementary years, what school did you go to? HT: From Kindergarten up to twelfth grade, all of that, so elementary, secondary, was at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, a Catholic school. Best Catholic school, girls’ school in the country. It’s in Singapore. Run by Irish nuns, so Irish nuns were the first white people I saw. In first grade I was top of the standard, so all four classes, I was top of all the first graders of that school. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: So I was a good student. HT: But I was at the Convent of Holy Infant Jesus throughout. You know, so they had K to twelve, probably about four classes each of at least thirty, forty students, so a big school. And it’s surrounded by high walls, you know, you go in through the gate. The nuns would draw the gates. They’ve turned it now into a series of restaurants, when I went there in 1998, because they moved. The convent moved to another place, because the original location is in a prime spot right in the city. So there’s bars and casinos and that sort of thing. So that was the first time we 19

got to go and visit where the nun’s quarters were, because you couldn’t. . . you know, that’s all off limits when you’re in school. PY: Yes. HT: [Chuckles] PY: Now it’s a bar and casino. HT: Yes! PY: Did you have a lot of homework and did anyone at home help you with your homework? HT: Hmmm. Yes, so Singapore is a British system, so a lot of that is by rote. You. . . you learn by heart. My father was very good in math and he wanted me to be good in math. So I had private tuition, actually, from very young, probably first grade. But I liked math, so you know, I thrived with private tuition. So homework for math I could bring to the tutor. The rest was. . . I think only in the later years that homework became a little more challenging. PY: Mmmm. What were your teachers like in elementary? Were they strict? HT: Okay, so we are just in elementary? PY: Yes. HT: So you’re looking like first grade to sixth grade, right? PY: Yes. HT: Hmmm. Were they strict? Okay, I go back to first grade, we had a beautiful teacher. Her name was Miss Koenitz, so Eurasian. And I really enjoyed her teaching. I think we did English and drawing. Although once I drew a baby and it looked like a monkey and everybody laughed. [Chuckles] And then she disappeared. She didn’t come to class anymore. And it happened, I think, a few weeks after her picture was in a magazine. She was in a bathing suit, I guess a strapless bathing suit. She was very pretty. And I think she got fired because of that. Convent school, remember. No straps on your bathing suit, la la! [Laughs] But she suddenly wasn’t there anymore. So it was very sad. And then, you know, just. . . thoughts that I had. Hmmm. We had nuns to teach mainly English, but then we had. . . you know, this is a girls’ school, so the teachers were all women. And they were multi-ethnic, because Singapore is multi-ethnic, so I had Chinese teachers. I had a really good Chinese teacher who was excellent at math. We had Eurasian teachers who taught ethics, etc. We had Malay teachers who taught Malay. You had to have another language. Hmmm. So they were good teachers. They were good role models. They were women of color, so to speak. You know, everybody’s of color there, but. . . except the nuns who were white. But 20

that concept is not. . . it doesn’t make sense there. But they were good role models. You know, so the teachers were good. PY: Yes. HT: You know, missionary schools in Southeast Asia usually are really good. PY: Yes. HT: You know, they do want to teach you the best education. But with that comes, you know, the religious aspect, so you learn the Scriptures. I mean, you could. . . you know, we’d. . . you have to learn by heart the Scriptures. HT: And you had Mass and stuff. But since I was Catholic, that was part of what my upbringing was, so there was no conflict until I started, you know, in the later years, started to question. Yes. PY: What was your favorite class and why, besides math? HT: Hmmm. Hmmm, probably literature. You get streamed in your later years; you have to choose either science or the arts and literature. But I remember I wrote a really gripping story about a boy and a dog. I can’t remember the details. And then it got off the subject that she wanted, but I found that the story just took holg of me. I didn’t get high marks because she said, ―It’s not what I asked for, but it’s an amazing story.‖ So that’s something that stuck with me in terms of my ability to write stories, and draw in imagination and bring in, you know, bring in the pictures through words. So. . . but I was good in both, you know, science and the arts, and I. . . And my father wanted me to take science, so I dropped arts and literature. So that was kind of sad. PY: Did you participate in any sport activities at school or outside school? HT: Yes, netball. PY: Oh. . . HT: It’s British. They don’t have it here at all. You have nets like basketball, but you don’t bounce. It’s only by hand. And but you don’t run with the ball, so you’re always throwing. So I was the. . . oh, what do you call it. . . the main guard on the net. I was pretty aggressive and I brought down two girls to the hospital! I. . . [Laughs] PY: [Chuckles] HT: I was a little ferocious. Ah, but I was a good player. I liked netball, I liked that. It was kind of fun. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] 21

HT: But I was bad. [Laughs evilly] Remember, this is convent. . . convent girls now here. . . [Laughs] PY: [Chuckles] After high school, what college did you attend? HT: There’s really only one college, that’s University of Singapore. The other one is the Polytechnic, which is. . . that’s Chinese, so the courses are in Mandarin. I don’t know Mandarin. So there was only one college. And not everybody goes there, so you know, I was on the short list. And it took a while before I could get in, a month or so. But, you know, I got in. So University of Singapore, but it is a pretty good college. Even now it’s probably, in Southeast Asia, one of the best. Yes. PY: Can you describe any relationship that you built in high school? Going back to high school now. . . HT: Yes. PY: Were you allowed to date? Or since the schools were so strict, was it something that you were not allowed to do? HT: Mmmm, interesting. And that’s two. . . two-pronged. You know, in high school you still have the home rules as well as the school rules. So if you take the school rules, the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, you know, it has big cement walls. But kitty-corner to it is another big school with cement walls of the boys’ school run by the. . . is it Franciscans? No, by the Jesuits, the Jesuit brothers, Saint Joseph’s School. So there were times in high school, especially in science, because I was good at science, that we had co-ed kind of gatherings and science fairs and things like that. So. . . so, you know, can you imagine [unclear]? [Chuckles] Because my father did not want me to date at all. PY: Yes. HT: There was one time where a whole carload of boys somehow came into the compound at home. And he came out with his double-barreled gun. [Laughs] And it really is like, you know, hello! [Laughs] They left. [Laughing] I don’t even know who they were! So but in school, through the science fairs, and then there were a couple dances that we usually have in the boys’ school with a lot of chaperones and stuff like that. I think at one point they dimmed the light and everybody. . . all the parents got upset somehow. So. . . and there was one particular guy that I was interested in, you know. But a date just meant, you know, during the day. Just have coffee or tea, that’s it. Yes, so that’s. . . you know, and in convent school you don’t talk about sex. At least you’re not taught about sex; there’s no sex education. Hmmm. But I am positive that there was one classmate that was pregnant. Because she. . . again, she disappeared after a while. And she had not been using her. . . you know, the belt of her convent uniform. 22

HT: You’re in uniform. She had a belt on. . . she wasn’t using her belt. And, thinking back, I bet she was. . . I bet she was pregnant. It’s very interesting. So we were basically protected until, you know, until we got to college. Yes. PY: That’s interesting. HT: Yes. Interesting thoughts you’re bringing me, and memories! PY: What did you study at the University of Singapore? HT: So I told you I’m tracked into science now, so of course science. So basically my degree is in biology; in botany and zoology. I did like math, but the system is British, so you have tracks. I mean, you can’t take any subject that you like. There are certain tracks that you have to take. So I really wanted to take physics. Was it physics and zoology or math and zoology? But I couldn’t do that, so I had to take zoology and botany. So that’s what I had to take. PY: Did you stay in Singapore after you finished your undergraduate studies? HT: Yes. So. . . PY: How long? HT: Hmmm. So I graduated college in 1971 –at 22. . . yes. So that’s college, right, that you’re asking? And then in Singapore education is subsidized. PY: Yes. HT: Because education is important, because people are important. It’s a tiny country. Its assets are people. So you get, you know, subsidized health, education. A large middle class is forming. So with the government subsidizing your university education, in a way, you’re expected to give back. And they help you get a job in the government. So they got me a job in the Ministry of Health as an executive officer, and then that split into Ministry of Environment. So I was executive officer, because I had a. . . what do you call it? [Coughs] A bachelor’s degree. Hmmm. And then, at one point, I became the public relations officer for the Ministry of Environment. And you have to remember, again, Singapore is one of the cleanest countries probably in the world. So I was right in the heart of helping Singapore be the cleanest country there is. HT: So I was executive officer and also public relations officer of the Ministry of Environment. And in that position I was supervising a whole army of public health officers who went out into the field, into the, you know, city. So if you flipped your cigarette butt on the street, there were public health officers who gave you a ticket. So you have the law and you also have the enforcement. It can’t be. . . it has to be together for it to work. And therefore you have a clean city—because it worked. It hit your pocketbook if you flipped a cigarette, and you were fined, you know, a couple hundred dollars. That’s not worth it. But I could also see some places where. 23

. . For example, mosquitoes, you know, it’s one of the top airports, airport hubs in the world, and you don’t want to have it near malaria areas. And so I could. . . there was. . . there was corruption. Oh, it was hidden. And you don’t really see it unless you’re working with it. And it’s so subtle, that you can’t like point your finger at it. And but you can’t anyway, if you. . . you know. If you dared question. . . You don’t question authority either in Singapore, because if you do, you have. . . oh, jail without trial. . . you don’t have to be convicted, you can just be put in jail. And you’re basically guilty until you’re proven innocent. So I left after a while. But I had learned a lot about campaigns, about public relations, stuff that I use even today, you know, how you network, where you network, who you network. And you usually go to the top. And you can always try, you know, and it usually works. So, you know, government ministers and so on, they’re all human. Hmmm. But there was a point where, you know, I wanted to do something that, you know, I’m more comfortable with. PY: What did you adventure off to after you left the administration? HT: When I was still at the University, I met some American journalists and also people from the American Friends Service Committee, the Quakers, and that was the first time I knew about the Vietnam War. But also through them, through one of the journalists, although he was still covering news, political stories, he also formed a magazine called Petroleum News, Southeast Asia. So it was a way to make money from the oil industries and management. . . I mean, magazines were pretty expensive, about ten dollars each, and it’s, yes, a monthly. So I worked there as a publications editor. The publications editor. . . yes, you know, I edited the stuff. And so that was for about two years or so. And then I got married and went to Indonesia. PY: Can you tell me about your husband? HT: Which one? PY: [Chuckles] HT: [Laughs] PY: The wonderful husband that you’re. . . HT: Now!? PY:. . . married to. [Laughs] HT: Not the first one? PY: The first one. . . oh. . . the first one. . . 24

HT: Which one? I have two. PY: The first one; the first husband. HT: Okay! [Laughs] PY: [Laughs] The one that you moved to Indonesia for. HT: Ah. Okay. So he was an anthropology student. And he had to come to Singapore to get his visa. And he happened to know one of the writers for the Petroleum News magazine. So that’s how we met. And I think I was fascinated by the study of cultures. I knew I couldn’t stay in Singapore. It was just very politically oppressive. And it. . . it. . . again, culture fascinated me, and I felt I didn’t know enough about the cultures of Southeast Asia. So I began to see it through his eyes as an anthropologist. And he had chosen a mountain village in Sumatra, Lake Toba, which is one of the largest crater lakes in the world, very beautiful. He had chosen to do his field work there for his Ph.D. dissertation. So we did get married, actually, in Indonesia, in Medan. And we were there two years. It’s was a study of the social organization of farming. Mmmm. My. . . the way I look, I don’t. . . I can actually blend in, in a lot of ethnic groups. So people saw me as Indonesian, yet I’m not. My language skills are horrible. I mean, I can tell you Latin names of plants, but I cannot speak another language, really, other than English. So it was a very interesting role that I had there. You know, I was his wife, yet. . . people didn’t quite know where I fit in, because I looked like them yet wasn’t them. So that was an interesting identity issue. But it was the first time I really learned about another culture. PY: Mmmm. HT: By actually living in the village for two years. And, you know, it’s living in the village. There’s no water to the houses. You cook your own. . . you. . . you know, you have to deal with all the issues of being part of that village life. And I’m very adaptable. I still am. So even though there are no bathrooms—a bathroom is a hole in the floor—it’s something that you adapt to, you know. You. . . it’s just part of living there. PY: Yes. HT: Although if you tried to do it outside, you bring a stick. There was this pig. . . Can you imagine? You’re squatting there, you’re trying to do your thing, and this nasty pig is trying to come. . . [Laughs] PY: [Laughs] HT: And so I’m writing a book on restrooms of the world. But anyway, that’s an aside. Let’s see. Where were we? 25

PY: The pig. HT: The pig. PY: [Chuckles] HT: Oh, you have a stick, you know. And you just put out your stick for the pig [to stop it] from coming at you. [Laughs] So you adapt in terms of, you know, how you deal with life in an indigenous village. Some people might not be able to do that, you know. And I think I didn’t really realize that so much, until I got to Saint Cloud State and was part of the travel abroad program. So you’re bringing a whole lot of students to Thailand, to Laos, and these students find that they can’t go to the restrooms there. Not that they have pigs. . . well, they had lizards, they have geckos, right. And I had to go into the bathroom with this poor child, this young woman student, because she was so afraid the gecko would fall on her head. So I said, ―Okay, I’m not looking, but I’m watching that lizard. It’s not going to fall. Do your thing.‖ [Chuckles] You know, so it’s kind of interesting how adaptable I was. But again, it was a very. . . I think a critical point in my life, where I was learning so much. And again, when I am here teaching Asian American studies, there’s so much commonality with the Hmong mountain people and the Batak mountain people, from shamanism, different tribal ways of social organization. You know, and both were farming. . . farming social groups in mountain tops. So I was finding so much similarity, yes. Where were we? I went off all over. PY: Interesting, yes. Did you do a lot of the household jobs with the women in the village? HT: [Coughs] In the village you had to. . . You know, it was me and my husband in the house. There was a point where I couldn’t carry water. You had to carry water in a pail that balanced on your head - from the bathing area. The water came from the mountain streams into a cement holding trough which then had pipes for the water to come through – it was public bathing, washing clothes and collecting water for the whole village. It was not a well – the water then flowed from this public area into paths that fed into the fields. So every drop of water was used. And I finally had a little girl do that (bring in a pail of water to the house) for me, because by the time I got to the house, I had only half a pail of water left. You can’t quite do as much with half a pail than a full pail. And you had. . . you know, you have it on your head and you put it on. Hmmm. So we were privileged that, you know, we had. . . he had a scholarship, so we could live there. Whereas they had to really. . . you know, they had. . . really had to fight to live. But we were in the fields. . . What was your question? I’m sorry. PY: When he was doing his studies, what did you do? HT: Right. What was my role? Mmmm. I found then that botany made sense. That plants that I had learned about in college suddenly had meanings to people. So I spent a lot of time collecting plants, just, you know, what seemed to be weeds here and there, and then bringing it to the shamans and asking them, ―What’s the Batak name? I have the Latin name. What’s its use?‖ So I 26

was starting to do my own ethno-botanical research. And I also. . . you know, I can draw. So I drew a lot of the fields. And in the book I’ll show you later, the social organization is important to see who owns which fields, who is related to who; also in the village hamlets, about five hamlets in the village. I drew the houses; I drew the patterns of the houses. And then we discovered that everybody really is related to each other. So, you know, they talk about a village raises a child. . . of course, because everybody is related to each other. And a child is never alone. He is. . . He is or she is the daughter of their sister’s husband’s aunt’s. . . you know, it’s always a relationship. And in social organization. . . and you find that too, with the Hmong, you have to know your place in the social organization. But the strength is that you always have a family, and so seeing that visually in the houses was very interesting. So I don’t think my husband realized how. . . amazing I was as an artist. [Laughs] PY: [Chuckles] HT: You know, but we used a lot of the illustrations there. But, you know, we were also getting to know each other, too. But language was. . . and he was. . . you know, he was a linguist. I wasn’t. PY: Mmmm. HT: I was speaking first grade Batak. So sometimes, you see, I would be considered stupid, because I don’t know the language. It’s just, you know, that was my handicap. But I had other skills. So my role was researcher as well as, you know, as wife and keeper of the home. As wife, I also prepared food and cooked – so, for example, I would leave early in the morning and walk down the mountain to the lake and buy fresh Tilapia fish. After watching the women, I would take a stick and clean the fish – descaling it and eviscerating it on the edge of the lake. Then I would string the fish together and carry it back up the mountain. I would fry the fish and make rice for lunch and dinner. I did not use a fire hearth as most of the villagers did – too difficult – but I had a kerosene cooker. This, of course, meant I had to get the kerosene oil. I borrowed a horse (these were small animals) and a halter with 2 containers for the oil. I led the horse down the mountain, filled the containers, fitted it on the horse and then led the horse back up. Once the horse was so thirsty that it run straight for the steam to drink and almost lost the container of oil into the water! (Lots more stories) PY: Mmmm. Interesting. HT: Yes. PY: Now you said that you and your husband stayed in the village for two years. HT: Two years. PY: After you left the village, did you guys go back to Singapore or did you stay in Indonesia? 27

HT: Singapore just to see my mother who was there. And then. . . and my father had died during the time I was in Indonesia, so we made a quick visit back. But then we went back to Ithaca, New York - Cornell University. It was where he was doing his Ph.D. So we stayed there. PY: Okay. HT: And then he had. . . as a college student, had left home to form a commune. That was the time of communes. In Massachusetts, a little. . . a little farm area in Wendell, Massachusetts. So we went there. So he basically finished up his thesis there. PY: So you came back to the States? HT: Correct. Well, I didn’t come back. That was my first time. PY: Oh. HT: Yes. PY: Okay. HT: He came back. For me it was, you know, my first time to the States. PY: First time. HT: So I got citizenship. . . hmmm, within a couple of years, when our first daughter was born. Yes. PY: Do you remember what year that was? HT: She was born in 1982, so 1982, yes, December. PY: December. HT: And she was born in July. Because I have a picture with her as a baby and I had a little flag, you know. They said, ―Give the baby the flag!‖ I said, ―No.‖ [Laughs] PY: What was your impression when you first came to the States? HT: Mmmm, so in terms of culture shock, seeing poor white people—never seen poor white people before. Seeing. . . so much gray. People wearing grey and black or dark clothes. Yes, we came in August, September, so it was beginning to get cold. But if you think of the colors of the sarongs, of scarves, you know, in. . . anywhere in Southeast Asia it is always so vibrant in colors. 28

Golds, purples, reds, all, you know, all entwined together. . . brilliance. Ah, silver and gold threads. . . I mean, you know, and then you come here and everything is black and grey, brown maybe. That was—and still is—a culture shock. To me. You know. And not just women, men. You know, Indonesia, you have the shirts. You know, the batik shirt. . . PY: Yes. HT: I mean, look at batik designs. PY: Yes. Right. HT: You know, and colors. It’s. . . Yes, it was. . . almost alien here, in terms of colors. PY: And so did you guys settle in Massachusetts because of his schooling? HT: Well, that was Ithaca, New York. That’s where he finished his thesis. No, where he. . . where his school was. (So he got his Ph.D. from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. He completed the writing of his thesis in Wendell, Massachusetts where we lived from 1979 to 1984) And then we went to Massachusetts. He finished his thesis. Then he got a post-doc degree in Hawaii. PY: Okay. HT: East-West Center. So we were there eight months and then he got a job offer in University of Illinois in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. So we were eight months in Hawaii and then we came back to the mainland. In Hawaii I did child care as my main role was to look after my daughter and keep home. That way my daughter had friends to play with. Hawaii is a wonderful place to have children – the zoo is a park, the beaches are accessible by bus, etc. PY: Were you just a stay home mom at that point? Or did you pick up where you left off and continue your research? HT: Mmmm. He had finished his thesis. He had. . . in East-West Center he had got a. . . what do you call it. . . a grant to work on a book. So he was still working on the book when he came to Carbondale, Illinois. And I was still editing, you know, adding to the book. So in a way I was doing that research. But I was a stay at home mom until she was about. . . hmmm, you know, maybe four. . . four or five, I would think. And then somebody said, ―Well, do you want to help 29

in the office?‖ Of an organization called Illinois South Project, which was helping family farmers in that area. And I said, ―Sure, you know, I’ll do a few hours a week,‖ and put her into daycare. And I went there, and that, you know, quickly became a full time position. I learned computers there. In terms of data, you know, processing and so on. Interesting though, as I look back; I already had a bachelor’s degree, yet I was doing probably a job that was far below the degree that I had. So interesting in terms of that that was not recognized. PY: Do you think it is because you received your degree in a different country or? HT: Probably. I know at one point when I did some writing or something like that, I remember the comment saying, ―You actually did this? This, it’s like, you know, very good.‖ And I’m going like, hmmm. And it didn’t click at that point that, you know, they had no idea of my skills. I mean, I was an editor of an oil magazine, you know, and yet I was doing like data entry. Interesting. I could easily and clearly have done any of their jobs. PY: Yes. How long did you stay with this organization? HT: I can’t remember. You’ll have to look at my resume. (about 5 years: 1984 – 1989) PY: [Chuckles] HT: A couple years at least. PY: Couple years. Did you guys decide to stay in Illinois because of his job? HT: So he had his job as an anthropology professor, and then I got a job. And then he didn’t get his job renewed. So for a few months I was the only person who was working. And then we got divorced there. So he then left to go back to Massachusetts. And I had Ruth, my eldest daughter. And then I met my present husband, Luke. And then we got married in Detroit. And then he got a job here in Saint Cloud State University. Yes. PY: And what does he do? HT: As a professor. PY: He’s a professor. HT: So, you know, the first husband was a professor, anthropology professor. Professorial. . . [Chuckles] Those are the circles, I guess, you know, I moved in. PY: And how did you meet your present husband now?


HT: So this was in Southern Illinois, Carbondale University. And he was in the black studies department. And that was the time of the divestment in the South African apartheid movement. And he’s a very dynamic and very fiery speaker. And I just remember hearing him speak, you know, on the campus, and being impressed. . . he’s very passionate, you know, his speech. But, you know, it was maybe several months before we had a relationship. But that was the first time I had seen him speak. Then I remember another time, I was in the library, and you know. . . you know, I love the library! So I had little Ruth on the library counter and a huge pile of, you know, children’s books. And he came and he was very impressed with all these books. [Chuckles] Hmmm. So, yes. PY: Did your relationship with your present husband bring you to Detroit or. . .? HT: Well, his family is in Detroit. PY: Okay. HT: So we came. . . we went to Detroit to meet his family. We hadn’t married yet. And we were. . . we arrived Christmas Eve. And I mean, you have to remember, he’s. . . he was fifty then, never been married before. So it was like his family was like. . . you know, gave him up for. . . [Laughs] But when we met his mother, that was the day after, one of his nieces, one of his favorite nieces had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had been shot in the head. It was, you know, a drug deal gone sour, whatever. We don’t even know the details; don’t even know who did it. And that’s how I met his whole family was at the funeral and then memorial service. So it was very tragic, a very tragic meeting. Mmmm. But they were, you know, glad that Luke finally had a girlfriend. [Chuckles] At fifty, you remember. So I was forty. Yes, he was almost fifty. Yes, because we’ve been married twenty-two years now, and he just turned seventyone, so maybe forty-nine. So we had our first child when I was forty and then our son when I was forty-two. So yes, they’re both in college now. PY: Great. So how long after you left Detroit did you guys come to Saint Cloud? HT: See, we never lived in Detroit. PY: Oh, you never lived in Detroit? HT: Right, it was always visiting his family. And we got married there. PY: Just to visit. HT: And we still visit every year. There’s always a family gathering, which is, I think, really important. He has ten brothers and sisters. We have. . . it must be like a hundred nieces and nephews, with, you know, all of that. And not every brother has one wife. So anyway. . . [Laughing] There’s some Tripps that suddenly appear. . . from previous relationships that I have no idea about. [Laughs] It’s very funny. They came up from Mississippi, his parents, so he was actually born, I think, in Mississippi. And they had moved north to, you know, for jobs and 31

things like that. But his ancestors were slaves. And it was an extremely poor family. His, you know, mother. . . was cleaning bathrooms in hospitals. His father, I think, was a Pullman worker, on the railway. So, you know, he had a very difficult childhood. But all his brothers went to the university. So we have. . . you know, his one other brother is also a professor in Saint Cloud State in human relations. Another is in University of Michigan. And then there was another brother who became a neurosurgeon, couldn’t get a job because he was black, but was certainly, you know, a brilliant doctor. So for his family. . . education was extremely important to them. Where was your question on that? We went. . . [Chuckles] We went to the next chapter there. PY: Sure. How long after you met his family did you guys get married? HT: Hmmm, pretty. . . pretty soon. I think we were married that year that I first met. . . And the wedding was. . . it cost us eighty-one dollars and ninety-seven cents, just to the judge. I mean, we’re both very cheap. [Chuckles] PY: What year. . .? (early August 1989) HT: [Laughing] I’m sorry. Yes, we. . . it’s interesting, neither of us wear rings. I am allergic to metal and he never wears. . . he doesn’t like to wear ornaments, decorations of any sort. But it, a lot of the time, is that we agree without talking about it, so it’s very interesting. And remember, we are. . . you know, we are older people. And that’s just very fascinating. I am still fascinated. Anyway. [Chuckles] Go on. PY: What year did you and your husband move to Saint Cloud for his teaching here then? (September 1989) HT: Right. So we got. . . it was just before. . . it was just after we got married. So he knew he was coming here to Saint Cloud. He had already been interviewed and they’re already pretty much offered him the job in August. So I think we got married that summer. And we had gone in the spring to first, you know, meet with the family, something like that. So it was a very close. . . close space of time. So when we came we were already married. Yes. [Pauses] Do you have enough tape? PY: When you arrived in Saint Cloud, how was the environment like compared to now? HT: Hmmm. Okay. Hmmm. Actually, when we arrived in Saint Cloud, I was just over a miscarriage, so that was kind of difficult. But then we got pregnant pretty soon after. And then you know we had our child in the first year. So my life, you know, then revolved with her and then my son in two years. But when she was a baby, I was a part of the protests to the beach club that. . . downtown, it’s. . . it’s now Pacific Wok, that’s where the beach club was. And they had been refusing black people to come into the beach club. I mean it was clear racism. And Luke, through his classes, and with what he was teaching, had organized a protest with the students, 32

with campus people, to the beach club and then to the police station. So, you know, I was part of that. Mmmm, then if we backtrack a little bit, when I first met him, before we were. . . before we married, the divestment issue as a protest, also there was a lot of political stuff going on in terms of protesting and empowering black students in particular. And I was involved with that mainly in the background. Again, my skills with the media, with networking; I knew people that I could call. Like I can do now to the editor of the Saint Cloud Times and say, ―You know, this is really interesting. What do you think?‖ I mean, talk to him as a friend. And so we got like almost, you know, state coverage. When I was in Illinois South Project, on Veteran’s Day there was a veteran that was losing his farm. Can you imagine that – a family farmer who was a war veteran losing his family farm of many generations on Veteran’s day?! That is a story! We got news media helicopters from St. Louis, Missouri coming to his farm to cover that story. You know, you call. . . this is a story. Amazing story. So to be able to use those stories, but use it in a way that you can advocate for the situation. . . Anyway, so you know, I continued being that background support, you know. But I had kids. PY: Yes. HT: So we were pretty much deep into what we knew would be a racist situation in St. Cloud. We’d done enough research beforehand that there were white supremacist groups then as there are now. And that racism would certainly be an issue, and [unclear] would certainly be an issue, so we didn’t come, you know, with rosy glasses. We were very aware that it would always be a challenge. PY: Yes. Did you remain a stay at home mom when you arrived in Saint Cloud, with your children? HT: Yes, with my children I have always been with them at least the first two years of their lives, because I breastfed them and just. . . I was fortunate to be able to do that. I mean, you know, my husbands were never rich, but we had enough to live with and that, to me, was my priority. I didn’t need a beautiful house. I needed, you know, a shelter. But the kids. . . the child was always, you know, my priority. . . it was sort of logical to me. I didn’t, you know, didn’t question that I needed to be home for the babies. PY: Yes. HT: But when they started, you know, getting pre-Kindergarten age and stuff like that, and I would use the resources that I researched in St. Cloud. 33

And, you know, I got to know a lot of the resources there, early childhood stuff, all free! You know. Hmmm. I was concerned at one point with the story books, the picture books of the kids in the early childhood places. So I went through every book in the early childhood building. Every book. And pulled out a whole pile that had stereotypes of different racial groups. And I still have them. PY: Yes. HT: Went through them. You know, actually did a. . . you know, title of book, this is the stereotype, what it’s. . . what the consequences are of such stereotypes. Here you go. You need to take these books out of circulation. I think that made an impact. That was social change. You know, if you go to early childhood now, the books are amazingly wonderful. I just pounced on the stereotypes. . . [Laughs] But so I. . . I guess I became a researcher in that particular piece because it directly affected my children. Of course, they can never read a book without....hearing my voice in the background being critical!!!! HT: Yes. So I knew that Little Black Sambo was a stereotypic book that was derogatory to black people. And my son, my, you know, children were black, my husband is black. And so I wanted to use that book as part of a presentation I called ―Down with Mother Goose.‖ I played on the word ―Down‖ as part of the feathers of a goose, and the favorite children’s rhymes in Mother Goose. I researched Mother Goose rhymes but also picture books. And so I went to a local bookstore off Division in St. Cloud that no longer exists and said, you know, ―If you could order this book for me? You know, I need it for my research.‖ And he said, ―No, we’ve got it here.‖ And he says, ―The older people love the book, the grandmothers and grandfathers.‖ But the grandmothers love the book to read to their children. And I’m going, oh my god, right [chuckles] you know, so it was available and people were still buying it for children and perpetuating the negative stereotypes of black families and how they looked – large lips, googly eyes, etc. But so I was able to bring this research project as a presentation to teachers, the early childhood people, to District 742. And then to, you know, teacher classes at Saint Cloud State. I still have it. I mean, I still have the transparencies and the presentation. At that time there wasn’t. . . you know, like I didn’t have PowerPoint. I should put it into PowerPoint. And it’s a very powerful. . . I mean, I can see people, as you show these images, you know, I could see them being affected by the images. For example, what does the rhyme ―Jack and Jill‖ mean? Where, you know, there are the gender issues. And what are little boys made of? What are little girls made of? Very gender specific as to the role, the patriarchal role of the boy and the subservient girl. You know, being able to analyze what you’re teaching and the messages you are giving children in these very amazing pictures. And that’s what stays with them. So, you know, they’re going to absorb that. You know, so look for those messages. 34

So I. . . as I said, I still even use it now. That came from, you know, the time we were in, the kids were very young, and being exposed to these. . . these images. PY: Right. Now when did you decide to go back to the workforce? HT: Mmmm. PY: And what did you do? HT: Okay. So I was pregnant with Comrade, my son, and Azania was little, so she was born in 1990. So 1991, one of my friends was pregnant, she worked. . . at the Minority Student Services on campus. And so they needed somebody to just fill in for her while she had the baby. So I did for that one semester. I was assistant director for minority student services, which is now the Multicultural Student Services. So that gave me an in into. . . you know, I mean, Luke was a professor, but it gave me an in into campus life. And then I decided to finish my master’s. I had started a little bit in Southern Illinois. So I finished my master’s in 1996. Yes. So with a master’s then, you know. . . When did I enter the workforce? Hmmm. So when I got my master’s degree, I didn’t think. . . I didn’t realize I could teach, actually. But a friend of mine said, ―Are you interested in being the artistic director for the Multicultural Children’s Art Connection?‖ And my kids had already started, you know, being in there; I was the preschool teacher for that group. And I said, ―Okay.‖ ―But there’s no pay.‖ ―Okay. . .‖ [Laughs] PY: [Laughs] HT: You know, I’ll do it for my kids and. . . and their friends. HT: So I was. . . so that’s not the workforce, actually. You know, I didn’t make any money. And, you know, Luke was willing to support me. I guess I just said that’s what I’m doing; I didn’t really ask him. [Chuckles] But I did actually have an offer to work at the Sexual Assault Center, but I knew I couldn’t take that. It. . . I am just. . . I would really. . . it would take too much out of me. And so I said I couldn’t work there. But I could have, you know. So instead I became artistic director, executive director of the only multicultural children’s group at that time in Saint Cloud. We did a play in 1998 called Racism No Way, Let’s Celebrate Today. That was the first time that I think racism was named in public. PY: Hmmm. HT: And. . . 35

PY: Were your children involved in the play? HT: Yes. Yes. Yes, Azania was – at 8 years old she was already a self confident actor. . . it was a good piece. And so it exposed my kids to the arts and to social justice. . . you know, she went to Perpich Art School [Perpich Center for Arts Education] for eleventh and twelfth grade, and she’s done some very powerful spoken word. So that opened that to them. You know, my son likes computer and math but. . . the first year for Saint Cloud State, he was in the comedy club, and. . . he was a finalist! And they went and performed at Target Center in the mall of America – reprrsenting SCSU. He was funny! Didn’t tell me. I had to, you know, surreptitiously get the information from the University paper. . . [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: [Chuckling] But he was funny! So you know it. . . it opened parts of their mind and opportunities that maybe others wouldn’t. But not only to them; but was also other children, you know, it was other children of color and white children who. . . at that time, there was nothing…for them to… For children to learn about other cultures. It’s much different now. You know, I don’t think there’s a need as much as it was then. It was the only organization then that was really multicultural in the arts for children here in Saint Cloud. You know, it’s something. Yes. PY: Yes. So after you finished your master’s at Saint Cloud University, where did that take you to? HT: Oh, the Multicultural Children’s Art Connection. PY: Just to the art connection? HT: Yes. That was 1996, and then in 1998, I remember, we were at a crossroads. The kids were performing. I had an artistic director. . . I was executive director; it was an artistic director from Pakistan, and she had them doing some beautiful work from her heritage. They were performing at the Crossroads mall. And part of the audience was Dr. Robert Johnson from Saint Cloud State, and I said, ―Aren’t they beautiful and amazing?‖ He said, ―Yes of course. Are you interested in being a coordinator for the pre-college programs?‖ And I said, ―Hmmm, I’ll think about it.‖ So I met with him later and he said, ―You know, you can work here (Ethnic Studies Department) as a coordinator for the pipeline programs.‖ And these were the summer camps that were made available to students from second grade, third grade, right up to twelfth grade. It focused on students of color, especially on girls and taught science and math in more culturally competent ways. So in the summer there were program on campus where students stayed at the dorms and college students, especially students of color, were trained to be their counselors. So he, you know, said something like thirty thousand plus a year and I said. . . you know, I talked to Luke and he said, ―Yes, you’d better take it.‖ [Laughing] Remember, I was working for nothing for the Multicultural Children’s Art Connection. 36

There maybe I even made five hundred dollars or something. [Chuckles] But I was bringing in money through grant writing. The Multicultural Children’s Art Connection opened the door to learning about fundraising. I mean, we had an amazing program, so it was, in a way, easy. And I found I could write, because I was passionate, and I was getting funds. But I wasn’t, you know, paying myself. Anyway. [Laughs] Hmmm. So I, you know, started work at Saint Cloud State University as a coordinator. And it came under that funding, and then it finally became a line item within SCSU. And now there’s a whole building that, you know, houses the pipeline programs. PY: Mmmm. HT: And it’s got some multi-million [dollar], you know, grants through Dr. Johnson’s leadership. But hundreds of students, you know, came through the camps. And math and science was part of what I am always interested, you know, so. . . and the arts. And we brought in the arts, so it was a very. . . very comfortable for me. Then I got to know a lot of people in the [Twin] Cities, I mean, we brought students from all over. I’d even go to fairs. . . camp fairs, summer camp fairs. We had students from Greece. And a lot of it was recruitment by the phone. I have a good phone voice. PY: Yes. HT: And I can click on the phone. It is very interesting. I mean, you know, this was call to somebody in Greece, and I was able to convince her that this was a fantastic program for her students. And they came! PY: Mmmm. HT: I mean, like. . . whoa! [Chuckles] You know, I tried to learn some Greek. I mean, I’m horrible in language, but I can get a few words in. And that’s all you need, is a few words in a different language to show that you care enough about somebody else’s culture and language. You know, and it’d be good if I was, you know, fluent, but that’s all I can retain. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: But it’s symbolic. And I think my passion does come in as I speak if it’s something I care about. PY: Mmmm. So tell me when you became a professor with the Saint Cloud University? HT: Yes. Remember, I’m an adjunct instructor, with a master’s degree. So I did, you know, six years as a coordinator. Again, I didn’t realize I could teach also. But then I tend to work almost twenty-four-seven. You know, I was coming in when it was dark, leaving when it was dark. I mean, summer was just totally. . . I mean, you have hundreds of students coming in and you’re 37

responsible every week, you know. I mean, there was once an incident. . . You know, of course, it was when Dr. Robert Johnson was I think in Washington or somewhere, the one time he was gone, I get a call, like one o’clock in the morning saying, ―I think you’d better come here. (residential dorms)‖ I said, ―Okay, I’ll be there.‖ And a couple of boys had cut the screen from their window, had gone out and were trying to peep into the girls’ room, and then denied that they had done that, even though they were full of wet grass because it was raining. So I kicked them out. It was like [laughs] you know that was vabdalism – and I had to do what I had to do.. . . Where was I? Hmmm. How did I become a professor? Well, Dr. Dia Cha was my mentor. I didn’t realize I could teach. And Dr. Cha is the first Hmong woman in the United States with an academic degree, one of the first. And she, you know, was good enough to come to Saint Cloud State University to teach. And getting to know her and hpw she worked and cared for her students so I sat in on her class. And she mentored me in terms of you can. . . you can teach! But I needed that to make me realize I. . . sure, I could do it. You know, so I kind of co-taught with her. And then I left being a coordinator, took a year off. Because I was just, you know, spending twenty-four-seven with other kids and not enough time with mine, and it became kind of this. . . But then, you know, she said, ―Are you interested in teaching this as an adjunct?‖ I said, ―Oh! Okay.‖ [Chuckles] You know, it’s like, duh. And it was fun. However, she left SCSU and we all miss her. PY: And are you still doing the teaching? HT: Yes. So. . . And what I taught when she was. . . you know, and her curriculum is very different now. And it’s just changes that we’ve all gone through in terms of now teaching not so much from a cultural aspect but from an anti-racist lens. . . So, you know, my journey was also through the anti-racism movement. Because when I left. . . when I left. . . what do you call it? Oh, being a coordinator. I took a year off. And then I, you know, taught that semester, but I also was half time in Create Community, which is a city initiative on anti-racism. And then I figured, I can’t do both, because I tend to do full time with both. And, you know, Create Community was paying a little bit more than for adjunct lecturer’s position. [Chuckles] So I did that for about 5 years. . . beginning in 2005. . . with Create Community. So I didn’t teach during that time simply because I was dedicated to my work with Create CommUNITY. HT: You know, I was doing that full time. But then when I left Create Community. . . because we ran out of funding, then I went back again to teaching. And then took on human relations and race class, because it’s really very similar. But you look at other oppressed groups than just Asian American. So. . . yes. Yes. PY: That’s wonderful. HT: It’s fun. [Chuckles] 38

You have to have fun to learn. PY: Right. HT: That is my main point. Balance fun, creative ways of learning and serious stuff. You also have to learn. [Chuckles] PY: Can you tell me how your children have influenced your view on humanity and the interaction between the variations of communities in Saint Cloud? HT: I have three children. You know, the first by my first marriage, and then the two by my present husband. And in Saint Cloud, my first child came to live with me, because I had divorced my first husband, and she had gone to live with him. And when she was ten, he was killed in a car accident. And so she came to live with me. And the kids were babies I mean, you know, pretty much then. And I think Saint Cloud and her didn’t. . . didn’t do very well. So it was very difficult. I think I learned about the school system here pretty fast, because I hadn’t needed to deal with the public school system, because the 2 younger kids were still young and just did early childhood stuff and picture books, you know. But then she got into friends who led her in different ways. And I get a call at ten o’clock at night, ―your daughter’s in detox.‖ She had a whole bottle of beer in the football field at tech high school.. And she’s in detox. So how do you deal with that as a mother, you know? And for me it was. . . all I can do is love her. You know, and it’s something that she had to process on her own. So, you know, did the Saint Cloud school system help her? I don’t think so. Because after that incident she got suspended for five days, and I didn’t realize that I could have a tutor. How would I know to even ask, they did not offer that information. PY: Yes. HT: How do I know to even ask, you know? And when she went back, you know, she just. . . she was going to get suspended again. And I said, ―This isn’t working, and you’re not going to the alternative school (Area Learning Center).‖ The ALCs are wonderful institutions. But you’re not going anywhere when you’re there. PY: Yes. HT: So I put her in Saint John’s Prep. And that really helped. Small classes, you know, a lot of focused care and high standards. And then she decided to go back to Apollo High School. . . The Catholicism at St. John’s Prep was not the most comfortable for her, interestingly, because I didn’t bring them up as Catholics, I brought them up really as free spirits. That’s an interesting piece. She couldn’t quite take the Catholicism of Saint John’s Prep, so she went back to Apollo for her eleventh grade but figured that if she was in the top third, she can do post-secondary courses at Saint Cloud State University. You have a brilliant young woman here, you know. In 39

ALC she would not have gone anywhere. That’s just a fact. So here she was in, you know, postsec, went through Saint Cloud State. Then became a college student there. Because both of us were working, so you have tuition waivers. And, you know. . . oh, what do you call it, whatever thing you get. . . your top class. . . Anyway, she was, you know, dean’s list, all that sort of stuff. When she graduated cum laude(?). . . you get a sort of a ribbon when you’re in the top score? I forget. Anyway, leadership awards, all that sort of stuff. You know, she would not have got there if I hadn’t taken her out of the public school. So, you know, it was learning then, you know, how do you deal with the school system? So as my younger kids went through, you know, they were going through elementary school. My son is, you know, very good in math, and I mean, he’s a good student. You know, he would. . . bring back homework, math homework where he got a hundred percent. It was a piece of rag. Had all the right answers, but it was just a ragged piece of paper. How can you get an A? But compared to all the other students, he was the only student that got all the right answers. So it was enabling a very lazy way of getting his grades. And he was getting into trouble, although he was also being bullied. PY: Hmmm. HT: So it was like. . . and he wasn’t telling me, of course, because I would totally embarrass him, right, if I knew and challenged the school system. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: But he’s, you know, a black boy in a predominantly white school. He also had a prognathic jaw so he looked a little different; his, you know, lower jaw was protruding. He wasn’t going to survive there. I mean, it was very clear to me that the public school system was not helping him. Would not help him, could not him. And so I put him in Saint John’s Prep, too. And that really turned his life around. I mean, you know, he’s a sophomore at Saint Cloud State, math and science. Had three As and D. Anyway. . . [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: Mmmm. And his roommates are from Saint John’s Prep, so he found a support system there that he did not get in public school and it continues to today. And now with my other daughter, she said, ―Well, if he goes to Saint John’s Prep, why can’t I go there?‖ PY: [Chuckles] HT: So, okay. And that’s expensive! [Chuckles] So you know. . . But then she figured that for eleventh grade she could apply for Perpich Arts Center in Golden Valley, and so she got in for a writing program. And that really. . . really was excellent for her. And it’s a public school, you know so no tuition costs but we paid for her to live in the school dorm. So, I am very aware of the public education advocacy here in Saint Cloud, as all my kids were really affected, you know, how I saw the education system here. And I still draw upon those experiences, you know, in my work with the Council, from those experiences. 40

PY: Yes. HT: I mean, I’ve been on PTAs. Diversity groups, gone to board meetings, you know, board of education meetings. I was there once when a whole lot of Somali parents were. . . felt that they weren’t listened to. And I had brought some posters saying, you know, ―Are you listening to us?‖ And they said, ―Yes! We’ll make posters too‖ And they took more paper and they did it in Somali. And then I got blamed for them doing it. It’s fine; I don’t care. You know. And so at the board meeting, we’re only allowed three minutes each to speak at the beginning of the meeting and that was recorded, it was not part of the meeting, so- it seemed like it did not matter what we as parents said - We just had our signs, ―Are you listening to us?‖ That just made a number of people on the school board quite livid. But, it was true to our experiences. PY: Mmmm. HT: But so that was activism within the educational system. Does it work? Right now, I’m not, you know, doing that. I’m looking more at the national level, state level, to make more systemic change. It might work better. And you know, my kids are not in school now, so unfortunately that’s not a place where I’m focusing on. Yes. So that’s a long answer to, you know, how the kids have affected how I saw the education systems in the U.S. Very different from Singapore. In Singapore your teachers are the ones that are supposed to teach you. You don’t question that. And they do. . . they’re supposed to take, you know, care of. . . and they always did, you know. My school experience was, as I’ve said, a good one. Yes. I mean, you wouldn’t have that sort of bullying, . . . I think. PY: I want you to tell me more about your involvement with NAPAWF [National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum]. HT: Yes. PY: The chapter in Saint Cloud. Can you tell me about the NAPAWF chapter and how involved you are and what kind of work you do with the NAPAWF chapter here in Saint Cloud? HT: Yes. So I was still the coordinator for the pre-college programs. And as I’ve said before, Dr. Dia Cha had come in. I think in like 2000 maybe. And in 2001 she started just gathering in her home, Asian and Asian American women to her home. Because she could see the need for a support system for Asian women. You know, we were very few in Saint Cloud. And Ilean Her was a good friend of hers, Yes, she was already at the Council, as executive director. And she was a good friend of Dia. And so we met at her home beginning in 2001, just once a year. PY: Mmmm. 41

HT: But then it became a much more cohesive group of women and by 2005. . . I think it was like November 2005 we were meeting on campus at what was the Richard Green House at that time it had a kitchen, so we were cooking delicious foods. Ilean does good food! PY: [Chuckles] HT: Oh dear, it’s so good! And I’m very encouraging! [Laughs] PY: [Laughs] HT: And Ilean said, ―Well, you know, there’s this amazing organization called NAPAWF. Well, instead of, you know, forming your own organization, if you wanted to do conferences or things like that to get funding, it’s. . . you know, it’s hard. Why don’t you just become a chapter?‖ Made sense, right? So we said, ―Yes! Let’s do that.‖ So that’s what happened. [Chuckles] And so we applied to be a chapter. And you have to remember, Ilean was also one of the founding sisters of NAPAWF. She had been in Beijing during the 1975 Women’s Conference there where. . . more than a hundred Asian American women met in Beijing and said to each other, ―You know, we are amazing. Why don’t we have some sort of organization that would advocate for Asian American (API) women, Asian Pacific Islander women?‖ And she was there. And she was part of NAPAWF in the very beginning. In fact, the ten year anniversary CD does have her. . . features a little piece of her as well. PY: Mmmm. HT: So, you know, Ilean was one of our founding mothers for the chapter. And I was there, Kyoko Kishimoto was there, and Dia Cha, of course, was there, too. So Dia became the chair and I became the treasurer, and kept that position simply because I. . . I guess, people trust me with their money. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: Oh, gosh! Anyway. But NAPAWF has a fiscal agent, Tides Center. So it’s much easier to deal with funding. You know, I don’t have. . . and that’s the beauty of being a chapter. The national really takes care of all your finances. So I can never be wrong, because they are the ones that keep the records. [Coughs] PY: Yes. HT: And I keep our own records so we don’t overspend. And we’ve never done that. But I continued here funding, as treasurer and fundraiser, getting money for the work that we wanted to do. So that worked out really nicely, because I was using experience from the camps, from Multicultural Children’s Art Connection, you know, from Create Community, all of that came together in what clearly was, you know, our passion and had always been as Asian women, you 42

know, how do we advocate for ourselves and issues that directly concern us. And how do we do social change? PY: Mmmm. HT: So we started meeting pretty regularly. And that was your question, right? How did we. . . how did I start with NAPAWF then? PY: Yes. Have you seen any change since you joined the NAPAWF chapter in St. Cloud? HT: Yes. So 2005 we became a chapter. Hmmm. Which, as I said, because it’s a national organization, we were able to tap into the national resources. And many of the women in the national are, you know, in their thirties, some a little younger. Not too many older. So I was always one of the older women. Hmmm. But I also realized that Saint Cloud was a little different from the other chapters because Asian women are so much in the minority here. In California, it isn’t. So when I talked about racism, for many of the other sisters in NAPAWF, it was something actually a little new to them. I mean, they knew racism systemically, but they didn’t really see it so close up and in your face as we do in Saint Cloud. And how do you deal with that, you know? So I could see that support for the women in NAPAWF here in St. Cloud was very needed, and I think that’s always the case. And you know with our chapter retreats that some of the. . . that’s where you do the bonding, supporting each other is critical. Hmmm. In 2006 we had different programs each month. I decided to invite my daughter, the middle one. She was probably sixteen. . . fifteen, sixteen, and two of her really close friends that she had met in Multicultural Children’s Art Connection, so they had been dancing together. And the, you know, Multicultural Children’s was sort of dying out, and they were getting kind of older, so I told them, come and do mehndi, the henna decorations on the hands. And told them, ―You know, so why don’t you stay and become members?‖ [Chuckles] Of course, she says I made her do it. But you know she’s. . . she’s stayed. [Chuckles] And now she is the chapter chair. PY: [Chuckles] HT: So you have three young teens, girls, and with them there, then they got to meet other professors like Dr. Kishimoto and Dia Cha who, you know, just welcomed them into that circle, which is. . . I mean, from. . . very different from my role. Here you have other older Asian American women, you know, embracing them in that circle. Yes. So we did a conference on the issues that NAPAWF was involved - anti-trafficking issue in particular. But what the girls wanted to do, the three teens, they wanted to do a panel that they wanted to lead. They got Dr. Kishimoto to help them as a mentor. And through my connections with the school, we got a busload of teens, mainly Asian Americans, to come to the campus and be part of that workshop. Fifty-five high school students came. PY: Mmmm. 43

HT: So you have these three teens as leaders, you know, with mentors, working on identity issues with these other high school teens. That was very empowering, you know, it got them inspired. . . And we got enough funding, Bremer Bank Foundation, here and there, to give them lunch, you know, and do activities. And so from that they were saying, ―Well, why don’t we focus on Asian American girls, teen girls, and do a retreat for them?‖ PY: Mmmm. HT: So that’s the one we did in Alexandria. Hmmm. What’s that one called? ―My Space‖ Anyway, you probably have that in there. PY: Yes. HT: And then we followed it up again in two years. That was last year with another teen retreat. And the three teens, from being part of that panel, were starting to organize the retreat themselves. Now for that first teen retreat though, it was very interesting. We sort of hired. . . had enough money to hire a grad student, Saint Cloud State University grad student to work with the schools to try and get entry into our public schools to recruit Asian American girls for the retreat, right, because that makes sense. Couldn’t get it. PY: Hmmm. HT: There were gatekeepers every step of the way. So finally, you know, I came to Ilean and said, ―Help!‖ So that’s where we got community members to go behind that. So, again, you know, my experience with the schools. And I could understand what’s going on, but how do you get around that? So we did it through more family and community contacts, which is really kind of a negative piece for the schools, to be gatekeepers for that sort of opportunity. PY: Mmmm. HT: And that still existed, the same thing for the second one. You know, couldn’t really get into the schools. Yes. So there were issues, you know, to recruitment in Saint Cloud for our Asian American girls, high school students. But, you know, if you look at the stats, these are the students that have the highest thoughts of suicide. Mental health issues are a big thing, and it affects them. It affects them, you know, as they go up into college. You know, a young Hmong student killed herself on campus just a few months ago. You know, how do you deal with those issues? How do you at least show that there is more support for young Asian American girls? So these are issues we still look at. So it’d be really interesting to see, you know, tomorrow, as we look, strategic planning, how do we keep that support of. . . of ourselves, you know, advocate for those who are contemplating suicide. How do you deal with those who are affected by those who have 44

committed suicide? You know, as well as look at the immigration issues that the nationals do. So you know I can really only answer those questions after tomorrow I’d have a better idea. But so NAPAWF. . . NAPAWF is changing, has grown tremendously, I think, from when we’ve started. And our young leaders. . . you know, I get goose pimples as I. . . as I have seen them grow amazingly. So when we were in Washington a couple weeks ago, just seeing. . . oh, seeing my daughter, you know, take such leadership roles, is. . . is very humbling and inspiring for me. So how do I, you know, continue to encourage yet be a leader, yet not just be the mother or the elder? So those are roles I deal with, but it’s doable. Intergrating all those roles are doable. PY: Hedy, can you tell me, how do you find inspiration to continue your work you do every day here at Saint Cloud and with all the organizations you are affiliated with? That’s an interesting question, and perhaps it’s. . . perhaps it can be. . . should be framed in another way in terms of the social justice work I do is inspiring. So how do I nurture that inspiration? It is part of me and thus I always seem active. It actually takes discipline to not do too much. I think also doing research and really looking at anti-racism gives me a stable ground to stand on. PY: Yes. HT: And looking at it systemically, I think for me that really helped, seeing the big picture. Because when you look at all the little things and you get too focused in that, it can be very depressing. But that’s just part of a bigger picture. So for me it’s. . . the work is inspiring, so therefore I am inspired. Looking at the big picture makes it doable. So I don’t. . . you know, if there is a. . . like, you know, if a young woman commits suicide, that’s a horrible, terrible thing. But if you look at it in the big picture and look at it in how do you advocate, how do you learn from this? That helps continue the work, instead of being brought down by, you know, single issues. PY: Hmmm. Can you tell me something that you are grateful for in life? HT: Well, the first thing would be my present husband. [Chuckles] Hmmm. Yes, I am grateful and I think he also is grateful that I am part of his life. [Chuckles] PY: [Chuckles] HT: But I’ve always been pretty independent. So even in my, you know, relationships, I’ve been reasonably independent. I was so independent that, you know, when I was expecting my first child with my present husband, I had already arranged for a friend to bring me to the hospital and stuff without even thinking that, you know, this. . . [laughs] and he said, ―Oh, I’m bringing you. Yes, I’m bringing you – even though he got a bit lost getting there!!! [Laughs]


So, you know, and I think when I had breast cancer, I really appreciated that he was able to deal with that, where I could have lost my hair, could have died. You know, lots of things could have happened. And for him it’s, you know, as long as you’re alive, it doesn’t matter. You can wear scarves, you could, you know, do things like that. You know, the fact that I have one breast did not faze him. For him it was. . . I’m more than just two breasts, you know. And that this. . . in a poem that I did. . . and I think that started a lot of my own poetry. In terms of, you know, having death pass you by like that, it. . . was a message of sorts. . . I don’t think I had written poetry before that. PY: Mmmm. HT: And that comes easy to me, because that’s something that I should have been doing a long time ago, you know, instead of. . . instead of science and math I could have gone into literature and poetry, who knows, you know, at that point. So it comes easier to me. And so I appreciate. . . I guess I appreciate his. . . what. . . his love. He is pretty independent too , I mean, we never go out together, because he always prepares his own meals because he’s got all sorts of allergies to different foods. So we don’t eat together because, you know, he’s downstairs in his man cave and does his thing. You know, I deal with other stuff. I don’t need that. Hmmm, where am I going with this? To. . . you know. . . So I appreciate who he is and that we’re a good team. We complement each other. You know, especially as parents to two kids. PY: That’s wonderful. HT: Yes. PY: Can you tell me when you were diagnosed with breast cancer? HT: So that would have been the fall of 1995, and I was finishing my master’s degree. During December 1995 and January 1996, I had been diagnosed and had a biopsy, then a mastectomy. And I had a mastectomy so that I did not need to get radiation. PY: Yes. HT: And because there were no cancer cells in the lymph, I didn’t have chemotherapy. And whether. . . if the lymph cells were cancerous would I would have had chemotherapy?. . . I don’t know. You know, to me, quality of life was more important. And of course my, you know, kids would say, ―Well, you’ve had a good life. So, you know, you’re alright.‖ [Chuckles] PY: Well, congratulations on your victory against breast cancer.. HT: Yes. So it’s been a while. And this year I accepted the role of being the honorary breast cancer survivor for Saint Cloud State University. [Chuckles] PY: That’s wonderful. 46

HT: So I. . . get to do some speeches over a couple of breakfasts and some media stuff. . . something or other that I have to do. [Laughs] PY: Do you consider Minnesota your home now? HT: Mmmm. Yes, home is where you are with people who you love. So if we moved to Detroit tomorrow, that would be my home. But, you know, Singapore. . . because I was born and grew up. . . I left when I was thirty, so it’s. . . you know, almost half my life is there. It’s like the center of the universe that I know. But again, home is where, you know, where people you love are. And I guess, you know, with the kids gone, my mother still lives with us. But that’s where I am right now. PY: Well, Hedy, I’m going to conclude the interview now. Is there any final statement that you would like to make? HT: Mmmm. Well, I’m actually looking forward to tomorrow (NAPAWF chapter retreat). I know it’s. . . it’s a short span of time. And just, I guess, watching how, you know, Azania as. . . because she’s chair now of the chapter. So, you know, look at that change. And other. . . yes, and another. . . they had started with three friends. One is in Canada now. But the other two are still with the chapter and then. . . excellent leaders. And with the national, you know, the national coordinator is helping us facilitate this, this chapter retreat. And with the help of the Council, too, you know, their support. Hmmm. Just looking forward to seeing where we go with all the different facets that we need to work with. We have one, two, three, four Saint Cloud State students. They’re all Hmong. This is. . . you know, this is amazing. And then we have. . . you know, we have Cambodian committee members, you know, another professor from U of M who is Chinese. It. . . you know, Kyoko is Japanese American. The pan-Asian-ness of this chapter is very unique for the whole national. I mean, we are. . . we are a role model for a national organization, the little Saint Cloud chapter. PY: Mmmm. HT: We are known, you know, in Washington, our Saint Cloud chapter, and the work that we do. So, you know, how do we nurture that without losing the fact that we also have to nurture ourselves? So it’s balancing the nurturing of ourselves, which is critical, and then doing action for social change. So if we continue. . . you know, and sometimes it’s more or less, but as long as we are aware that that’s what we want to work with, I think we’re fine. PY: Yes. HT: So I’m looking forward to that.


PY: Well, I just want to thank you, Hedy, for being such a wonderful narrator. I had a great time interviewing you. And thank you. HT: Thank you.