#iumienwomenmoversandshakers: Mel Chin
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I’m assuming this question is referring to Mien women in our communities.
If that is the case, in my personal opinion, there are two significant barriers in
female leadership. One is the lack of empowerment from men to women and the other is from women to women. We live in a community dominated by male
leadership and voice at all levels of our existence. There are not enough men in
our communities, especially ones who hold leadership roles, to empower Mien
women of all ages to take on leadership roles. It’s not heard or seen often.
Women are less likely to be invited to participate in meetings and decision-
making, implying that they are not important and that their opinions do not
matter. Women the other hand, tend to keep to themselves and distant
themselves individually or in groups. We have yet to learn the importance of
networking and joining forces to collaborate and empower each other. I would to
thank organizations such IMA, SIMA, and IMCS for their on-going efforts to involve
and engage the younger generation in giving back to our communities, especially
in empowering more women to lead by example.
What is one event that helped shape your life?
Honestly, the one event that shaped my life in the most profound way was
my marriage to my husband who has taught me so much about me and the Mien
people. I never imagined marry a Mien guy. It’s because where I grew up, I was
not surrounded by Mien people a lot. The biggest community was in Portland and
I lived in Aloha, OR, a small suburban town 30 minutes southwest of Portland city.
I only had my female cousins to play with. From elementary school to my junior
year in high school, I was surrounded by White students. I assimilated and learned
English very fast since I was six years old when I came to this country in 1979. I
didn’t think there was a Mien guy out there that had the same aspirations and
dreams like I did. Little did I know. I met my future husband one summer when he
visited Portland. He was already studying at U.C. Berkeley and he was telling me
about what he learned and what he wanted to do with his life. That first
encounter was impressive. He had me at U.C. Berkeley. I can laugh at it now.
After getting engaged, I moved down to live with his family. It was a tough
adjustment for me because I spoke barely any Mien. I couldn’t believe I lost my
own ability to speak my own language. I wasn’t familiar with our traditions and
customs and the formalities of calling relatives by their respective names. I could
barely converse with all the women who come to help with rituals and
ceremonies. It was not only embarrassing, but shameful. Since then, I was
determined to learn the Mien language and the ins and outs of our way of life. I
did a lot of listening just to figure out the context of discussions and their
meaning, asked a lot of questions, and attended many community events to pick
up language. My husband has taught me a lot of about Mien history and
migration, traditions, customs, beliefs, and of course our religion. I have him to
thank for sharing his vast knowledge. In retrospect, I am so proud to be Mien
today than I was 30 plus years ago.
What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact
One of the toughest decision I ever had to make was to pursue higher
education and obtain a degree after high school so that I may be financially secure
for the rest of my life. I was already married and living with my husband’s family
and in the mid-late 1980s it wasn’t the trend for Mien women to go to college,
especially when they have married. Most of my cousins and friends stopped after
high school, got a job and worked. For me, I couldn’t fathom not having a
professional career at something. I had to have a different course in life. I had to
be bold and daring and defy the traditional women role. And fortunately at that
time, my spouse had similar aspiring goals as me and he was very supportive in
my endeavors because as I was entering U.C. Berkeley, he was getting ready to
graduate from the same institution. I’ve never regretted my decision. It was the
most impactful decision I’ve ever made because we’ve instilled in our children that
education is the key to knowledge and with knowledge is power. Both of them
this year will be graduating in May with degrees. My daughter will be pursuing a
doctorate degree in Kinesiology soon after and my son a Master’s and that to me
is the impact I’m seeing in my own children.
If there was a young girl out there who wanted to do what you do, what would
you tell her?
To that young girl out there, if you want to be a Principal of a school, hold
steadfast to your dreams and never sway from it, no matter what obstacles
and/or roadblocks you face because it will be a difficult journey of ups and downs.
Never forget that when one door closes another will open with great
opportunities. Always stay positive.
How can people get a hold of you?
I can be reached by personal email: email@example.com or at Robert J. Fite
Elementary School – 916-689-2854; firstname.lastname@example.org