#iumienwomenmoversandshakers: Tan Tung

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I think the most significant barrier to female leadership is the inequality that exists between our gender roles in our culture and in our society. Women are often viewed as less than men. We are considered incapable of being strong, and are believed to be subordinate to our male counterparts, whether it be in the corporate world, in our families, or in our communities. Though I have gone through the same hardships, I still feel that as a woman, my opinion doesn’t matter as much as our male counterparts and that we are not treated equally or valued. Our mien communities and leaders have instilled in me that our role as females (especially mien girls) are to the best housewives, the best daughter-in-laws, and being the best mother to our children. We are taught to be subservient and our voices do not matter as much as our husbands. Our voices and opinions are not considered to be as important as the males and we are not treated equally. Because of these cultural norms and traditions, I believed that females had no roles as leaders in our world. But now that I’m older, I’ve noticed the world is recognizing more and more women leaders and are more accepting of women pursuing these leadership roles. I believe that women are just as important and equipped to take on these leadership roles as men because of our innate abilities. We are naturally caring and nurturing and are able to look at life through our own unique lens.

If the society is to be more accepting, encouraging, and provide equality to female, it will embrace woman to take on even more leadership roles. We will see more woman impacting the world. As the new generations pursue higher education, their view of women will continue to change in a positive light. We will see a transformation of successful, confident, strong, powerful woman embracing their role, while empowering other females to be leaders.

What is one event that helped shape your life?

The most significant event for me was when I lived in the refugee camps in Thailand. My family immigrated to Thailand from Laos when I was one. We stayed in three different refugee camps before coming to the United States. Living in the camps and being poor with not having enough to eat was the hardest struggle in my life. I had to start working when I was five. I went out in the woods, foraged for food, gathered fire wood with my grandparents, and carried water from the spring well because we had no running water. I also had to learn how to cook and clean, do household chores to help out the family. When I was seven, we got transferred to the second refugee camp, where we were stuck there for two years. Other families only had to stayed for a few days before flying to the United States. We were in a secluded area with barbwire fences, that felt like we were in jail, being held captive while awaiting to embark on our next journey to the land of the free. While we waited, we couldn’t go out to the woods to find food. We didn’t have enough to eat, which was a major struggle for all of us. Living in misery and seeing many of our neighbors and families struggling, I got creative and started to help my community. I gathered embroideries and artworks from my neighbors and helped them sell to the few facilities in the camp, like the hospital, police station and a restaurant. By doing this, I was able to pick up many different languages. I learned how to speak Hmong, Lao, and Thai while living there for two years. Living in the camps and witnessing so many families struggle with poverty and having first-hand experience for myself and my family, that experience has taught me to be strong and resilient and to value so many things in life and not take it for granted.

I was so incredibly happy when I found out that we were finally going to be able to come to the United States. I was finally able to attain a formal education at the age of 9. Prior to that I was too young and too small to attend school in Thailand. I knew that I had to give it my best and be the best student possible so I can pursue higher education and become successful in life no matter what obstacles I may face, I knew perseverance will get me there. I just knew that I needed to get out of poverty and the way to freedom was to be educated. Since I’m the second oldest child of eight and the eldest of six girls, I wanted to be a role model and set precedence for my siblings to be the first in our family to graduate from college.

I thought that when I got to the United States, things would get better but poverty was still hovering over us. Growing up in K street in Merced is like living in Oak Park in Sacramento or like living in the Bronx in New York. Every day, I witnessed homelessness, drug addicts and gamblers hanging outside my bedroom windows playing dice or hanging out because they had nowhere else to go. They were very loud at night and kept us awake all night long. I used to be afraid to go to bed at night, but after so many months and years of the same routine, I got used to it. Nobody wants to be poor, but when you are born poor, you must seek every opportunity to change for the better. As I was growing up here in the states, I also worked very hard in the summer, working in the fields, picking peppers, tomatoes, grapes, cucumbers, onions, figs and strawberries so I can have some extra money to buy clothes for school.

I believe all these life challenges and the series of events that occurred in my life have helped shape me to be who I am today. It has made me to be a strong, independent, resilient, caring, loving, and compassionate person. I have a better understanding and have developed patience for people who have similar backgrounds. I have learned not to judge others and be more accepting of the challenges they often face on a daily basis. This is why I love what I do in life especially helping the many families and students. I encourage them to pursue their dreams and help instill upon them the strength of knowledge and the power of higher education to be successful in life.

What is one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?

One of the toughest decisions, I had to make was deciding whether I follow my heart and pursue my dream of obtaining higher education, or start a family, and put my education on hold. Trying to maintain the balance between the role of a Mien woman with the pursuit of obtaining higher education that would allow me to grow professionally as well as be a role model for my family was the hardest thing I had to face. I decided that the best decision for me was to do both simultaneously, going after my dreams, and at the same time fulfilling my roles as a wife, a mother, and a daughter-in-law to the best of my abilities. I knew that there would be sacrifices that I would have to make, and that it wouldn’t be easy, but then I realized nothing is easy in life. We have to work hard for what we want to achieve in life. With the decisions I’ve made, I got married when I was 19, and during my journey to pursuing my dreams, and along the way, I was blessed with four beautiful, healthy children which is only a fraction of what my and my husband’s parents have had.

I was able to fulfill my dreams, by having one child at a time, after each degree, and by the time I completed my Family Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant Program at UC Davis Medical School, after 12 straight years of college, I decided to have my last child. There were a lot of obstacles that I had to face during my journey in pursuing my degrees, and at the same time raising my family. I experienced many sleepless nights, and times of great uncertainties, but it was all worth it. When I looked back now, I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. I am now able to provide for my family and hope to have set a precedence and be a role model for my children, and siblings.

What is an accomplishment you are proud of?

An accomplishment that I am very proud of after going to college for 12 straight years, was obtaining all of my degrees. I was able to obtain my Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree at California State University Fresno in 1999, received my Master of Science in Nursing Degree and School Nursing Credential at California State University Sacramento in 2005, and graduated from a Mastered Prepared Family Nurse Practitioner/Physician Assistant Program from UC Davis Medical School in 2007. I was able to accomplished both of my goals in life: obtaining higher education, and having four amazing children along the way, fulfilling my traditional roles and meeting my parents and in-laws’ expectations.

I would not have been able to accomplish my goals without the help and support from my loving husband, my parents, my mother-in-law, my children, and my siblings. My family has contributed to my success in achieving what I have today and I am very grateful for that.

If there was a young girl out there who wanted to do what you did, what would you tell her?

I would tell her to never let anyone define your destiny for you. Never doubt yourself, never settle for less, always believe in yourself. You can achieved anything in life that your heart desires as long as you believe in yourself. Resiliency, hard work, perseverance, setting goals, staying focused in pursuing your dream with dedication, and determination will get you there. Nothing is given in life without sacrifices, or hard work. As long as you believe in yourself, and work hard towards your goal, you can achieve what you want and will be successful in life. Always be respectful, treat others like how you want to be treated, and remember to be thankful, grateful, humble and kind.

How can people get a hold of you?

If anyone is interested to reach out to me, I can be reached at tantung74@gmail.com or via facebook or fb messenger under Tan Tung.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story.

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