This summer we’ve offered two class series here in Madison. Our wonderful instructor, Rebecca Sites teaches both series–1 in Spanish at the Catholic Multicultural Center and 1 through a translator to Hmong women at the Bayview Center. Both classes wrapped up in the past week and I visited the last Hmong class last night.
The women in the class were working busily when I arrived, their voices a melody with the sewing machines humming the background. Laughing, discussing, asking questions, they never rested, it seemed. They were finishing up tote bags that they’d designed with Rebecca’s help. Mee, the translator, is a sewist herself so a great help for these classes.
The classes meet in the evening because the women, all elders, spend their days at Kasjiab House, a very special place and program developed for Hmong elders to feel safe, receive counseling, learn more about American culture, and celebrate and express their own culture. Despite the fact that the elder women had been busy all day they had plenty of energy to sew in the evening. Their cultural background includes plenty of intricate handwork and they are excited to learn to use a sewing machine and, at the end of the class series, take home a machine of their own.
I was Rebecca’s backup, doing minor machine repairs and answering questions. Rebecca, as always, taught in her beautiful relaxed way. As I sat beside one woman after another I marveled at the warmth I felt, not only between the women, but extended to me as well. I watched as they carefully stitched their bags together. I smiled as they joked with one another (“your tote bag is so big you could carry one of us in it!”, the translator shared with me).
I love the fact that older people are called elders and are revered as a source of wisdom.
On the surface one might think that in these classes we are the teachers but we are the students as well.