Ka Zoua Xiong
White Bear Lake, Minn. (March 9, 2012) — Ka Zoua Xiong, a student in the Century College Translation and Interpreting Program, recently won high praise from the Hmong community by translating into Hmong a hilarious new play about culture conflict.
The well-attended play, “Confessions of a Lazy Hmong Woman” by May Lee-Yang, was performed at the beautiful theater in the Paul Wellstone Center on St. Paul’s West Side over two weekends in February. Over 1,400 people saw the play, which is about a Hmong-American woman who is struggling with her feminist views of the so-called “good Hmong daughter.”
The play was performed in Hmong, but audience members could wear translation headsets to hear the dialogue in English.
“The translation was really challenging,” said Xiong. “I had to translate 52 pages of script, and it took me over a month.”
She explained that she had to balance her translation to attract both the young and the old because the play was written in English and many of the English words and phrases such as “vegan omelet,” “passive-aggressive” and “virgin Long Island ice tea” were difficult to translate into Hmong.
“In order for the elders to understand the play, instead of doing literal translation, I ended up turning some parts into Hmong poetry because that’s the language they respect,” said Xiong. “If I had used a lot of words the elders didn’t understand, it wouldn’t have been well received.”
Xiong said the play contains folk tales, and it was here that she used more formal Hmong language. But the conversational dialogue, especially when there was irony or satire, was kept more informal, and more challenging. “If I had used all formal language, it wouldn’t have represented the typical Hmong-American woman,” said Xiong.
Xiong attended the sold-out performance on opening night, and was thrilled. “My translation work made me feel like I was a part of the play,” said Xiong. “When we wanted people to laugh, they all laughed.”
The main character’s struggles with her older brother, sister-in-law, mother and aunt resonated with audience members. “Relatives of Bee, the main character, are all trying to mold her into a good Hmong girl, which she doesn’t want to be,” said Xiong. “They call her lazy because she doesn’t want to cook, do dishes and sweep the floor. She has other priorities. This flies in the face of the older generation’s concept of what a good Hmong girl is supposed to be.”
The play’s main character explains that she is not really lazy, she just has many other things to do.
After Xiong translated the play, the script was recorded so that the actors could memorize their lines by listening to the recording. Most of them did not read Hmong. Xiong also helped at some rehearsals.
A Roseville resident and 2008 graduate of St. Olaf College, Xiong will graduate from the TRIN program in May. She intends to pursue a career as a professional translator and interpreter.