One of Monsoon's advocates, Delphi, is from the Karen community in Burma. She has continued the tradition of weaving since she immigrated to the United States. Learn more about weaving and the Karen culture by listening to or reading this interview between Delphi and our former project coordinator, Norio.
Interview between Norio Umezu and Delphi Enamorado, edited and published by Olivia Samples
Delphi: My name is Delphi, I’m working with Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa. I’m an advocate over there and I’m from the Karen community.
Norio: So, I invited you here today because I know that you do do a weaving practice. So tell me more about what weaving means in the Karen culture?
Delphi: In Karen culture weaving…it’s because Karen people, they are living in the village and they have their own traditional weaving that we would see a long time ago. If you go to a Karen village you will see them wearing only Karen clothes that they made by themselves. They don’t wear other clothes. So Karen people really like their tradition of their clothing, that’s why they are always wearing their clothes, but here in the United States, we don’t wear our clothes everyday because of…the thing is that we can not weave our own here.
Norio: What are the types of things that you do weave here?
Delphi: Here, because weaving has a lot of equipment, right, the loom and it takes a lot of work to do. So here you will need a wall, a good wall to weave because you have to use the wall to weave. Here it is kind of hard to find a wall to weave because we don’t want to break our walls or do something like that. And also the thread, right, it’s also hard to find here because we can not use the thread we get in American stores. It’s our own thread the one that we have to order in Thailand or Burma, that’s the thread that we use and some people also use the cotton thread. So I think, for us here, it is harder to weave because of the equipment we need and the stuff we have to use.
Norio: What’s the significance of weaving for you? What’s the meaning of it for you I guess? Why is it important to you?
Delphi: I don’t know, every time I saw people weaving I felt like…I feel connected. (laughs) I really like weaving. Weaving also helps you, sometimes when you have many thoughts or you’re thinking about something else when you weave that also can go away and help you relax too. And thinking about what do you want to create more, as you weave you don’t want to just stay making that, you know, you want to make more patterns and change it.
For me it has meant a lot because I’ve heard older people say if you cannot weave then you are not a Karen girl, or something like that. So I think for me it is also important, as a Karen girl, I need to know how to weave.
Norio: So who taught you how to weave?
Delphi: My mom and a friend. I think I’m better at working with others than my mom because, you know, when you work with your own family sometimes you know the problems (laughs). And they can yell at you and get mad (laughs) so most of the time it’s better to ask somebody else for help.
Norio: So you get to develop relationships with other adults outside of your immediate family too?
Delphi: Yeah (laughing) and if I’m thinking, you know, why don’t you know about this (Norio laughing), you should know and that [family] are not patient with you. Then when somebody else teaches you, they are really patient with teaching you. And the same with their family too. When they’re teaching their kids they’re harder on their kids than when they’re teaching you. (Both laugh)
Norio: How do you learn? Is it just you learn by watching other people to learn when to…?
Delphi: Yeah, first you watch them do it…and that sometimes is hard some people learn different ways. Some people just look at it and then they’ve already got it. But sometimes it’s hard…so people sit by you and tell you okay next do this, next do that and then later you just kind of get it by yourself. Sometimes the stick that we put in there- because we use sticks a lot- a wooden stick, right, the small ones…and when they fall you have to put it back in because that is already made, but if you don’t know how to put it back together, that’s a problem. (Both laugh) Then you have to call someone who knows how to do it again, especially like my mom, when I do that she’s always mad at me because it takes a long time, sometimes it takes half a day to redo that.
Norio: So, do you wear the things that you weave kind of everyday at home or is it more for special occasions?
Delphi: Like I said, because we can not afford Karen clothes, even though we made it ourselves, we can not weave like 20 or 30 so we don’t have as many as we have our other shirts like t-shirts and stuff. So we don’t wear them everyday most of the time we wear them occasionally and I don’t wear them out. Sometimes I feel like I need to wear them, why not?
Norio: What’s the weather like in your home village? Do you have clothes for snow?
Delphi: No, because we don’t have snow over there. It’s too hot. We only have…like when you are single you wear a white dress and dress is not for married women. That’s just, you know, how it works. But after you are married you only wear a short shirt actually, shirt with…I don’t know what it’s called (laughs). Some people…they made a comment, in our own Karen community, if they saw a married woman wearing a dress they would say you are not supposed to do that because if you want to wear a dress you are not supposed to marry, but I don’t think it’s a problem for me. I think I wear my Karen clothes because I made them and because I love them.
But we don’t have the type for winter. Over there it is not very cold, so kids always wear slippers (laughs). They don’t wear shoes and sometimes kids go to school like that when it’s very cold and parents can get in trouble because, you know, people think they are neglecting their kids. (Norio: “right”) But it’s not actually, they just don’t know that you have to be ready too. I don’t think it’s they are neglecting their kids they are just not aware of the expectation from the school or from this culture.
I think we have learned a lot new things here. The other day when I picked up a client, she came in and I didn’t see with her kid…without jacket, without shoes or anything. And when I got to the office I was like ” Did you not bring anything?” and she said no. Oh my god it was so cold! And I gave her a blanket, but how about if DHS came and picked them up, you know.
Norio: Anything else that you would want to tell an audience about weaving and why it’s important to you?
Delphi: No, but I just want everyone to know about our weaving and if they want to learn because we also want to start a new circle about weaving.
If they want to see, they can participate and they can come and see us because this is our culture, our heritage and I want to share with everybody that wants to know.
Norio: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Nina mentioned that you had gotten together a weaving circle at some point, right, like a group doing weaving?
Delphi: We started at Monsoon, but we just started…I think we just did two times, nut we haven’t continued because it is kind of hard to…like I say we need a wall and the starting process is kind of hard. So…but we are planning to do it again.
Norio: How did you start the group?
Delphi: First we just opened it to anyone who wanted to weave because weaving also can help you, you can be chatting or you can talk about anything. If there are community members coming we can talk about where they’re from and how they’re feeling and what do they want to weave. You can create a story and discuss a lot of things. We do like talking there, but we just started so it’s hard to pay attention to that more than talking about anything else.
Norio: Because you have to learn how to do the weaving, right?
Delphi: Yeah because I haven’t weaved for many years and I forgot about the starting part. Actually, to weave is not as hard as when you are starting the thing.
Norio: What advice do you have for someone if they wanted to start a weaving group, what advice would you have for them?
Delphi: If they want to start? I want to tell them that they should start because it is our culture, our heritage, so just don’t give up because this is something that we can share with other communities too and maybe our kids…you know when they see it they might get interested and they might learn. So just keep going.