Maikou Xiong (shee-ong) leans against her small, black sedan in the parking lot of the Washington Park Senior Center smoking a long-burning cigarette. Xiong, whose family is Hmong, has lived in Milwaukee all of her life, and she doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
“There have been rough times,” she says, adding that her family has stuck together, and is always there for each other. “I’m really grateful to have a family like that — really, really grateful. To have a family that always appreciates little things.”
Saying Maikou’s family is large is an understatement; she’s the 12th of 17 children — 10 brothers and six sisters. They all live — or lived — in the same house near 35th and Vliet. “No one gets their own room, of course. But it was okay.”
Many of Xiong’s brothers and sisters don’t live in the house anymore but all have stayed in Milwaukee. “Most of them live around our block,” she says. “One of them lives all the way on the north side … near Mill Road — or, two of them. Then, one of them lives just across the street from here.”
She says she’s “very close” with all of her siblings. Though they don’t see each other all the time, Maikou says the whole family gets together at least once a month; but even when they aren’t together, they keep in touch.
“If there’s stuff going on, we always pass it on to each other.”
Most importantly, they help each other through the challenges — large and small — that arise. “As I grew up, my whole family [has] always been there for me,” Xiong says. “We appreciate each other — even the littlest thing, we appreciate it.”
Right now, though, only five people are living in the family home. “My dad, he’s a busy guy — he fixes houses for a living. My mom, she basically has feet problems so she can’t really do a lot of stuff in the house. And … my youngest brother, he’s disabled,” says Xiong. “I work third shift. So, during the day, I’ll help … take care of him while my brother goes to school. Then, when he [comes back] from school, he’ll do the rest from there and I’ll go to work.”
Maikou works at St. Luke’s hospital as a nurse’s aid. She says she’s wanted to be a nurse since she was in 7th grade. “My brother and my mom really inspired me to be in the nursing field,” says Xiong. “I started with them first.”
Her brother, who’s 18 now, has been paralyzed since birth — he can’t move, or eat, by himself. “I’ve been caring [for] him since I was in 2nd grade.”
Then, she did home care for an elderly woman, worked as a medical tech, passing out meds and helping people with self-care at Lamplight, an assisted living facility in West Allis. From there, she went on to St. Luke’s.
“I just love helping people,” Maikou says. “I always grew up like that. Basically, if you know someone needs help you just … help them out, you don’t ask. Well, you ask but … you know that that person needs help, and you help them.”
Xiong’s favorite part of the work is getting to know the people she’s helping, having a conversation with them. Most likely, she says, they’ll be back at some point, but she also says it’s important to simply care for them as a person, not just someone who needs medical help.
“If I try to imagine myself being in their shoes … how would I want someone [caring] for me, [to] care for me? You know?”
The 25-year-old Xiong has seen siblings get married and move out of their long-time home. Does she want a family of her own? “That’s a question that I ask myself a lot of times,” she says, adding that she’s cared for her brother and mom for so long. “But, I do plan to care for them for the rest of my life.”
She doesn’t plan to stay in the exact same place, though. Maikou says, even though their home has a lot of memories, it’s hard for her mom and brother to get around because it’s two stories and there are stairs to contend with, which is particularly difficult for her brother.
“My goal is to, one day when I … get enough money, find a house, probably near here. But find somewhere that’s gonna be easier for both of my parents and my brother. That’s my long-term goal.”
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