Tag Archives: culture

A Hmong Wife’s Role

13 Oct

I came upon this scan of a Hmong text in a forum.  The original poster had stated that this reading material was used in a Hmong class at Washington Tech High School in Saint Paul, MN. It created great dislike within this group of Hmong women.

Ib tug niam tsev Hmoob lub luag hauj lwm.

Ib tug niam tsev Hmoob lub luag hauj lwm.

Translation:

A Hmong wife’s responsibility is to oversee everything in the home. She needs to make sure there are groceries (water, rice, veggies) and that the home is kept clean and there are plenty of pots and dishes.

A Hmong wife’s responsibility is to take care of the children. It is only for the duration of a month after she gives birth that her husband provides chicken (boiled chicken with herbs soup for postpartum care) for her. After the month is over, she would need to cook for herself and care for others in the home.

A Hmong wife needs to pack lunch for her husband to take to work. It has always been that the husband never packs lunch for the wife nor does he do her laundry because he “lost” money to marry his wife, and the husband has more honor than his wife. The wife needs to do everything for her husband that he desires and asks of her.

This is the first time I’ve read something that provides a guideline on how a Hmong wife should behave. Growing up, I’ve always heard others tell me how I needed to act to become the “ideal” Hmong wife and be the “perfect” Hmong daughter-in-law. When I tell other Hmong individuals my experience, some tell me that it’s not Hmong culture; it’s just my family or the people I am around with. Seeing this on paper, or on screen, validates that it is real. That it’s not just my family who believes a Hmong wife should behave this way.

While I read this, I thought, “Okay. This is doesn’t really work for all families today, but if it works for you, then go for it.” There are many stay-at-home moms who do embrace the role of being the nurturing wife and mother, who do not have an issue with following the traditional gender roles of a Hmong family structure. And I, myself, do care for the home, make sure my family is fed, and my children are well taken care of. Nothing wrong with that.

And then I got to the last paragraph.

I wonder who wrote this text to include that a man loses (yes, the term  this person used was “xiam” which translates “to lose” so don’t give me crap about how I’ve misconstrued the meaning of the text) his money when he marries his wife and because of that she needs to do everything he wants her to.

The discussion of the bride price has always been a controversial topic within the Hmong community (online and offline). Many understand how it perpetuates violence against Hmong women because it creates a setting where money is exchanged for a woman.

Others argue that it does not—that feminists are just making a big deal out of a harmless tradition that actually puts value on marriage and a woman. Despite the arguments, reality is many Hmong people (not all) do believe that because a man gave money to the bride’s family for her hand in marriage that she belongs to him, as stated in this reading material.

My question is, what was the purpose of this reading assignment? Was it to compare and contrast an old-world view and modern view of a Hmong wife? Or was it just to practice reading in Hmong? If it is the latter, then other reading materials would’ve sufficed.

So, what’s the big deal? It’s just a piece of reading paper!

It is reading material for high school students. Teachers need to be aware of what they’re teaching their students. I would not like it if my kids came home and told me that their teacher had them read about how to be a Hmong wife. And being a responsible parent, I would discuss with my children about the ideals of what was written in this reading assignment and how it may not relate to modern all Hmong women.

Even if parents teach and talk to their children about these things, is it still appropriate for a teacher to assign such reading materials? Does it make a difference if the teacher’s purpose was not just to read the text, but to discuss its contents and how students believe it does or does not relate to Hmong women today? It seems to me as if this is really outdated reading material. Just imagine how long this text has been circulating since publication and how many people it has influenced to believe that since a husband exchanged money for his wife, insinuating she is his property, she needs to do as he desires.

Hmong Beauty

27 Jul
Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

One question  I get asked a lot growing up is, “What is Hmong?”  It was annoying, but I have grown to live with it and answer it accordingly to how I feel at the moment and by whom.

Another question I get asked as much is, “Are you really Hmong?”

The former is asked by those who do not know about the Hmong.  The latter is a question posed by those who know just enough to have formed a negative opinion on Hmong beauty, or lack thereof.  Let me explain.

I don’t remember how this conversation started, but in college, a male classmate ranted to me about how ugly Hmong girls are.  “They’re short, fat, and dark.  They have pig noses and chinky eyes.”

Hmmm, I thought to myself.  Am I going to let this go?  I looked over to my friend.  She smiled because she knew what I was about to do.

Being the witty person that I occasionally am, I asked, “Are they all really that ugly?  All of them?”

“Yes, all of them.  I have never seen a pretty Hmong girl!”

“So, do you think I’m pretty?”

“Oh, you’re more than pretty.  You’re beautiful.”

I giggled.  This is going to be good.

“Are you being completely honest right now or just trying to flatter me?”

“Why are you changing the topic?  I am not lying to you; You’re beautiful.  If you weren’t married, I would’ve made my move on you already.”

“Just so you know, I am Hmong,” I said as I sat back to wait for his reaction.

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

He was completely blown away.  He didn’t believe me.  He kept insisting that I was lying to him and kept on asking what ethnicity I really am.  He thought I was Chinese.  Chinese women are beautiful, he said.  I have to be Chinese.  He asked my friend if I was Hmong.  Yep, she’s 100% Hmong, my friend replied.  And then my classmate remarked, “You’re too beautiful to be Hmong.”

I don’t know about you , but this comment gets to me.  The person stating this is complimenting you on your beauty.  Take it as it is or—if you’re like me (and some others)—take it offensively.  Why?  Because this comment implies that Hmong people (or Hmong women, for that matter) are too plain or ugly to be considered beautiful, and you are the exception.  But why should you be offended?  They’re telling you that you’re beautiful.  I know, but they’re also implying that my ethnic group, as a whole, is ugly.  I don’t know where they’re looking, but I know and see many many beautiful, gorgeous Hmong women (and men).  We are not ugly.

One of my dear friend’s father was shocked when he found out (after 7 years of us being friends) that I am Hmong.  He said, “You’re not like the Hmong people I see.  They’re short and hunched back because they have to carry the bamboo baskets on their backs.  You’re tall.”  Not really; I am only 5’3″.

With all the comments I’ve received over the almost 3 decades of my life, I’ve compiled a description of how a Hmong woman should look like: short, fat, dark-skinned, hunched-back with a porky nose and chinky eyes.  This is the epitome of Asian ugly, isn’t it?  If you ask any Asian what it is to be physically ugly, most likely they would say one or all the characteristics mentioned above.  So does that mean that the Hmong is the ugly of the Asian race?

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

While searching the WWW to see if I can find an article on this topic, I came across Elmo Lee’s Hmong Beauty Project.  Elmo is a beauty and fashion photographer, known as Huenha Photography.  Her artwork is stunning.  I remember I started following her and her sister, Milly, way back when I was still on Myspace and their photography was called NaturalBlush.

The Hmong Beauty Project is to show people that Hmong women are beautiful.  Elmo states on its website that:

It’s not uncommon to hear Hmong women being told they’re too beautiful to be Hmong or that their beauty resembles another ethnic group.  My response to that is that Hmong women are as beautiful as any other ethnic group and none of it is a coincidence or an accident.  This in essence is the motivation and purpose of my photoshoot which showcases the beauty of Hmong women as individuals whose beauty is unique to herself.

I agree.  Hmong women are as beautiful as any other Asian ethnicity.  It does not do us any justice when others say that we, as a whole, are ugly.  We’re all individuals, and although we may have similarities, we’re beautiful in our own ways.

With Elmo’s permission, I have posted some of the Hmong women she has photographed on here.  This is a new project, which started at the beginning of this year, so it only has 8 women so far.  I cannot wait to see how it develops.

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

When I asked Elmo what sparked her Hmong Beauty project, she replied:

Whenever I stumble onto a pretty girl’s picture, it’s never a surprise to see at least one comment like this: “You are so beautiful. You look like a Thai/Korean/etc girl;” “You are pretty for a Hmong girl.”  It’s a compliment, but at the same time, it’s an insult; as if looking Hmong or being Hmong is a bad thing…. Just a few weeks ago, one of my cousins met my friend from out of state.  My cousin thought my friend wasn’t Hmong simply because she thought my friend was beautiful and that she doesn’t look Hmong.  This is exactly why I did the project.

I want to point out that I hear this “You’re too beautiful to be Hmong” remark within our Hmong community as well.  Growing up, I have heard too many comments on how Chinese women’s beauty trump Hmong women.  My father used to always say that Chinese women are the most beautiful in the world.  And it wasn’t uncommon to hear from other Hmongs—especially the older generation—that a Hmong woman is as beautiful as a Chinese maiden.  Elmo stated the same thing, “Zoo nkauj li nas ej Suav.”  I feel that this comparison has a lot to do with our not-so-good history with the Han Chinese.  My father used to spill Hmong propaganda that the Chinese kidnapped all the beautiful Hmong women to be their wives and that was why the Chinese are more beautiful than the Hmong (Really, Dad?).  And then, there is the media.

Elmo stated that she has made similar statements and feels guilty about it.  “Why do we think like this?” she asked.  Her conclusion (it’s not silly, Elmo) is:

We don’t have Hmong celebrities or “beautiful” popular Hmong idols to reference to.  Look at it this way, we don’t have our own country.  Before coming to the USA, we were simply farmers.  The Hmong entertainment industry isn’t like the mainstream here or anything near kpop/jpop.  We’ve only been in the United States for 35-40 years.  Our skills/expertise in whatever area are still poor. Yes, we’re improving, but we have a long way to catch up…. We have talents and skills.  We’re just not there yet because before all this, all we knew was farming, how to be a wife, have kids, dedicate our life to our in laws, etc.

It hasn’t been until in the past decade or two that the Hmong entertainment industry has immensely progressed.  With the help of technology and education, Hmong film-makers have created dynamic movies that have gained a lot of attention within the community.  And with this comes Hmong actors and actresses.  We now see beautiful Hmong women on-screen—something we have never seen before.  Additionally, many talented Hmong bands and artists have also emerged.  Hmong non-profit groups, such as CHAT are empowering individuals to express their artistic  and creative sides.  Hmong community events (that I can think off the top of my head), such as the Hmong Music FestivalFresh Traditions, and Revived, have showcased talented and beautiful Hmong people.  Prior to this, besides American celebrities, we had Asian stars to idolize.  We’re getting there, but are we there yet?

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

Hmong Beauty Project (Huenha Photography)

According to my observations, personal experiences, and what I hear from other Hmong women, I agree with Elmo that we still have some ways to go.  Society still believes that Hmong women are ugly and to be beautiful must mean that we are not Hmong.  How long will it take to have society realize our beauty?  How much will it take for the Hmong to embrace and claim the beauty of our women?  We are Hmong beauty.

My Mermaid (Part 3)

16 Jun

This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to previous posts:
Introduction
Prologue
Part 1
Part 2

I couldn’t tell him face to face what happened.  So I left him a note in our locker.  “My mom hit me last night.  It wasn’t because of you.”  I lied about the latter.

When I went to the locker at the end of school, he wasn’t waiting for me as he usually did.  Instead he left a note addressed to “Innocent Barbie (He called me Barbie back then).”  “Nobody touches my girl,” the note was written in furious handwriting.  We didn’t see each other that evening.  The next morning at school, I found another note from him.  This one was a lot calmer.  “When did your mother start abusing you?  If you don’t want to answer, it’s okay.”  I never told him.

Life at home started to become unbearable.  In addition to the arguments about my boyfriend and the beatings I went through, because I was becoming of age, my mom was trying to groom me into the ideal Hmong daughter: submissive, cook, and keep the house clean.  My high school had the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) and I was enrolled in it part time, taking IB English and science classes.  The IB program had a strong and challenging curriculum, so it was a struggle to juggle school with the domestic demands at home.  My mom and I were constantly arguing over me being lazy and not behaving like other “good” Hmong daughters.

I wished to participate in extracurricular activities, but my mom wouldn’t allow me.  She stated that a girl’s role is in the home, not out running around like the boys.  So, I did what I needed to do; I lied to her when I joined the dance production team my sophomore year.  Instead of taking conventional PE classes for graduation requirement, I chose dance because it would be easier, I told her.  (It was partly true.  Dance was a PE option, but that wasn’t the reason why I wanted to join).  And that was how I got into Company MHS—my only active extracurricular activity throughout high school.

MB’s dance headshot 2003

I knew my mom was being very strict on me because she feared I was walking down the same path as her when she was my age.  My mom was also afraid I would shame her.  The Hmong community was already expecting me and my siblings to fail.  I am the oldest of 7.  If I fell down a destructive path, my siblings would follow suit.  My mom didn’t want people to talk any more than they were.  So, she thought that by restricting our freedom, we would be “good” children and not ruin the tiny shreds of reputation she was clinging on to.

However, I didn’t care about gossip, reputation, or saving face.  I only wished that my mom would just trust me and my judgment.  So, the more restrictive she became, the more I rebelled against her traditional ways and stood up for myself.  Our frequent arguments and fights pushed me further and further away from my mom and my culture.

I wasn’t the only one affected by my mom’s urgency to control her children.  My younger brother ended up moving to live with our father for a couple of years because of the disagreements between them.  My younger sister attempted suicide and spent 72 hours in a behavioral center years later.

My boyfriend became my pillar of support.  He was there for me when I needed someone.  I hardly spoke about what went on at home because I was embarrassed and ashamed.  He probably knew what was going on behind closed doors, but never mentioned anything to me.  We had a nonverbal understanding that it was not something we both felt comfortable talking about.  I’m not sure if he ever blamed himself for the things I was going through with my mom, but I never blamed him one bit.  I was actually grateful to have him in my life.  Spending time with him kept my mind off of the turmoil I was feeling inside.  He made me laugh and smile every single moment we were together; he brought sunshine into the darkness I was in.  He made me feel really good about myself.  By the end of my sophomore year, I was madly, head-over-heels, in love with him.  Nothing my mom said or did was going to tear us apart.

The Hmong adults started saying that he—the delinquent—badly influenced me.  I used to be such a “good” girl, but after I met him, I started being “bad.”  I didn’t understand why they were saying these things because I wasn’t a “bad” girl.  I stayed in school.  I got good grades and almost-perfect attendance.  I wasn’t doing drugs or drinking (I actually didn’t have my first alcoholic beverage until I was 19).  I didn’t stay out late.  I wasn’t involved in gangs.  I didn’t get into fights.  I didn’t sneak out at night.  I was a homebody.  The only reasons that I could conceive as to why they believe it was so was because I stopped conforming to the traditional norms, was being more verbal about my opinions, and seeing a boy who didn’t have the best reputation in the world.

You would think that if I had just ended my relationship with my boyfriend, my mom would stop beating me.  To me, it was more than just this boy.  I had finally discovered that I can be myself, have my own beliefs, and build my life on my principles—and I wasn’t going to back down.  My mom was pushing her beliefs on to me.  She wanted to mold me into the “perfect” Hmong woman: domesticated, silent, submissive, and obedient.  If I had given into my mom, that meant that I had given up on myself because I didn’t believe in what she believed in.  So, no matter how much my mom verbally, emotionally, or physically abused me, I stayed stubborn and fought.

Not only was I fighting for my beliefs, but I was also fighting for something that my parents never showed me was possible.  Despite his looks and reputation, my boyfriend treated me with so much love and utmost respect—so differently from how I saw my father treat my mom.  My boyfriend never hit me.  He never put me down.  He supported me.  Even though my mom was a total bitch to him, he never said anything bad about her.  He respected my decision to wait on sex until I was ready.  Of course, I gave my virginity to him later on, but he never pressured me.  We made out so many times, but whenever I stopped him from going further, he would without questioning me.  No pressuring, begging, whining, or guilt trips.  And I stuck with him despite all the abuse I endured with my mom because of his show of love and respect.

Baby MB

I never thought I was pretty enough because throughout my childhood, my family called me various nicknames to imply that I was ugly.  My skin tone was darker than what the Hmong would consider beautiful, thus I was called “Pog Qhab Meem (Miss Cambodian)” or “Poj Nplog (Miss Laotian).”  My family used to make fun of my full lips and very big round eyes—asking why I have sausage lips like Black people from Africa and saying that my eyes are eerily round like an owl’s.  Standing at 5’3”, I was taller than the average Hmong girls in town.  My family called me Olive Oil and Daddy Long Legs and commented that I would never find a tall Hmong husband.  I hated all these attributes of myself.  But to my boyfriend, I was the most beautiful girl in the world.  He loved everything about me, despite what negative reputation I carried in the Hmong community.

He was my first—first real boyfriend, first kiss, first sexual experience, first love.

We both moved away to different parts of town during the latter years of high school.  My partner and I saw less and less of each other.  I thought that by not seeing him that often, my mom would stop her bickering and yelling at me.  It didn’t stop.  Our arguments became more frequent.  And we argued about the same things.  If we were not arguing about my boyfriend, then we argued about my role as a Hmong daughter and saving my mother’s face.  It was driving me crazy!  I felt as if I was on probation and house arrest all the time.  I didn’t even have an opportunity to go out and ruin my mom’s reputation if I wanted to.

The things that were important to me were nothing to her.  I also didn’t see the importance in her Hmong values.  We lived in two very different worlds and there was nothing that could bridge this gap between us.

At the end of my junior year, I felt so lost, confused, and out of place that I no longer knew what to do.  We rarely argued about my boyfriend; it was constantly about me now.  Always how I was not good enough.  The arguments between my mom and me escalated to the point of my mom almost strangling me death.  Even though I don’t think much about that day, I still remember it very vividly.

Click for the next part in this series.

My Mermaid (Prologue)

2 Jun

This blog post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the link below to take you to the previous post:
Introduction

My father was abusive, so it was bittersweet when he left.  I was 12 years old.  I thought life would be better now.  Little did I know that was just the beginning.

Without a father-figure in the home, the Hmong community looked down on my family—my mom being a single mother, taking care of 7 children.  The Hmong friends I grew up with started shying away from my siblings and me, more-so the girls in the family.  At first, I was confused with the changes in demeanor of these people (children and adults) whom I had grown up with.  It wasn’t until I overheard one of my best childhood friends’ mother telling her to never bring me over again because nws niam thiab txiv yog neeg tsis zoo, nws yog lawv noob, yuav phem ib yam li lawv (her parents are bad people, she is their seed, she will be just as bad as them).  Although my childhood friend didn’t listen to her mother and continued to talk to me until she moved to a different part of town, the damage was done.  My feelings were hurt by an adult—someone I believed should have been wiser and understanding—and I avoided my friend’s house as much as I could because I knew I wasn’t accepted.

Hmong women started accusing my mom of trying to “steal” their husbands.  Because my mom was divorced and in her mid-20′s, Hmong women feared that she would steal their husbands away (Somehow, in their crazy minds, they believed their husbands were the only men left on this planet).  There was one particular woman whose husband would constantly pretend to come over to “look” for his daughter.  Even when my sisters and I told him that she wasn’t over, he demanded to look in each and every one of our rooms.  He would quickly glanced into our rooms, but lingered in my mom’s.  Sometimes, when we didn’t open the door for him, he would walk around to the parking lot and peek into my mom’s bedroom.  His wife hated it and gossiped about my mom all over town.  The Hmong women stigmatized and ostracized my mom and the Hmong men viewed her with no respect and simply as a target for their lust.

So, while my mom was working hard to gain respect from the Hmong community, I was liberating myself from the constraints of the patriarchal culture.  We clashed a lot.  She didn’t believe girls should participate in sports or attend school dances.  So when I signed up for the girls’ basketball team tryouts both years in junior high school, my mom refused to take me.  I even lied to her once that I had to stay after school for a class project when I attended the annual back-to-school dance.  My middle school participation in choir, the talent show, and the annual drama production was something I fought really hard to get into.

It was during this stage of my very early life that I met someone who would be the pivot of my search for individualism, where I would find love, my voice, and stand up for what I believed in.

Click for the next part in this series

Hmong women and bikinis

24 May

Marilyn Monroe in vintage swimwear.

Summer is my all-time favorite season of the year, with Autumn/Fall being runner-up.  Many people hate summer because of the heat.  Since I’m a person who gets cold easily, I welcome the scorching California weather.  I could spend my days on the beach or by the lake or pool all summer long.  Others fear getting tanned.  I love having the golden, sun-kissed look (because I am naturally tanned myself).

As a Hmong woman, I was always taught to act and dress accordingly, especially when I’m around older Hmong folks and/or relatives.  Always have your hair out of your face.  Never wear a dress above your knees to a family gathering.  Better yet, don’t wear a dress.  Never show cleavage.  Don’t wear tank tops.  Make sure your shirt covers at least your shoulders.  Shorts are a big no-no unless they’re Bermuda shorts.  If in doubt, wear pants.  Pants are always safe.

Several summers ago, my cousin, Tou, and his newly wed wife, Stephanie, visited California.  The day my grams ua neeb (Hmong ritual ceremony) for them, Stephanie was wearing shorts.  Her shorts were mid-thigh—very moderate in my opinion.  One of my grams’ relatives whom we call “Aunt” was offended and asked Stephanie to change, because a respectable wife should not wear such scandalous clothing.  Upset, Stephanie changed into pants.

Photo via Flickr

The question is: should a Hmong woman, especially a married one, wear a swimsuit—or more horrifically, a bikini—to the lake, beach, or pool?  Would a Hmong woman be shameless if she wears a bikini struts around almost naked at the lake?

I asked my mom how a decent Hmong woman should dress should she want to go swimming.  My mom’s response was: long shorts down to her knees and a t-shirt.  She could maybe get away with a tank top.

Hmmm…  Not really my idea of being comfortable by the waterside.  Regular clothing drags and does not dry as fast as the fabrics use in swimsuits.  And they stick to your body like leeches hungry for blood.  Additionally, how are you supposed to get a tan by covering up most of your body?  Might as well jump into the water fully clothed, right?  But then again, people would think you strange for doing such a thing.

I wear swimsuits.  I love swimsuits.  One-piece.  Two-piece.  Bikinis.  I am currently obsessed with vintage/pin-up style swimwear: retro top with front bow-tie and high-waisted, boy short bottoms and one-piece swimsuits (like the one Marilyn Monroe is wearing in the photo above).

Double standards exist everywhere, and Hmong society is no stranger to it.  A little Hmong child is so adorably cute in her 2-piece.  A Hmong man can walk around in shorts, showing his nipples at the lake, beach, or pool (Well MB, his shorts come down to his knees and that’s really what counts).  Any woman other than Hmong can wear string bikinis.  But when a Hmong woman—especially a married one with children—wears a bathing suit, then all hell breaks loose.  “Niag poj niam Hmoob ntawv tsis paub txaj muag li (That Hmong woman is shameless).”

There is nothing shameful about swimsuits.  Nothing at all.  More traditional Hmong individuals would think otherwise—women’s swimwear: a blasphemous piece of clothing that resembles under garments.  To show a bit of respect, I’ll cover up when I’m out of the water (long tank top that covers at least my bottoms or shorts).  Sometimes, I’ll wear a sarong.  If I’m in the water, I do not cover up.  This is my unspoken compromise with those who do not like seeing someone half-naked.

Naked Hmong children

Naked Hmong children in Laos (via Wikipedia)

I don’t understand this aversion to a Hmong woman’s nudity.  I know that it’s cultural.  Europeans are more comfortable with nudity than Americans or the Hmong.  People from Papua New Guinea and indigenous tribes from the Amazon Rainforest are among those who have not subjugated themselves to clothes.  It’s not shameful if a woman shows her breasts or if a man walks around with his penis hanging out.  Since the invention and commercialization of clothes, people have developed a strong abhorrence towards the human body, especially our baby-making parts.  The words “vagina” and “penis” are hardly freely spoken in public as it is either “embarrassing” or “vulgar” language.  Instead of teaching the correct terms to children, society teaches pee-pee, wee-wee, cookie, and ding-dong.  But why?  Everyone has either a penis or a vagina.  And we were all born nude.  We should not be offended by something so natural as the human body, and yet modern society has come so far as to view the naked body as unpleasant to the public eye.

I am no advocate for nudity, although I wouldn’t think it is an abomination to wear bikinis, let alone be naked.  At least in bikinis, we women cover our breasts and crotch, right?  Sometimes I feel as if the Hmong culture puts so many restrictions on Hmong women (from how we should behave to what we wear to how we raise our family) that it’s sadly, laughable.  If we don’t conform to the cultural norm then we’re labeled and judged.

So, what is your opinion on Hmong women wearing bikinis around Hmong individuals who do not like it?

Why some Hmong girls do not date Hmong boys

12 May

I know many Hmong women who refuse to date, let alone marry a Hmong man.  Is this normal?  In my opinion, it’s as normal as someone choosing to only marry within their race or ethnicity.  I’ve heard others criticize and patronize Hmong women who have made this choice (although there have been some progress, interracial/inter-ethnic relationships are still frowned upon within the Hmong community).  Additionally, I have also heard those who agree with and support this life choice.

There is no right or wrong way on how someone lives their life, who they fall in love with, or who they choose to stay away from.  Today’s blog will help you understand why some Hmong women do not date Hmong men.

HMONG CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS:

The expectations of a Hmong daughter—especially a Hmong nyab (daughter-in-law) is—in my opinion—the biggest factor as to why some Hmong women do not date even look at Hmong men.  What are the expectations, you ask?  Let’s see here…

Traditional Hmong families (I stress the word “traditional” here) expect females to follow and uphold the strict gender roles.  An ideal Hmong woman is silent, passive, and obedient.  She is expected to be Super Woman with 10 arms and legs to multitask efficiently 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without rest.  It doesn’t matter if she has a full-time job and/or goes to school, her priorities are her parents-in-law and their needs.  An educated Hmong woman who have dreams and aspirations for themselves may fear the demands of a traditional Hmong nyab.  And to avoid husbands and in-laws who may not agree with their differing life goals, Hmong women may stay away from Hmong men.  Additionally, when your parents have pounded to your head that your only duty as a Hmong female is to honor and serve your husband and in-laws, you may grow up resenting your culture and run the other way.

Mind you, some Hmong families are more progressive than others.  Some have adopted the Western lifestyle completely or have started to give more leeway to a Hmong nyab.  I feel as if during their journeys to seek those who will not confine them into a lifestyle of bearing children and domestic housework, many Hmong women forget that not all Hmong men—or families for that matter—are the same.

EDUCATION STANDARDS:

A woman may dream of marrying someone who will give financial stability, entertain intelligent conversations/debates, and be family-oriented, as well as independent.  No one wants an unmotivated bum who sits in front of the television screen, playing COD all day, someone who jumps from job to job, or someone whose idea of a “good time” is drinking until passing out every night at a friend’s house (Yes, I know I am describing Hmong men stereotypes).  So, how hard is it to find a Hmong man with the standards mentioned?

Statistics show that more and more Hmong women are exceeding Hmong men in graduating from high school and college.  What does this mean?  It means that the more educated a woman is, the more likely she will look for a life partner whose education is up to her level as well.  There could be a lot of reasons for this: 1) someone with a higher education is more likely to have a stable job and a steady income; 2) He is a hardworking, goal-oriented person who values education; and 3) education equals higher intelligence and a more open mind; and lastly, someone with an education and a well-paying job is independent.  Of course, not everyone who has a higher education may carry any of these attributes, but it is more likely.

GENERALIZING:

It doesn’t help that we know so many Hmong men who fit the stereotypes I described above.  It also doesn’t help that our Hmong culture enables domestic violence.  It may also not help if we’ve been through a few crappy relationships with Hmong men.  And from experiences and observations, Hmong women may start to believe that all Hmong men are the same and refuse to seek another Hmong relationship.

Generalizing: we do it all the time.  We, as a society, have generalizations of the poor, the rich, the young, old, fat, skinny, etc.  Many Hmong women may believe that all Hmong men are the same when in actuality, they’re not all the same.  Get to know a Hmong man and you may find that he is different from what you had expected.

Why are Hmong women doing better than Hmong men?

26 Mar

I came across a blog post by chelseyx asking why Hmong men are not up to par with Hmong women in terms of education and career. Her observations are that we do not push the males as much as the females. Because of the oppression females go through in our culture, they have more support—either from family, friends, or organizations—whereas the males have been neglected and pushed to the sideline. I agree, but I also have to add to this thought. (I started to leave a comment, but it ended up being an essay, so that’s why it’s a blog post instead).

If you have read my previous blog posts (here, here, and here), you have learned that in the patriarchal Hmong culture, the males are valued over the females. And when gender bias happens, many may not be aware that they’re enabling those they’re favoring. In Hmong families, the behavior of caring so much for the sons enables them to be unmotivated or be satisfied with life as it is and not strive for better. Why? Well, because every time they need something (money, food, a car), someone hands it to them. Who wants to work (or have a better-paying job) when your family provides everything for you already? Honestly, I wouldn’t. This may be the cause as to why more and more Hmong men do not have college degrees, are not working, and spending their days on COD or DotA.

Hmong society expect Hmong men to be breadwinners. Once married, Hmong males—regardless of age—are expected to grow up and take responsibility of their parents and the home that their parents have built—this includes bills and unmarried siblings. It is a huge responsibility for one person to tackle. I have seen this expected obligation lead to bitter resentment, but that’s besides the point of this blog. Maybe another time.

Unmarried Hmong men, however, do not have many responsibilities within the family. I believe this is due to the belief that a man does not become a “man” until he is married. A 13-year-old married boy is considered a man. A 30-year-old man is not considered a man if he has never been married. How do Hmong society expect Hmong men whom they have enabled to uphold the responsibility of a patriarch? Responsibility shouldn’t just be thrown onto a person the day after marriage, but should be taught gradually since birth.

Additionally, the more education a man has and the better the pay of his job, the more responsibility he will be given by his family. I have heard one to many comments from parents to their children, “You’re the one with a better-paying job (or education), so why do you expect your brother (who is a high school drop-out and plays video games all day) to get a job and help you with the bills?” This goes back to enabling. Why would Hmong men want to better themselves when they’re getting the golden treatment? Of course, we know that this is detrimental to one’s growth as a person, but the caring parent does not see it.

Hmong females, on the other hand, may see how oppressive the Hmong culture is and strive for better. Some girls do not have family support and have achieved (or are achieving) their life goals solely by themselves. Others are surrounded by family during their struggle to break through the cultural barrier that prevents a female from attaining a college degree and becoming a professional. And we would think that in today’s time, we all should encourage our boys and girls to strive for higher education and successful careers. However, there are mixed feelings about females in academia and professional careers in the Hmong culture. Some see it as uber important, while others view females as merely wives and mothers, nothing more.

When you hear over and over again that you’ll never amount to anything but a uterus that will be married off to another clan and bear a household full of children, what would your response be? Most likely, it’ll be “Hell-to-the-effin-NO!” And you will do whatever it is to prevent yourself from becoming the “typical” Hmong woman. And because many Hmong females have walked the life that others have paved for them (their husbands, in-laws, parents), they encourage and try to empower others to be free from the constraints of traditional norms and live their lives how they want to.

Education, in my mind, has always been the key to a better life. Education opens up so many opportunities that would have never been possible—away from the cultural restraints that I grew up with. And maybe this is the reason for many women as well.  Maybe this is the reason why Hmong women are doing better than Hmong men?

(3/28/12) Note: Not all Hmong parents/families give sons the golden treatment.

What it means to be a Hmong girl

25 Mar

“What It Means To Be A Hmong Girl”
By Maly Yang

It means to be a daughter, to become an outsider and a stranger to the family you grew up with
It means to be a wife, bounded for life to your husband and his clan It means to be a mother, to love, laugh, and cry all at the same time
It means to be a daughter-in-law/sister-in-law, you stand, you smile, and you just nod It means you visit everyone, but don’t expect anyone to visit you

It means everybody’s business is your business, but no one cares to know yours
It means you encourage and listen to what everybody has to say, but keep yours bottled inside
It means you take in the advice given, and expect to make no mistakes
It means your presence is expected, but your opinion is not wanted

It means you’re the first guest to a party, and the last one to leave
It means you’re expected in the kitchen all day, but expect to eat last
It means you let everyone pick out what they like, and you take whatever’s leftover
It means you put others before you, and never complain about it

It means you’re the glue that hold everything together in a marriage, so you can’t give up easily
It means you need to succeed in your marriage, so you try to wear the pants in the family
Which means if you dare wear the pants in the family, you’re now everyone’s enemy
Which then means if your marriage fails, the you’ve become an embarrassment

It means no matter what you do, you simply lose in everything because… this is what it means to be a Hmong girl

Posted with permission from the author.

I am a Hmong woman

24 Mar

“I am a Hmong Woman”
by Pang Hang

The ground burns like fire as I walk
Passing by the trees that speaks to my heart
I am making the pathways of my life
By holding to my heart with my head held high
I know that I have to respect my traditions and cultures
I learned that having a good life come with tortures
Even though I am marginalized by my body and space,
I hope one day I will be able to carry out my own fate
The fate that will help me achieve higher education
The fate that will help me define who I am within my tradition
The bloody footprints I make from my feet
Constructs the path of my identity
The tears and cries from my eyes
Fulfills the thirst of the people in my life
The mentality of my brain
Will help me regain
Regain the life that I once had
And hopefully make that life stand
I know that being a woman in this culture was going to be hard
But that did not stop me from wanting to go far
I heard all the stories of those who failed
But that not going to stop my prevail
I wanted people to know that my hands were not only for feeding nor for farming
I wanted people to see that the drips of blood from my feet tells such stories
I wanted people to hear the cries that I make at night
And think about the reasons why I strive so hard to survive
I am a Hmong woman
That speaks with her heart without the fear of her part
That never gives up a fight until she loses all her might
Although, my body may define what I should do and be
But I decide what kind of Hmong woman I want to be.

Posted with permission from I am Hmong Beauty.

Hmong postpartum care

10 Mar

A woman’s body goes through so many changes during pregnancy and trauma during childbirth that postpartum care for a Hmong woman is very important—more important than prenatal care.  Many Hmong women take postpartum care very seriously.

A woman nyob nruab hlis (stays within the month) after childbirth for 30 days, hence the name.  And this means that she will need to stay home for this duration.  She may go out, but it is taboo for her to enter another Hmong family’s home if they practice Shamanism.  Everyone’s reason for this varies slightly, but this is what I’ve heard growing up: when a woman gives birth, the barrier to the human and spirit world weakens.  Because of this, her [husband's] ancestors roam more freely in the human world.  It is offensive for a woman who had just given birth to visit another Hmong family.  Her baby may go inside another family’s house, but she may not.  If she visits someone who does not worship the same ancestors as she does, she’ll anger the ancestors and bring bad luck to that family.  If this happens, a shaman will need to be called to alleviate the angry ancestors.  Additionally, a woman can visit anyone who practices other religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc).  This is why some women are restricted from visiting their parent’s house until 30 days after her child is born.

A couple of readers commented a while ago that if a woman visits another person during her 30 days, when she dies, she will see blood on the door.  Her spirit will not be able to rest and will constantly come back to clean it.  Nyob nruab hlis is only practiced by Hmong women who practices Shamanism.

A Hmong woman should not be expected to do anything around the house besides taking care of herself and her newborn for the first 30 days.  She is recommended to stay on bed-rest for the first 7 days.  She should not sleep on a soft mattress because that will bring on back pain as she ages.  She should sleep on the floor, padded with blankets.  Her newborn is expected to sleep with her.

It is crucial during this time for a woman to stay as warm as possible, even during the summer.  Because she lost a lot of blood during childbirth, she may feel cold.  It is her responsibility to keep herself warm.  Back in SE Asia, a woman would sleep by the fireplace.  Here in the US, she may have a portable mini heater nearby.  A woman must wear a hat, head scarf, or cloth to cover her hair and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to cover herself.  She must not let the wind or air blow on her hair.  She also must not let herself get too cold.  If the wind blows on her hair, she will get migraines later in life.  If she gets her hands or feet cold when she nyob nruab hlis, they will ache during the cold seasons.  She must also keep her belly wrapped up tightly.  This is to help her uterus shrink back to its original size so you do not have that pouch.

A Hmong woman’s husband does the cooking for her for 30 days.  Hmong women follow a very strict diet after childbirth.  It consists of freshly-made, warm rice and boiled chicken (ideally free-range gamefowl/qaib mev) with herbs.  I do not know their scientific names and cannot describe them either.  They are not your usual herbs like cilantro, basil, rosemary, etc.  They are special herbs that are planted and used solely for this purpose.  They each have their own Hmong names, but altogether, we call them tshuaj rau qaib (herbs for chicken).  The only seasoning is salt.  And if you’re thirsty, a cup of hot or warm water.  Cold water is not recommended.  Icy cold water is a big NO-NO!  A woman should eat 3 meals a day (freshly made, hot from the stove) and she may not eat anything else.

The warm food and herbs help to cleanse the uterus of the leftover blood, thus making a woman heal faster from childbirth.  My grams say that this diet not only helps a woman lose the weight she gained during childbirth, but also helps her body prepare for menopause.  Many Hmong women have followed this strict diet for hundreds of years and have never experienced any symptoms of menopause, my grams included.  A woman is also required to follow this chicken diet after she has an abortion or miscarriage, although not as strictly.

Did I follow these postpartum guidelines?  Yes and no.  I did not break taboo and go into another Hmong family’s home.  Although I do not fully believe in the basis for this restriction, I do respect those who do, so I made sure I did not enter anyone’s home.  I didn’t cover my hair or skin as directed by my mom.  I delivered my children in spring and it was already warm in California, so I could not and would not cover my head due to the heat.  I did try to put my hair up as much as I can though.  I also tried to cover up as much as I can.  Sometimes, Dear Spouse cooked for me and I also cooked for myself.  Dear Spouse’s cooking was nothing out of the norm because we take turns cooking anyway.  And I did try to stay on the chicken diet.  My experiences with it is this: it was easy at first, but it got hard as the end of the 30 days approached  By the 25th day, I was thinking, “Come on.  I have only 5 more days, there’s no need to stay on the chicken diet anymore.”

There you have it!  Postpartum care for Hmong women.  If I missed anything, please add it in the comments below.