Social Issues

Hmong views on domestic violence

Enough is enough! (via Wild Heart Association)

The Hmong are very resistant to change.  It’s because of our refusal to change our culture that we were in war with the Chinese for such a long time.  In Asia, the Hmong mainly live in remote regions, so they practice their culture with no interference.  They are slower to assimilate.  In America, we live in the midst of everything.  Those who came to the US as babies or little children assimilate quickly to the American culture.  Most of those who came here as adults are very stubborn to change.

Domestic violence (DV) is tolerated and accepted as a norm in the general Hmong communities.  It is not encouraged, however, the abuser does not get punished if he does abuse.  There is no such thing as DV and what many DV agencies around the nation consider DV is considered normal marital disputes.  (Keep in mind that not every Hmong person accepts DV or abuses their partner).

If you ask any older Hmong person about DV, they will claim that there has never been DV in the Hmong culture until life in America.  Many Hmong claim that the American lifestyle has turned Hmong men toward violence because of the changes that they cannot control, such as their female partners straying from the traditional norms that hold a marriage and household together and demanding independence.

This is an excerpt from a news article online about addressing DV in the Hmong community from Suab Hmoob Broadcasting, a very popular Hmong news source.

In America, many of the Hmong couples’ issues arise when Hmong wives ignore Hmong clan system and cross over to the American law.  When this happens, the two clan involved are powerless to help resolve the issues for the couples because American laws do not recognize the Hmong clan system.  Now, the couple must cope their issues with the American law by paying court fees, counseling fees, deal with restraining orders, and etc….  In some cases, Hmong wives try to drop the cases because they see the unnecessary consequences that they were going through, sometimes by mistake, but the court denies them.  These are parts of the pressures that lead to the many killings in Hmong couples.

The author of this article states that the reason why there are Hmong murders or murder-suicides in America is because a woman seeks help away from the Hmong community.  And a man kills his wife because of being pressured to do so.

Another example from WSAW-TV from 2007.

The Hmong community says violence isn’t part of their culture, but that some Hmong families are struggling with a big change in culture.  Everyone I spoke to said things like DV, murder, or suicide has never been accepted in Hmong traditions.  In fact, Dr. Mia Na Lee at the University of MN told me DV rarely happened in their home country of Laos, and it didn’t become a real issue until they began moving to the US.  Dr. Lee said that’s because many Hmong families are still dealing with some culture shock, trying to adapt their traditionally male-dominated society, to one where women are independent.

I disagree that DV is not a part of the Hmong culture.  If you look at the Hmong culture through the lens that DV consists only of physical abuse and murder-suicides, then yes, DV is not part of the Hmong culture—or any culture for that matter.  However, as you have learned from my first post this month, DV is much more profound than being beaten or killed.  The intention of domestic violence is to gain and maintain power and control (Please refer back to the Power and Control Wheel).  And do the Hmong men desire to have the authority and control in a relationship or marriage? Yes!

Examples:

  • Not allowing partner to have or go out with her friends.
  • Not allowing partner to pursue higher education or discouraging her from doing so.
  • Needing to know where partner is at all times.
  • Not allowing partner to go anywhere unless he goes along.
  • Strict gender roles where the women serve the men.
To blame an abuser’s actions on changes in lifestyle is not making him accountable.  The dynamics of power and control within the Hmong culture existed before the Hmong immigrated to the US.  In Asia, Hmong men exerted power and control over the women.  It was just that the women never questioned the patriarchal lifestyle.  Yes, the American lifestyle may have empowered Hmong women to seek individuality, education, and independence, but it did not turn Hmong men toward violence.  The Hmong culture sets the stage for violence with every traditional norm that gives the men power and control over the women.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

Discussion question:
Do you agree or disagree that Hmong cultural norms such as gender roles, weddings, and marriage dynamics set the stage for DV to happen?  Why or why not?

11 thoughts on “Hmong views on domestic violence

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post because I couldn’t have agreed more. I think it was a very accurate description of the DV that has been going on since the beginning of “hmong” time.

  2. Yes, I believe gender roles lays the foundation of domestic violence. However, that’s just one factor. I think a lot of it has to do with childhood abuse itself. You live and teach what you were taught because it is the “right” way of living. Many of the younger generation can identify and make changes to their lives but it’s the elders and those who cannot see this cycle of abuse that worries me.

    I’ve seen both side, being the abuser and victim; it’s not something I am proud to say. This experience greatly shaped who I am- it’s sad this has to happen but fortunately it made me a better person. I absolutely do not tolerate domestic violence.

    Growing up my parents and older sister physically abused me a lot. I never understood it as a child- I was told I am “too naughty.” I thought I was just a curious child. However, my dad’s reason for hitting me was not a form of “teaching,” rather it was “punishment.” He was frustrated or I triggered something and he needed to punish me. Once I was older, around 10-14 years old, his reason was not to punish me anymore but simply hitting me was his reaction to any anger I triggered. I hated it and could not understand it still.

    Once I started babysitting my younger siblings and doing homework with them, my parents encouraged me to use physical abuse as a form of punishment if my younger siblings refused to listen to me. I was in charge of the house while they worked full-time. They didn’t have time to spend with us anymore so all responsibility fell on me and if my younger siblings didn’t finish their homework then I would be “punished” for not doing my part. I remember hitting them on their heads and pinching their ears if they didn’t listen. It didn’t make me feel happier nor did I feel relief that they listened. I remember feeling horrible and miserable that we had to go through this all the time.

    I quickly realized this is not how I want to live. I have an option. There are healthier ways of communicating, teaching and punishing. I stood up for myself; I didn’t want to be responsible and do the punishing anymore. In result, I got more beating for not wanting to get beat or beat others (ironic, eh?) But that only made me realize how important it is and made me much stronger. I made it my core value and stood by it. It didn’t matter if it means I would get hit again, if I wanted to change my family and their mindset I needed to pointed it out and bring awareness to them. It took a lot of courage, patience and resilience to make my parents see what they were actually teaching us. Unfortunately, my youngest brother turned out rebellious and physically abusive but now as a young adult, he’s starting to see the consequences of his actions. Change is slowly coming but it’s always going to be a work in progress.

    Here;s a quote I’ve told many family and friends and I want to leave with this: You have to envision your future and go for it! Strive for the life you want to live. Make it happen.

    1. Thank you for sharing your insight and giving me the opportunity to share my story. Great work!

    2. Wow, what a story. Thank you for sharing.

      Abuse is a learned behavior, but that does not excuse abuse. An abuser must take accountability for his/her actions—just like you did. I am very happy that you realized your behavior and changed for yourself and your family. It takes hard work and dedication, but I am happy for you.

  3. Thank you for your post. I, a Whit male, was recently in a homosexual relationship with a closeted Hmong man who repeatedly broke into my home, destroyed or otherwise violated my cellphone, slashed my friend’s tires, destroyed my home, hacked into my internet account, and beat me on many different occasions. I don’t know how this could ever be considered right, but there must be some idea that he had that he was in control and that I needed to be subservient to his control. He is now in jail and I am free for the night for not being abused but I am scared and worried that he will continue to abuse me and might even take my life. Because he is not out, his parents or friends do not know of what he has done, but I fear that I might be in real danger once he is released. I wish that the Hmong would accept homosexuality and the injunction that violence cannot be accepted in any form on partners, no matter what. I loved this guy (and I think he loved me), but his violence forced me to call the police and now he is suffering the consequences of his action. Are there any other gay Hmong out there that can provide insight about this? How does this get started? What are you to do if you are in a homosexual relationship with a Hmong guy that is not out, that is a domestic abuser? I feel very, very sad that it had to come to this, but I want to live, and know that nothing that I have ever done could warrant abuse like this. Thoughts?

    1. Wow! I’m sorry to hear about what has happened to you. I must commend you for respecting him enough not to out him to his family. I strongly believe that his attitude is the attitude of all human beings and not just Hmong per se. But to give you a bit of insight on how Hmong boys are raised, I’d like to inform you that, they are taught to be the man of the house and that their partner is indeed subservient to them, especially if they are having a dispute. And I say with my own account of witnessing the things my mother say to my brother, “Be harsh and aggressive so your wife will be afraid of you.” I do not condone these kind of beliefs or behavior but it something that happens often in Hmong households. I hope I’ve answered your question and good luck.

    2. If you live in MN, you may want to look up Shades of Yellow (SOY). It is a nonprofit Hmong LGBTQ organization. I am referring you there since your questions are asking specifically for the insight of a gay Hmong.

      However, let me tell you that like domestic violence in all relationships regardless of sexual orientation, it is about power and control. The abuser uses physical, verbal, and emotional abuse to gain and maintain power and control over you. Like Karleen stated, Hmong males are taught to be the “man” and to be in control. When an abuser feels he is no longer in control, he may do things to gain back or maintain that control, even if it hurts you (the person he says he loves).

      1. Thank you. I have contacted SOY and am awaiting their reply. Hopefully I can get this all sorted out in my head, and there will be a positive resolution. Thank you all for your help!

  4. I think that the term “violence” is too narrow for Hmong people to understand. I really wish that when it comes to discussion of domestic dispute, the term “abuse” should be mandated. Because even though Hmong don’t condone DV, the culture sure does condone domestic abuse.

Comments are closed.