The Hmong community is slowly turning around—and I do stress the word “slowly.” It has taken the patriarchal Hmong society 30 years in the US to finally realize that we have a problem with domestic violence (DV).
In July of this year, a conference called “Breaking the Silence Collaboratively: Creating Healthy Families for the Present & Future” took place in Wausau,WI. This conference was to train Hmong clan leaders in mediation and give them protocols as to how to deal with victims of DV. This conference was the result of Vang Pao’s efforts in putting a stop to DV in the Hmong community in 2009. From what I’ve heard and read, the 18 clans in Wisconsin did not initially cooperate with DV advocates.
Mai Tong Cha, executive director of Hmong American Women’s Association in Milwaukee, stated in an interview that she did not agree with the protocols the 18 clans have developed. She believed that the clans will not help victims because the clans don’t address the abuser and make him accountable for his actions. In the same interview, Pa Vang, from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, didn’t think the guidelines are fair to Hmong women. Pa stated that the new protocols don’t differ from the traditional clan system. The protocols only tell a woman who she can turn to when she needs help—and law enforcement or DV agencies are not an option. Additionally, Hmong DV advocates in Wisconsin banded together to sign a letter stating that they did not agree with the new guidelines the 18 clans have developed during “Breaking the Silence.” They were concerned and felt these new guidelines will only jeopardize the safety of Hmong women in abusive relationships.
As a result of this division between the clan system and DV advocates, on October 15th 2011, there was a public meeting called “Hmong Mediation Protocols: A Public Dialogue and Input Session” in Wausau, WI. The purpose of this is (1) To inform the public of how the 18 Clan Council works in Wisconsin and how it affects the Hmong community; and (2) Set up new policies for the 18 clans to follow when dealing with victims of DV.
Right after this, the 18 Clan Council in Wisconsin came up with guidelines, such as a DV victim can now call 911 or other agencies that will help them, in addition to calling their clan leaders and family members. It’s a shame that in today’s world, a victim being abused still needs to get “permission” from her clan to call for help from “outsiders” or she’ll be negatively labeled. I don’t think the Hmong clan system should trump the American laws. What kind of culture neglects to follow the laws of the land they’re living in and create their own legal system?
I am shaking my head in disbelief and wondering why it has taken the Hmong 30 years to finally acknowledge domestic violence as a community, but I am glad the community is slowing changing. There is still a lot of education that needs to be done: Educating the Hmong around power and control, different types of abuse, effects DV has on the children, effects of traditions, etc.
Although I live in California and the change took place in WI, I am hoping that this change will create a ripple effect and influence the Hmong everywhere else in the United States, and hopefully the world. It may seem a surprise and not much of a big change for my non-Hmong readers that DV victims can finally call 911 for help. However, this is a big leap because—if you’ve been following me this month—involving law enforcement is not the answer. The clan system plays a huge role in family mediation and calling law enforcement or seeking help from DV/SA agencies are greatly discouraged.
Domestic violence advocates are planting tiny seeds in hopes that they will grow into blooming trees. It’s a struggle, but well worth it. The older generation—those whose strings are strongly attached to traditions—are retiring. It is up to us, the younger generations, whether we are immigrants or first generation Hmong in the US, to educate ourselves and work towards making positive changes in our culture and community. I am not saying to let go of our culture and traditions completely, but let go of those that are holding us back. We need to work together to stop the cycle of violence from continuing from one generation to the next.
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.