Social Issues

A Hmong Wife’s Role

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.

10 thoughts on “A Hmong Wife’s Role

  1. I disagree with the article but I do understand the price or dowry that the Hmong tradition holds for the wedding. It’s a custom and I’m not sure that I agree it’s an obligation that the wife owes to her his and and his family but I can say that it’s just a tradition. Whether its right or wrong depending on how others look at it, it’s also a tradition that is slowly dying. This is just my opinion and not to offend anyone.

  2. I myself growing up in a traditional hmong family, remember being told “If you don’t learn this, you will never be a good wife/daughter in law” I look at the bride price of putting value on your marriage and your wife. I agree this literature is too old world. In that we should respect our roles as wives and daughter in laws, we are not an item that is being owned. I think most Hmong families do still look at it in this way.

    My parents may have been traditional but they also raised their 4 daughters to be strong and independent women. Household and children are a wife’s duties but that doesn’t mean the husband cannot step in. That does not mean a husband cannot cook for his family. Also, just because that was how it was then, does not mean that is how it should still be today.

  3. So I guess this is curriculum for Hmong teens /adults to learn more Hmong language or? I’m not surprised that 2nd language retention classes for teens, etc., have lousy curriculum. Maybe related to the lack of proper contemporary teacher education and money to design more relevant curriculum for language learning.

  4. Awesome, now we know the duties of a Hmong wife, where’s the text about a Hmong Husband’s duty. I’d love to know what expectations he has, many people (ESPECIALLY HMONG MEN) need to be reminded.

  5. Remember, just because it was written on paper, it does not mean that it is the intention of every Hmong families out there. The passage is still an opinion of an individual who was ignorant about roles in a marriage. Yes, that was how it was back then, but this passage was poorly written. There was no explanation why each spouse hold their duties, then the ending is just another excuse for those who value wealth over love.

    For example; I grew up in family where there are more guys than girls, 3 to 1, ratio. Also, yes, I am a guy. In my family, the ladies have more freedom as compared to the guys. Why, the fact is there are more of us so the responsibilities are split, and if the ladies neglect their jobs/chores we will have to pick up the slack. Heck! I grew up teaching all my sisters how to cook, clean, and do laundry! LOL

    1. Thank you for your comment. I understand what you said. However, because this is in print and I am pretty sure many Hmong individuals who studied the Hmong language have come into contact with it, I just wonder how many people it has influenced to think this way.

  6. I am wondering about the picture. This looks like the kind of ‘propaganda’ that was pushed on women in the United States in the 1930’s-1950’s. Why would they chose to translate this?

  7. It is amazing how some families I know still follow this so strictly. I feel bad every time I enter a household where men and women eat separately, the men eat first, then women last. I feel so very fortunate that my immediate and some extended families have gotten rid of this “men are above women” way of living.

    I’ve always had an issue with the “bride price”. My understanding growing up and being told by my parents was that the dowry for a bride was/is repayment to the bride’s parents for bringing up their daughter, feeding her, clothing her and providing her shelter until she marries and enters into her husband’s family/home. The bride’s parents would then use that dowry money to plan a wedding/reception for everyone to celebrate their daughter’s union. I can’t quite understand the different amounts or the price of dowry requested by some parents. I know that nowadays, some couples take it upon themselves to pay these dowries to the bride’s parents but some parents are just impossible to understand! I mean, $10,000 for a bride? A cousin of mine got married not long ago and the price for his wife was $12,000 and then on top of that, her parents also requested another $7,000 to do the reception.

    A distant Aunt of mine complains about her lazy daughter-in-law, who is 21 years of age, very inexperienced in the kitchen, in cleaning and many other things as I’ve seen during family gatherings. She tends to favor her and her husband’s bedroom when there are guests over and only comes out of it when her husband is home. Let me note that they have been married for a good 3 years now, no children. Her dowry was over $10,000 and the reception by her parents was only $2,000 ( likely the price of a cow), a very simple hmong wedding. Many hmong wives are expected to at least know the basics of cooking or cleaning and then to learn more as she grows older, primarily from her mother-in-law. In not knowing anything about keeping a home, this Aunt of mine would always say that her daughter-in-law was not worth the money she was paid for.

    A 180 degree perspective would by my cousin whose dowry was $6,000 and the reception by her parents was $8,000. She was brought up being told that daughters are to learn how to cook and clean from a young age so that when they marry they can keep a home and take care of a family. She helps out during big family events and is pleasant to speak to, making her a favorite Nyab in their family. She has been married for two years now and is in a very happy home she shares with her husband, his parents and his younger siblings. Her husband shares the chores and is very understanding of her independence and differences allowing her to grow with her new family.

    I believe that in the end it depends on how each daughter was brought up and how her family is which then later determines how she is as a wife and a daughter-in-law.

    I have yet to marry but can only hope I marry into a family like my cousin did, having grown up together with the same teachings and understandings of what a daughter/daughter-in-law is suppose to be.

    I’d be interested in what others out there have to say or share their experiences of being a Hmong wife or a Nyab.

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