I’m an advocate for embracing and sharing the Hmong culture with our children. Obviously. That's why HmongBaby exists and that's why I so often talk about the beauty of the Hmong culture. I truly believe it is valuable and worth keeping.
That being said, I also believe that not ALL aspects of the Hmong culture are worth preserving. There are things about the Hmong culture that really frustrate me. Hmong culture, just like every culture, is both beautiful and broken.
I want to share with you 3 things that I hate about Hmong culture. And yes. I said HATE.
1. I hate that women are seen as 2nd class citizens.I remember going to a party for one of my relatives and all the men were sitting at the table conversing and having a heck of a time while the women slaved away in the kitchen. After the women finished cooking, they served the men who sat at the tables while the women stood around and watched! It was only after the men finished that the women could dive into the leftovers. The best portions had already been eaten by the time the women finally sat down to eat.
What does this communicate? It communicates that women serve the men. Women aren’t as important as men. This is just one example of many ways that women are treated as second class citizens. I hate it and I won’t stand for it. This is a part of Hmong culture that I am consciously not passing on to my children.
Instead, I’m going to teach my children that women and men are equal in value and worth.
One way I am going to teach this to my children is through cooking. My husband cooks right along with me. We also have days where I cook and days when my husband cooks. Although we only have daughters right now, if ever I have sons, they’ll be cooking and cleaning right along with me, my husband, and my girls. This will teach them that both men and women can cook and clean. It will teach them that these are simply life skills every human should possess.
2. I hate that you’re not considered an adult until you’re married (even if you’re 30, 40, or 50 years old!).
When I was a teenager, I remember talking to Hmong elders and the vibe I always got was, “You don’t know what you’re talking about child.”
Granted, there were things that I didn’t know but I always felt like I wasn’t respected by adults simply because I wasn't married. Once I got married, there was a drastic difference in the way my parents and relatives treated me. It was like night and day. They actually listened to my ideas and respected my suggestions. I hadn’t changed. I was the same person with the same ideas. The only thing that changed was that I was now married.
I’ve spoken with many unmarried Hmong adults who feel like they are disrespected and treated like children simply because they’re not married. Even if they have good jobs, are educated, do a lot of good in the world, live on their own, pay their own bills, and are 35 years old (or even older!), if they’re not married, they’re somehow not “adult enough” and therefore aren’t respected.
Hmong elders may not call them children, but they still aren’t given the respect a 19 year old who is married receives. It’s crazy!
On the other hand, if you’re married, no matter how young or immature you are, you’re considered an adult and suddenly, you’re given all the respect, power, and responsibility of an adult.
The truth is, I’ve seen very responsible and mature single adults as well as very irresponsible and immature married adults. Maturity doesn’t necessarily come with marriage and yet it seems like respect only comes after a person gets married in the Hmong culture. So this is an aspect of Hmong culture that I don’t like and will not continue to uphold.
Instead, I am intentional about treating unmarried adults with the same respect as married adults.
For example, when I’m at meetings, I purposefully ask for suggestions and ideas from single adults as well as others because I want them to know that their voices matter as well.
3. I hate how EVERYTHING is about “saving face.”
I knew a Hmong couple who planned on getting married. They had planned the wedding, mailed out the invites, and were about a month away from the wedding date.
Everything was set and ready except for one thing: the couple came to the realization that they no longer wanted to get married. They both thought, “Maybe I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
This became known to their families so both families came together to have a huge meeting to discuss what would happen with the wedding. During the meeting, many of the elders suggested that the couple should go ahead with their plan of getting married since they had already sent out the invites. The elders said that the families would “lose face” if they cancelled the wedding at this point.
Here’s the kicker: the elders then said, “If the marriage doesn’t work out, then just get divorced.”
I was blown away. The elders would rather have this young couple get married, even though they didn’t want to continue with it, simply because they didn’t want to “lose face.” The health of the couple didn’t matter to the elders. The love or lack of love between the couple didn’t matter to the elders. The future of the couple didn’t matter.
The only thing that mattered was “saving face.”
Everything is about reputation.
It’s about, “will others have good things to say about us?”
And I get it. I understand the concept of community and doing things for the greater good. It’s a good thing, but it’s when this is pushed to the extreme of destroying lives and dishonesty, that frustrates me. This, “saving face” at the expense of others is something I won’t be passing on to my children.
Instead, I want to live authentically and teach my children to do the same.
And in order to live a genuine and authentic life, we must start with answering these questions:
What are my values and convictions? What are the few things that are truly important to me? Am I living according to those values and convictions, even if others don’t agree or like me?
What my husband and I have done is actually sit down to define the values for our family.
We want to be extremely clear so we can raise our children to be people with values and convictions, even if that means that they may not be popular or even if they may lose face at times.
We want to teach them that they can’t and won’t please everyone all the time, and that’s actually a very good thing.
It isn't easy to balance of life in community and living authentically as an individual, but I want to teach my children to not simply live for the applause of others.
Culture is not static.
It’s dynamic, meaning, culture is always changing. The way things are right now are not the way things have always been. Hmong culture for my great great grandparents was not the same as it was for my parents. The culture has changed as it has encountered other cultures and environments. Culture is always changing and that means that the way things are right now, are not the way things have to be going forward.
Although there are many aspects of Hmong culture that I love, there are also elements of it that I hate. Many young folks have rejected the entirety of the Hmong culture because they’ve experienced the negative sides of it. Sadly, they’ve thrown out the baby with the bath water.
Hmong culture, just like every other culture, is both beautiful and broken.
The parts of Hmong culture that are damaging, that don’t promote equality and wholeness, are not things that we have to embrace or pass onto our children. Therefore, I’m making a conscious decision to pass on a Hmong culture to my children that I hope will embrace and hold on to the beautiful elements of the culture and let go of the elements of culture that are broken and diminishing.
Like I've mentioned countless times, there are many beautiful things about the Hmong culture as well and just because there are aspects of it that aren't beautiful doesn't mean that we should simply throw it out. In fact, I've even written a blog sharing 3 specific things that I love about Hmong culture :)
Hello Mykou. Let me start by saying that your blog “3 Things I HATE About Hmong Culture” was a impactful read. I can see how that blog can be very uplifting to some, but please let me share how it can be seen as diminishing & depreciative.
First, I do recognize you as an advocate for the Hmong people. Your contribution of pushing the Hmong language and more is great for our community. However, your example of how women serve men is prejudice and misleading. In every culture, even in America, man & woman plays different roles. But sticking to Hmong culture, women do (the majority of the time) cooks, clean, and nurture the family. On the other side, men do (the majority of the time) the heavy lifting, negotiating, & discipline. Women primarily take care of the emotionally hard things, and men the physically hard things. These are roles within our culture. For you to insinuate the women are looked upon as a second-class citizen is you speaking from a westernized perspective. I want to you realize that. Please don’t get me wrong, I have two very westernized daughters who may someday take on these expected traditional Hmong roles, and I am doing everything I can to inform them of it; even by making them aware of how it may seem unfair due to their western thinking. Also, to your notion of how women & men are not equal in value and worth, that is most definitely a western perspective. Nothing is every equal. Nothing! My two daughters and son are not equal in value. They are all valuable, not equally, but very differently, but very very valuable in themselves. They all have great worth in very different ways; nothing regarding equal/sameness.
Next, regarding Hmong adulthood, I agree that that stage in life (when you’re Hmong) is irrational. However, like in every culture, marriage is the next stage in one’s life and is recognize by the community. Let’s face it, the statement two people are making when deciding to get married is a communal statement (letting others know that this is your special other). And when one chooses this statement, like in most other cultures, certain aspects are afforded/taken. And I do highly agree that the aspect afforded is respect in some kind. Not necessarily respect in an ultimate sense (like how you were speaking of – “if you’re married, no matter how young… you’re given all the respect, power, and responsibility of an adult.”), but respect in the sense that elders/adults will consider your participation. I will say this, I have witness ultimate respect afforded to young Hmong “adults” and will admit that those instances are greatly flawed. Those kind of clans has some serious issues to work out. So while not completely misleading, you are somewhat misleading in the nature and kind of respect being afforded to married Hmong people.
Lastly, about “saving face” in the Hmong community, this is a common idea within many cultures. Reputation is important nearly everywhere all the time. In modern day, a bad reputation of corporations can cost them millions or billions of dollars. In a similar light (but within the Hmong people), a bad reputation could cost negotiating complications for marriages, relationships, property, or goods. I’m not solely speaking about negotiating money outcomes (which is a real thing in the Hmong community), I’m talking about even having the ability to negotiate due to having disreputable/shady reputations. Sometimes, a bad reputation can receive a simple “no” because of the reputation is so bad. Reputation is important everywhere. Now, let me make this clear, I’m not saying that it is all about reputation; that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m simply stating that reputation plays a critical part in the Hmong community because reputation is a preamble or precursor (advertisement if you will) to knowing the other party. However, all in all, I agree with your statement of “pushed to the extreme of destroying lives and dishonesty” being greatly wrong. But like you stated yourself here, this is the extreme, and extreme instances like your example in the blog is not the standard so then “saving face” should not be so grossly detested. Extreme examples should never be forming life values and convictions; which I believe is a great great great thing that you do with your family (creating family values and convictions is not nearly or ever done in most families).
Culture is always changing. But I would like to ask you, who’s to be the one to change it? You? Me? What makes our knowledge so superior that we know what’s best for the Hmong culture? You say, “parts of Hmong culture that are damaging… are not things that we have to embrace or pass onto our children”, but your angle is of a westernized thinking. Is and How is that really the best for the Hmong culture? Also, when you say that you are picking only the beautiful parts about Hmong culture, is that really Hmong culture anymore? That sounds more like some imaginative Hmong culture, and comes off as belittling the Hmong culture.
I hope that what I choose to share with you does not fall on deaf ears. Yes, I am a Hmong male, and I am very westernized. I write this for you to make you aware of how your perception is coming from an Hmong American obscurity; and not that of an American Hmong. Thank you for your time, and God bless.
Another thing is women’s are label as slave. Just because men’s have to pay for their spouse, that doesn’t make their wife become a slave.
Don’t worry ya. Hmong culture in America will soon be something of the past. It’s good and sad at the same time; but the show must go on.
Thank you for sharing, these are the very things that turned me off about our culture and more… as a creative, artistic teenager, can you imagine me in the late 80’s early 90’s, being isolated back then with no internet to know there was a larger world of support our there… as a growing kid, I was looking for my self identity in my art and thru self expression, in my hair and style, I was considered rebellious and not the ideal perfect hmong girl, so there were a lot of issues for me growing up. I completely left the hmong world, married an American and no longer have to deal with those issues. But I still see my younger sisters struggle with saving face in their miserable marriages and watch my nyabs live to serve my brothers… by the way who were all born here in the USA. One thing is for sure, as much as I do missed aspects of our culture, I do not miss the gossiping community and bad mouthing relatives. They still do all of it I’m sure, but it doesn’t matter or effect me… I am untouchable now. I own my life, and am glad for it, that I do not need the approval of a hmong husband, or in-laws to live and breath. Many older hmong parents will scoff at my comments, but it’s ok, it’s only because they can’t understand and relate that freedom is a choice of the soul, and without it, even in a beautiful culture, I was suffocating… I don’t know if it effected me more because I was an artistic person, always breaking boundaries, but I just knew it was not for me.
The “UA SIAB NTEV” line that is often used…
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