What do you identify yourself as?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Finding My Way Back to the Hmong Culture

Slowly, but I think surely, I am finding my way back to the Hmong culture.

I have always been here, always in the background somewhere between the world of the Hmong and the American. Here. But yet somehow still lost in between both worlds.

And yes, I admit, the Hmong world has been pushed back further for many years as I tried to establish myself professionally in America. It wasn't that I abhored the Hmong culture. Not that. It was just that in my quest to be successful and to provide for my family financially, the Hmong in me got lost. Little by little, it chipped away. Some of it lost by conscious decisions I made, such as moving away to a city where there were no relatives at all in order to chase a career. Other aspects of my Hmong self were lost unintentionally--in times when, for example, the English language spilled out of my mouth before I could even remind myself to speak Hmong. Only later upon reflection would I see my mistake.

Through the years, I may have lost some of the substance of what it means to be Hmong, but I am still Hmong. I still identify myself as Hmong before American. And it is now when my life is somewhat settled down educationally and professionaly that I find myself trying to catch up on what has been happening in the Hmong community. Now I find myself wanting to edge my way back into the Hmong world.

I want to enjoy the Hmong New Year celebrations.

I want to go to the big July 4th tournament in Minnesota.

I want to speak more Hmong to my kids.

I want to visit Laos to see firsthand the country my parents came from.

Goals for 2012 and the next few years to come......

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Are kids obligated to take care of their aging parents?

Traditionally in the Hmong culture, the youngest son (or other sons in the family) is expected to take care of the aging parents. Is this still the case today? And will it change now that we're slowly assimilating to the American culture?

I think it's accurate to say that many of the currently aging Hmong population in America do expect their children to care for them. The children who send their parents to a nursing home, for example, are often looked down upon and the perception is that those children obviously do not love their parents.

But here's the question I'm interested in exploring. What about you personally? When you get older, do you expect your kids to take care of you? And why or why not? I'm interested in seeing how this cultural tradition will be affected by our generation of Hmong-Americans.

For me, I don't feel my kids are obligated to take care of me when I'm older. I gave birth to them, and I'm raising them up to the best of my ability because of a desire to have children and create a family. My job as a parent is to love them, and in return, I want my kids not to pay it back to me but to pay it forward to their kids and to society at large. My kids don't owe me anything back. If they choose to do so, then that is their choice. If not, I think I'd much rather go to a good nursing home.

So what are your thoughts on this?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Polygamist Marriages in the Hmong Culture

Back in Laos, polygamy was more accepted and prevalent due to the desire for large families and a large clan. In America, it is often believed that the practice of it has become less common for obvious reasons, such as the clash with family values as defined by American culture and law. However, from what I've seen, I'd have to say that the concept of polygamy is still widely tolerated. It still continues to happen today, particularly among older Hmongs of my parents' generation (and some younger people as well).

I was recently talking to a female relative whose husband had been having affairs, and she feared he was going to marry a second wife. I asked if she would consider leaving him if he did, to which her reply was "no." It reminded me of another relative whose husband recently impregnated another woman and married her as the second wife. This relative of mine decided to stay with her husband also, rather than divorce him. And then I found myself thinking about yet another woman I know who willingly chose to be the second wife to an already married man. In all of these relationships and many other polygamist marriages that I know of, there are so many problems, and I don't think any of them (husband or wife) are really happy. It seems to me that there are always feelings of resentment and jealousy present on a day to day basis in those marriages. 

So why do they choose to be in that kind of marriage? I find the often cited examples for why women stay in polygamist marriages (for the kids, financial reasons, reputation, dependency, etc.) to be insufficient reasons. Yes, it's hard to be a single parent, a woman without a husband in the Hmong community, and so on and so forth. It's risky and initially scary, but it's the kind of hard life that still allows you potential opportunities to find happiness in yourself, your life, and/or your future partner. Can the same thing likely be said for a woman in a polygamist marriage in our time? Chances are not as good, from what I've seen of the polygamist lifestyle. All I'm saying is that the potential for happiness down the road exists much more for a woman who does not participate in a polygamist marriage versus one who does.

I also find the reasons why the men do this to be unjustified. And yes, it is part of our Hmong culture and has been for generations, but that is not a very good excuse, and some things deserve change.

If we are to strive for improvement as a group and to be seen as people with integrity by others, then we must first treat our own fellow Hmongs and our own personal self with genuine consideration.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hmong People & Politics

Is it just me or does it seem like too many Hmong people pay no attention to politics? I know plenty of non-Hmongs who don't care one bit for what is taking place in the political world, but it's starting to seem to me like this is perhaps even more true for Hmongs. I'm not talking about the ones who have limited understanding of English, but more so the ones who are of my generation, born in the U.S. or raised here.

There is quite a bit going on in the political world that affect Hmongs, but somehow, many of them are just completely unaware or simply don't care about it. For example, there is a new budget bill being pushed in Wisconsin that makes major cuts to educational programs. Part of these cuts include taking money away from ESL or ELL programs, and the bill even specifically names "Southeast Asian" students as the group that politicians are looking to cut aid for. That's us, right? That's those of you who have kids who use those programs or services in school, and that's those of you or relatives of yours who serve as Hmong translator or ESL aide to schools. That's your job about to be cut.

On top of that, there are going to be cuts made to Medicaid, Food Stamps, etc.--programs that many Hmongs rely on to stay healthy and to have food on the table.

Now, whether you agree with the need for these programs to exist or not, the point is that so many Hmong people don't even know that these serious debates concerning them are happening in the political world.

When you think it's "just politics" and nothing more, or when you see it on the news and brush it off because it's boring or because you don't fully understand it, please know that YOU are the one who stands to lose. Even if you yourself are not directly affected by changes that politicians make, I'm sure you know family and friends who will be negatively affected.

So I guess all I'm saying with this post is that you should start paying more attention to the news and specifically what is happening in politics. And if you don't understand what it all means, look it up, do some quick research, ask somebody. And then what? Well, after you've gained a little knowledge on the issue, talk about it with your Hmong relatives and friends. Make them aware of situations in the political world that may affect them.

A stronger and better Hmong community is one that is well-informed, one that can be pro-active to situations rather than re-active.

And please, fellow Hmongs, get out and VOTE on election days. Your vote does matter. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

On Religion

I will never understand arguments over religion.

The way I see it, religion comes down to where you want to place your faith and what gives you hope. It's a system established to give meaning and purpose in life. We don't all live the SAME life, and we haven't all gone through the SAME experiences. What gives one person hope and purpose is not going to necessarily do the same for others. We have different needs and wants, so we seek what matches us most. What's wrong with that? 
Personally, I've been on both sides...multiple times (the traditional Hmong religion and Christianity). I grew up as a Christian and was very active in the Hmong church. Then I married into a family that practices the traditional religion and went that route. Then we decided to go to church for awhile. The church we happened to attend was somewhat corrupted, and we were basically deceived and hurt by certain things that happened. BUT...I know that it was THAT particular church only and that church is NOT representative of ALL churches or Christians. After that, we weren't doing the church thing anymore, and it was just assumed by everyone that we were doing the traditional religion again.

However, my husband and I were just undecided for many years and practiced neither religion. We were perfectly content to find hope and purpose on our own. And to be honest, those were the years that we achieved the most, and found peace and happiness in our marriage and life in general. That's just how it happened for us though; I'm not advocating it for everyone. You have to find what works for you.

Even now, we're still exploring our options, because apparently, having no religion is impossible and we cannot continue on in such a way... so says everyone we know.

I can see their perspective. They want to know what to do with us, should our life suddenly come to an end. But what bothers me is that their choices are so limited. Only TWO options: send the deceased up to heaven OR send them back the way they came, tracing steps back in life and to the other side.

I guess I’m willing to expand my options more so than most people.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Traditional Hmong Food

I came across this video of a Hmong woman making ncuav--the sticky rice kind. She reminds me so much of my mom. In fact, I've been thinking about the foods that my mom makes, things that are unique to the generation of older Hmong women--you know, the foods that younger Hmong generation like myself would eat but don't necessarily know how to make. Like ncuav. Like pig intestines stuffed with sticky rice. Like home-made tofu.

I feel like I want to video tape my mom making these things so it won't be lost on me. Of course, I can have her teach me now, but I also want something that will allow me to always rely on her to still teach me these things, even years from now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hmong Families and the "Boy Requirement"

My husband and I have three girls, no boys. Everywhere we go, so many Hmong people insist that we try again for a boy. But what if we don't want to? While it would've been nice to have at least one boy, we also realize we're quite content with our family the way it is. We've got three beautiful, healthy girls, and we don't necessarily feel the need to have more kids just for the sake of having a boy. To be honest, we really don't want another baby.

However, the pressure from Hmong people (especially older relatives) are constant. It's as if there is no choice here at all, as if it's a must. I feel pretty certain that, even if we have another baby and it turns out to be a boy, they're going to say, "Well, now that you've got one boy, you've got to try for another one. You don't want your boy to not have a brother, do you?" I have a feeling it doesn't stop.

Over the years, my husband and I have heard all of the reasons why we MUST have a boy (or two or three). We've heard the "boy requirement" lecture probably over a hundred times by now. It does bother me to hear constantly how our girls are not truly a part of our family, how they'll marry into another clan and not be our "real" family. Without boys, they say, we won't have anyone to live with or take care of us when we're old.

But the truth is that in this country, you go where your job is. Even if I had boys, they'll relocate to where ever they find a good job. And I would whole-heartedly encourage them to do so. I would never expect them to stay in a town just because that's where the clan is, or because that's where I am.

Furthermore, it seems to me that daughters take care of their parents just as much as or even more so than sons do. When I look at many Hmong families I know, it's the daughters who (even though they've married into another clan) care more for their parents. They tend to call more, physically care for sick parents more, run errands, remember their parents' birthdays, etc. Those are just my observations.

The other often cited reason for "needing" a boy is to have someone carry on the family name. But that's a bit superficial, in my opinion. Now if we were the Einsteins, I might reconsider. :o)

Right now, I feel that my family is complete. Of course, I can't predict the future, and I don't know how I'll feel 20 or 30 years from now. But right now, we're happy. We're looking forward to our kids getting older. We're looking forward to being able to travel with them and go on vacations, where we can all participate and do things together. It'd be nice to not have to spend more money on diapers and bottles and put that money towards a college fund for our kids instead. 

So my questions are: In this country, is there a need to have a large family? Is there a need for a boy?