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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.