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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.

4 comments:

ahmongwoman said...

My mother divorced my father because he wanted to marry a second wife. She told him and his relatives that she would not tolerate it. My father didn't believe her, so the day that he left to bring new his wife home, my mom changed the lock to the door and hasn't looked back since then.

Many men will justify their polygamist marriages by saying it's our culture. I say it's more about power and control. From what I see, the ones who are more likely to have more than one wife are the ones involved in the Hmong political sphere. Sometimes I think these wives are just mere trophies or accessories.

MK Chang said...

ahmongwoman, I applaud your mom. She did something that so many Hmong women will not do. She's setting a strong example for other Hmong women in those situations to say that they will not tolerate polygamy and will not allow it to happen to them. Even though I don't know your mom, I'm proud of her!

Jaclyn Xiong said...

My father told me when I was not "HMONG-AMERICAN" but rather "AMERICAN-HMONG" because I told him it was WRONG for him to marry a second wife. He said it was culture and he wanted a son. (This was before my mother conceived my baby brother). I as the oldest daughter and a "daddy's girl" told my father what if I got married and my husband wanted to marry a second wife? He just said it was fine with him, which broke my heart. He told me I am becoming too "AMERICAN" because I as a Hmong girl spoke up to my father and it was none of his business to be telling a grown man what to do. Now that my mother had my baby brother he did not marry however, he is still thinking about it which makes me furious.

B Vang said...

It has nothing to do with culture at all. That's just an excuse. It's not culture, it's "Hey, he did it, I want to do it too?" It's "My wife is old and ugly. She doesn't turn me on anymore. I want some fresh meat." It all has to do with the little head between his legs. If women hold up against this practice, it will die off. But it's women that are doing it to women. They are the ones keeping this "culture" alive. If women start refusing to marry a married man, then there will be no more polygamy. The power is in your hands, women.