I’m an advocate for embracing and sharing the Hmong culture with our children. Obviously. I often talk about the beauty of the Hmong culture because I believe it is valuable and worth keeping. That being said, 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, and instead of having women serve men. 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, “Child, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Granted, there were things that I didn’t know but I always felt like I wasn’t respected by adults simply because I was younger. 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 at all 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 it 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's hard this balance of living in community and living authentically as an individual as well, 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 :)