We Must Learn How to be Hmong American

The older generations of the Hmong people often say that the younger ones are forgetting their culture. They often criticize that we are not preserving it and because of that, we will forget about our culture and background. However, I disagree with this and I believe we, the younger generation of Hmong, are still doing our part in preserving our culture. We are just doing it differently.

I think the biggest reason why the younger Hmong generation is so much different is because we live in a much different environment. In their native country, the Hmong were agrarian. Much of their economy was based on agriculture and it usually required the help of the entire household to manage one field. In western society, we are forced to find a way to make a living differently. The standard of living is different and independently managing a private land for agriculture is difficult due to competition in the market. There are simply better and easier ways to make a source of income rather than focusing on agriculture. Today, we do not have to rely on the entire household to contribute in providing income.

This brings me to the idea of the difference in Hmong families today and back then. Having children was an important part in marriage. It was a necessity. Children demonstrated a household’s status and provided a future source of income. Sons would grow up to help in the fields which would provide food and finances and daughters when married allowed the family to receive money from the bride price. Sons would carry their family’s name and reputation as the culture is based on a patrilineal descent system. Basically having children meant that families had more wealth and power in their society. Today, it seems to be much different. The costs of managing a family are expensive. The Hmong are one of the poorest ethnic groups in America. As a result, the family structures of Hmong families today are much different. The need of having a large family is not as valued as it was back then.

Marriage in America in the Hmong culture is different than it was back in their native land. Traditionally in a Hmong marriage, the bride is usually married to someone the family approves of and in most cases, it is an arranged marriage. Often the bride is only about 15 years old and is married to an older man. However, it is different today as most marriages between couples occur when they are in their 20s. According to a census report by Hmong National Development in 2013, married couple-households were on a decline since 2000. This shows evidence that many Hmong today are getting married less or at am older age.

Another noticeable difference in the Hmong community is the religion. Religion plays a large part in the Hmong culture. It acts a way to connect to the ancestors and in some cases it acts as a remedy to fix problems such as sickness. Religious leaders are called shamans are responsible for leading the house when rituals occur. Many Hmong today still follow Shamanism but with the influence of western culture, many Hmong in America have converted to Christianity. There exists criticism from the traditional Hmong that many Hmong who have converted have given up on their culture. This creates a gap between the younger and older generation as the older generation often sees this as a threat to the continuation of the Hmong culture.

As a Hmong American, my honest say is that the younger Hmong generations are not losing our culture but we are simply preserving it differently. We are more modernized and have adapted better to the western world. We have seen the struggles of our parents and have learned to do what it takes to avoid the issues they faced in adapting to their new home. Maybe we are not living up to the same expectations of how they grew up but that is because we live in a much different environment. The biggest difference between our view and their view is that we have accepted that the society we live in now is constantly changing and whether it is good or bad, we must learn to adapt so our children can learn what it is to be Hmong American. We are not losing our culture but we are simply preserving in a different way.

by Kao Lee

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