The Hmong are a Chinese ethnic minority with a long history. If the Hmong people have ever had peace, it has never lasted long. They were forced to emigrate from northeastern China to the southwest portion of the country. Several significant wars during the Qing Dynasty pushed hundreds of thousands of Hmong into Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Thailand.
The first major war of the Qing Dynasty broke out in 1735 in southeastern Guizhou province as a result of Chinese southward expansion and forced assimilation. This war was said to have involved eight counties and 1,224 villages. When the Hmong were suppressed in 1738, 17,670 Hmong were killed in battle, 11,130 were captured and executed, and another 13,600 were forced into slavery. The war impacted half of the Hmong population.
After Laos fell to the Communist party in 1975, many Hmong were targeted for reprisals and fled to refugee camps in Thailand. Many were later resettled to various countries around the world, including the United States. Although many Hmong immigrated in 1975, others either remained in Thailand with unresolved immigration status, were repatriated to Laos, or eventually relocated to the United States in the late 1990s.
In Laos, the Hmong way of life has been shaped by mountainous living conditions, the practice of slash-and-burn agriculture, animism and ancestral worship, and a patriarchal family and clan system. The impact of war and dislocation, as well as years of oppression, have undoubtedly influenced Hmong society in many ways. The persistence of strong cultural traditions despite the isolation of subgroups is testimony to the strength of Hmong ethnic identity.
Hmong culture is vibrant, with colorful clothing, dances, rituals, and practices. Respect, politeness, pride without arrogance, and lack of jealousy of outsiders are all important aspects of Hmong culture. For many years, these crucial factors have allowed the Hmong community to withstand the oppression of more powerful nations.
Hmong fabrics are well-known throughout the world for their vibrant colors and intricate designs. Their story cloths are especially lauded. Before the twentieth century, the Hmong had no written language and instead communicated ideas and narratives on intricately woven cloth.
The Hmong are a distinct ethno-linguistic group that originated in China and migrated during the
19th century into northern Southeast Asia. There are several million Hmong in southwestern China,
and 1 million in Southeast Asia, including about 500,000 in Vietnam, 120,000 in Thailand, and
pockets of Hmong communities in Myanmar. The estimated 170,000–186,000 Hmong who have
resettled in the United States are members of an ethnic group from Laos.
In Laos, ethnic groups are distinguished by where they live. The Hmong and several other highland
groups are officially referred to as Lao Soung (“Lao of the mountain tops”) because they have
traditionally lived at high elevations. In contrast, the Lao—the dominant political and cultural group
in Laos—live in the lowlands along the Mekong River and are referred to as Lao Loum (“Lao of
the lowlands”). A third group, the Lao Theung (“Lao of the mountain slopes”), also known as kha,
traditionally live at lower elevations on the mountains.
The Patriarchal System
Historically, Hmong society has been patriarchal. In Laos, households were often composed of 9–14 people, including both nuclear and extended households of married sons and their families. The family was under the authority and direction of the male head of household, usually the oldest male. Children were expected to care for their parents when their parents were old or ill. In Laos, sons traditionally inherited family property and were often the ones to receive an education. Before the war, educational opportunities were extremely limited; therefore, knowledge was passed down orally. Because elder males were considered the most knowledgeable members of the society, they were required to perform religious ceremonies to honor ancestors. The responsibility of the Hmong woman was often domestic and included preparing meals, child rearing, and managing the family’s finances. Women gained prestige by producing children, especially boys.
As the Hmong have immigrated to the United States, family structures have been shifting, especially with respect to the roles of younger and older Hmong family members. Older Hmong must rely on younger family members for language translation, income, and transportation. Older Hmong men may experience a decline in social status, resulting in despair and loss of self-esteem. Hmong women, on the other hand, often take jobs outside the home, while the younger generation is increasingly adopting Western customs and behaviors
Gender Role Inequality
Men are valued, respected, and given more privileges than women in most Asian cultures. A Hmong female is taught from a young age to be submissive, to listen to the man, and to understand her place in the family. Hmong girls in America from traditional households are frequently discouraged from attending college and encouraged to marry in their early twenties. She is given less weight because she will not be the one to carry the family's surname.
Hmong Dealing with Domestic Violence.
When a couple is experiencing marital difficulties, the first step is to seek advice from their clan leaders. The couple is required to keep the problem private and to let the family deal with it.
When there is a disagreement between married couples and abuse is involved, families will deal with the issues themselves rather than involving outsiders such as counselors or police. Unfortunately, these protocols do not favor women very much, and men face very little consequence.
Divorce is Discouraged.
Divorce is frequently frowned upon in Asian culture because it is thought to bring shame to women's families. Divorcees are viewed as damaged goods in the family, particularly their children. Even women in bad marriages will stay in the marriage at all costs in order to keep the family strong.
Shame is a common tool used in Asian cultures. Asian culture values collectivism, whereas Western culture values individualism. As a result, Asian culture is frequently referred to as a shame-based culture, in which social order is maintained through the use of shame.
Female victims of sexual violence are shunned and stigmatized in Hmong culture. Hmong families value their reputation so highly that they would force their daughters to marry their assailants. Hmong female sexual assault victims are thus shamed into silence' by Hmong culture.
Traditional Hmong men consider physical abuse to be an acceptable method of disciplining a disobedient wife, whereas more culturally assimilated Hmong men reject the traditional patriarchy.
Many Hmong in the United States, especially older men, have largely relied on self-employment (e.g., farming or gardening), menial jobs, or welfare programs for income and health services. As younger Hmong have become more educated, families now depend upon the younger generation to enter the workforce in order to support the entire family and ensure its financial survival. Most employed Hmong men and women hold manufacturing jobs (54%); followed by jobs in the arts and entertainment industry (41%); then jobs in retail trade, education, and health and human services (9% each) (Hmong National Development Inc & Hmong Cultural and Resource Center).
NLHMF are building a national memorial for the Lao-Hmong who gave their lives for America. The National Lao-Hmong Memorial Foundation was formed to establish a compelling memorial that honors the service and sacrifices of the "Lao-Hmong" people (Hmong, Lao, lu-Mien, Khmu, Lue, and Thai Dam) during and following the U.S. Secret War in Laos. It will be located in Westminster, Colorado.
If you are interested in making a contribution in honoring our fallen heroes, please visit the National Lao-Hmong Memorial Foundation website