Growing up in a patriarchal world was hard for a growing girl like me. I constantly had talks about not being a suitable wife from my grandmas because I wasn’t able to cook or clean like my younger sister and other girl cousins. I was only ten years old when I had my first talk.
Being a part of the first generation of Hmong-Americans gave me privileges that my own grandparents weren’t able to have. My parents were born in either Thailand or Laos, but were raised in the United States. They lived and are still living the “American Dream” my grandparents wanted. I’ve never endured pain the way my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents had to. I’ve never had to assimilate to “fit in” with the American culture; although, there were still times I felt the same as they did.
Hmong culture has always been patriarchal. Women are known to be caretakers and housewives. They cook and clean constantly, it’s prominent for them to do so during big events or just when they have guest over. They show respect to their husbands and other men who are present in their household by giving them water when they walk in, providing snacks for them, and giving them their space. Since times are changing, Hmong culture is evolving.
As of now, we still hold onto parts of our traditional culture, but life has changed; our culture isn’t the same. Being in America changed the youths’ social expectations and political stances, especially for Hmong women. My aunt, Linda Yang, feels the culture is changing, but there are good and bad parts to this change. One negative change, she believes, is that my generatio is losing the language and can’t speak Hmong at all. On a happier note, “… a lot of Hmong women and men are embracing how powerful women can be,” says Yang, “The women are now breadwinners.”
My mom, Vilai Tchaa, feels the culture is changing for the better.
“Even though we’re from a patriarchal culture, being here [in America], it has changed a lot where [Hmong] women have the ability to educate themselves and be a big contributor in the physical, financial, and decision-making contribution.”
She went on to say how Hmong women have become huge influencers on Hmong men. With this mindset, we find that our Hmong men are becoming more open to these social changes within our culture. In Minnesota, my aunt, Mee Moua, became the first Hmong-American to be elected to a state legislature in the U.S. She became a leader for many Hmong-Americans and showed how progressive Hmong culture actually came to be.
Although we’ve somewhat progressed in our culture, it still hasn’t changed how patriarchal it is. As I said earlier, I constantly had talks about not being a suitable wife from my grandmas because I wasn’t able to cook or clean like my younger sister and other girl cousins. I was ashamed. I tried to fit in, but whatever I tried, it didn’t work. Over time, I was forced into the kitchen to help cook, told to set the table, to do the dishes, to even give out water bottles to my uncles, and of course. Given the same talk over and over again. My brothers and other male cousins? They got to play video games while my sister and I worked hard.
Serena Vue and Hleeda Lor, both Hmong UW-Stout students, have gone through the same never-ending cycle of cooking, cleaning, and obedience that I’ve gone through. Some of the battles they face is the clash of mindsets from the younger generation to the older generation.
“For me, I feel like I don’t agree with a lot of the culture… but I’m still a proud Hmong American,” says Lor. She feels the culture is changing because there are Hmong advocates and speakers that are talking about these social changes within it. Yet, she also feels it’s different when she’s back home, that nothing has changed.
“I feel when you go back home to your family, you don’t really see that kind of change. It’s the same thing over again. They want you to be and act a certain way. It’s kind of weird balance, I guess,” says Lor. As for Serena, she feels her struggles lie within finding who she is.
“… Battles I face every day in my culture is being a Hmong daughter in a patriarchy system that doesn’t give the same opportunities to women as men. In addition, by living and growing up in America, I was looked as being different because of my cultural practices, beliefs and the color of my skin. To this day I still struggle to find a sense of who I am,” Serena told me.
My aunty Linda went through the same thing that Serena is battling with. She went through an identity period where she didn’t know her own identity.
“The truth is, I never questioned who I was, I just questioned who I wanted to become,” said Yang. She feels that this question isn’t asked enough as it should be.
Seeing the social changes within a patriarchal culture is progressive, but there are still those who find this patriarchy system to be fine just the way that it is.
“…that’s one thing that I dislike the most about our culture. What makes me so passionate about it is it’s not discrimination from the men, but it’s the women who are standing for it,” said Yang. She continued on to say that in her generation, growing up, you weren’t allowed to dream, you were to provide for your family.
As my mom grew into womanhood, she found that everyone has a role to play. “… we step up in this unspoken role in what we need to do,” said Tchaa. She proceeds to talk about her upbringing of strong women in her family. Knowing who she is and her roots, she’s proud to be who she is.
“I don’t have any hard battles because I know who I am, so I don’t allow people to discriminate against me. I’m proud to be a Hmong woman,” says Tchaa.
Everyone’s story is different. I find it hard to be a Hmong woman sometimes. I wish my grandma understood that it’s not just about cooking and cleaning and becoming a good housewife for my future husband; I wish I could’ve told my ten-year-old self that. My culture is evolving, and I created my own identity through my own experiences. Although Hmong women today are still struggling to find that balance between our roots and our identities, I believe we’re slowly changing.
I believe we’re all creating our definitions of who we are as Hmong women.
If you liked this piece, be sure you check out, “On Feminism.”