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Hmong marriage customs get US makeover

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Drawing by Tony Vue

Drawing by Tony Vue

Drawing by Tony Vue

Tristin Thao, Reporter

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      In the Hmong culture, marriage is very important for families. The Hmong community consists of 18 last names, making up 18 official clans.  It is taboo to marry someone from the same clan.  For instance, someone with the Yang last name cannot marry another Yang.

    Sometimes, though, Hmong girls are pressured into marriage before they are ready. “Hmong marriage and Hmong weddings are very beautiful,” said Mr. Pong Vang, an EA at Harding. “Marriage is just a beautiful thing in general. When people start kidnapping their bride and having them force-marry them, that’s when it becomes a problem to where it’s no longer beautiful.”
    
    There are three different ways a couple can initiate a wedding.

    According to AHmongWoman.com, the first one is a formal proposal. This is when a man and representatives from his family do a formal house call. They bring gifts and money and ask the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage.

   The second one is the most common way couples get married. When a man is interested in marrying someone, he gives her a gift. If she accepts it, it means she agrees to marry him. The gift is not necessarily an engagement ring; it could come in the form of jewelry, clothes or anything that interests her. The groom will then “take” his bride, or she will “run away” with him, on a later date. This is to “prove” to the guy that she loves him enough to leave her family. After the couple gets to the groom’s house, his family will send a messenger or representative to the bride’s family to announce that their daughter is with them.

     The third is bride-napping (zij poj niam). This is a very abusive tradition. This happens when a man has no respect for the female’s feelings and decides that even if she doesn’t want to marry him, he will force her to. Sometimes the man will give her a gift and not let his intentions be known. Here in the U.S., he may tell the girl he wants to take her out and instead take her to his house. In Asia, he may come to her house when her parents are not home and literally carry or drag her home with the help of male friends or relatives.

   When getting married, the man is ordered to pay for his wife, meaning he has to buy his wife with actual money. This tradition continues today, having to buy your wife like she is property. Once bought, it is like you “own her.” “It doesn’t matter on what she’s worth; it matters who she is and if her personality is beautiful,” Mr. Vang said. “Hmong women don’t really have a say in what is going on. It’s more like, it just happens so go with it. That’s something that we wish can change throughout the years.”

     Living in America, the culture has changed dramatically across the years. Being born in Laos and having to move to America was a struggle for the Hmong. Having to adapt and fit in with the American culture was one of the hardest things for Hmong immigrants. Mr. Yang, a Hmong history teacher, experienced this firsthand.“Having a culture is your roots,” he said. “Being Hmong and being born in Laos, then going to Thailand, then coming here-I had to learn a new culture. I struggled having to know my identity because I was too busy trying to learn the American culture. But as I grew older, I realized that in order to figure out who I was, I needed to know my own culture first.”

   Typically, in very traditional families, Hmong American girls are married between the ages of 13 and 16, which is a problem particularly for education because they are pulled into their spouses’ households. Being married young affects and turns around their entire life around. They lose the freedom and space they had before. Also, underage arranged marriage is not recognized by the courts and is not legally binding. “I don’t want young girls to miss out on opportunities that they can go to college to get a good job, but some girls might have a few babies by the time they are 21 years old, and this will make their lives harder later on if they want to go to college to get a better job,” said 9th grade administrator Mr. Thor.

    A lot of Hmong-American girls used to marry to get away from their current life situation; they see marriage as the escape route for whatever they are going through, namely their parents and school. Basically, these girls are choosing to get married early, not because their cultures are pressuring them to. But in today’s case this is not true, this was a problem back then, living in Laos and Thailand.

   In today’s generation, it is the complete opposite. The Hmong generation today would rather go to school, get an education, and complete tremendous achievements. “I feel like Hmong women who get pregnant young are outdated because back then, we would need as much help as we can get on the farms,” said Mr. Yang “That’s why people were getting married young. That was one of the more important reasons why people had children young. We’re now in a different country where we don’t have to do that anymore”

    One Harding Hmong student who is pregnant shared her story about how it happened and how she found out. She explained that she found out by going to get a check up in the clinic instead of having to pay for a test. The result came out positive and it changed her life around. “I knew it happened,” she said. “It didn’t surprise me too much, but when I told the father of the child he didn’t believe. Instead he was full of doubt and asked for space.”

   She had met this guy during the end of her freshman year, believing that he would be there for her when she needed him the most. But instead, he left without saying a word.

   When she told her parents, they too did not believe it, but when they saw the fear in their daughter’s eyes, they knew it was reality. “My parents are not very traditional, so they let the guy go and decided to support me with this baby,” she said.

   Her grandpa, on the other hand, is very traditional because he was born in the old days. “My grandpa said that I should force-marry him because he should face the consequences,” she said.

    The majority of today’s Hmong parents are not as traditional as the ones back then, but they still want their children to know where they came from and the history of it all. “I am not a traditional father, but I think it is important for my children to know the history and culture of their own people,” Mr. Thor said.

    Today’s generation will not have to face what kids in Thailand went through with marriage. “We have to adapt to this culture,” Mr. Yang said. “In terms of culture, I want my son to know the culture. I want my son to learn the language and history of the culture.”  
     

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Hmong marriage customs get US makeover