Born East, Raised West

Happy New Years!

If you do not know who the Hmong people are, let me share a little information with you. We are not Chinese! We are our own unique ethnicity. Read along as I tell you a brief story of my ancestry.

When I was one years old, my family and I came to America. Growing up, I was not instilled with everything about the Hmong traditions nor was I about the American as well. When my parents converted to Christianity from Shamanism, they were unsure of how they can keep their Hmong traditions and at the same time follow what God was asking of them.

Community

Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, “If you come to me but will not leave your family , you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters-even more than your own life! Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them, when they follow me, cannot be my follower.

Luke 14:25-27

My dad was very active in the Hmong community which meant he was not home very much and most of the time he returned home drunk. These gatherings that the Hmong community had were about helping other families in need or social gatherings. I never asked what the reason was that my parents decided to stop participating in the Hmong community, however, I am sure the reason was that my mom felt like it did not reflect who or what they wanted to be.

For the rest of my childhood I saw how active my parents became in the church. I was not worried about the pressure of “being Hmong”, as other Hmong children were, because I was not pressured by my parents of who I needed to be. There was one thing that my parents instilled in me to remember which was to make sure that the man I plan to marry is a Christian.

Marriage

The reason my parents instilled that idea in me was that they didn’t want me to be restricted from my beliefs. For example, if I had married into a family that believed in Shamanism, I would have to participate in their rituals. My husband and I would still have the decision to participate or not. However there might be times that my husband won’t be able to defend me if I refuse to participate. If he does, he might feel like he is dishonoring his parents.

There was one pattern in particular that my mom noticed about me when I was dating even if I dated Christian guys. She noticed that most of the guys that I was talking to was the youngest son in their family. This became a concern to my mom because in the Hmong culture the youngest son and his wife are chosen to be the caretakers for his parents.

If you look at most cultures boys are looked upon as a great sign. Its either having a boy means great fortune or that the generation will be continued through their son(s). As for the Hmong culture, they let their son(s) take care of everything once they have established their own family. The son(s) would lead the family in making decisions such as family gatherings, weddings, funerals or for someone’s future. However, to my knowledge, it may be that the older sons were to provide while the youngest was to care for their parents at home.

Of course that plan doesn’t work well with the generation that is adapting to the American culture. The American culture teaches kids to be independent whether that’s in money or making their own decisions.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one.

Ephesians 5:31

So God tells me that a man should leave his parents side but we have our traditions that we also keep. This tradition doesn’t reflect a different religion or goes against any beliefs but it’s a struggle for me. I always have to be on my toes, everyone has their own opinion of how to care for their mom and we always have to be financially stable. If we don’t keep this tradition, people will look at us as if we were ungrateful children. They will think that we don’t love or appreciate our mom because Hmong people thrive on their community’s support. I live with this fear that it would also affect my daughter’s future that other parents might tell their sons to stay away from my daughter. They would probably tell their kids that because we didn’t appreciate our parents then their daughter won’t appreciate her in laws either.

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find? The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.

Proverbs 20:6-7

Funerals

Another cultural practice that I want to share with everyone is funeral practices. Based on the religion of the family, which is usually Shamanism or Christianity, the rituals will be different. For example, the Shaman way consist of one Priest/Shaman King sending the soul of the deceased back to their ancestors. This ritual/grieving process would last seven full days 24/7 including breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, because we live in America, a thriving country with jobs, we cut the ritual down to four days. Comfort from friends and family would come whenever they are available.

Christians believe that no matter what sins a person has committed, it is between God and the person themselves. They would pray to God for the soul of the deceased and comfort for the family. The comforting/grieving process for the family would last three days and also includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each day would consist of one morning service and one evening service with a designated end time for the day. Friends and other families would visit during these times to offer comfort and support.

For this practice, the cost is usually more than the typical American funeral. Depending on how many sons there are in the deceased’s immediate family; each son whom is married would provide one cow (display of wealth). They each must also put $5,000 or more towards the funeral and have their family cook everything if they don’t have their community’s help to cook.

Present

Today, many Hmong parents are concerned about their children losing their native language and traditions. For example, my daughter is barely speaking Hmong and I am always told to teach her better or our language would be lost. Even if my daughter is not fluent in Hmong I am glad that she can comprehend most of what I say. There are many traditions that people are no longer practicing and you can see the shift. One tradition is men having more than one wife, polygamy. The generation that grew up in America believes in having only one soulmate. One thing I am most astounded by is the women who are still living in that cultural environment. I can see that they are learning to not lean on their husbands as their sole supporter and they are beginning to be more independent.

Change in culture will happen overtime, but it doesn’t mean we can’t better them if it’s a must.

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