The Dynamics of Hmong Women
Electrical Engineer, General Motors Corporation
La Grange, IL USA
Hmong women have come a long way in just one generation. As Senator Mee Moua said, “ Everyone used to work in the fields and today everyone is still working, but in different industries. The image of the Hmong people in the U.S. hasn’t been changed yet, but the whole dynamic of our culture has experienced an enormous change.” One sign of the phenomenon change is the growing number of not only Hmong men, but Hmong women working in better paying and socially more prestigious job sectors. In the early 1980’s, the Hmong was among the lowest rank in literacy and formal education. At that time, very few men and almost no women held professional jobs. Today, Hmong men and women are doctors, lawyers, engineers, business owners, university professors, teachers, principals, nurses, and politicians.
In a patriarchal culture where the men are valued more than the women because the men carry the family name, a daughter’s education is not encouraged because the traditional belief is that a woman’s education will ultimately benefit her husband’s side of the family. However, Hmong women possess an inner drive that allows them to prevail. Hmong women are challenging the beliefs found in traditional Hmong culture and are considering new gender roles by seizing the educational and professional opportunities that are available to them. This conflicts with the traditional Hmong roles of dutiful wife and mother, where young women are taught that their primary goal in life is to get married and start a family. Now, many young Hmong women wait until after college to get married and those who did marry young are pursuing higher education with the support of their husbands.
Focusing on the successes of the Hmong women and building on that, this paper will highlight three sections. The first section will explain the obstacles that Hmong women have to overcome. Some of these obstacles are the traditional roles of a good wife and mother; the fear that after college, Hmong men will not want to marry them because they will be too old; and the struggle of married women in balancing home responsibilities, school requirements, and other obligations as a Hmong wife, mother, and daughter-in-law. The second thing that I would like to discuss is the support and ideologies that made it possible for them to succeed. Many successful married Hmong women credit their husbands for their achievements. Many of them also believe that they can take advantage of America’s opportunities and freedoms without causing their husbands and their families to loose face. The third section will bring to light what is needed now and in the future for Hmong women to move forward courageously to be leaders in their communities and to be role models with strong family values as well as professional dreams and visions. This is a turning point for the Hmong community to encourage and support Hmong women to gain the tools, skills, and abilities that will make them visible and recognized leaders.