Hmong in Wisconsin: Attitudes toward Minnesota’s Hmong Marriage Bill
Shoua Thao* and Kristin Espinosa**

*McNair Scholar, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
**Professor Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Wisconsin, USA



”Mai Xiong died while riding as a passenger in a car driven by her husband, Nhia Xiong. Mai's and Nhia's minor children…filed a variety of claims against Nhia, including a wrongful death claim. The trial court, however, determined that the wrongful death claim belonged to Nhia, not his children, and therefore dismissed it. As the "surviving spouse," Nhia was first in the line of priorities as provided by [Wisconsin statute]. The minor children contended that their parents' marriage was invalid and thus their wrongful death claim should be reinstated.” (Blinka and Hammer, 2002)

A young pregnant Hmong woman married her boyfriend, the father of her child, in a traditional Hmong marriage. They later divorced, and now with two children, she cannot claim child support or any marital benefits in the U.S. court, because there is no legal documentation of the marriage (Heng, 2004).

These are two examples of the consequences of marriage in the Hmong tradition, which is not legally recognized by U.S. law, whether the marriage took place before or after arrival in the United States. To prevent such complications, Minnesota State Representative Andy Dawkins proposed a bill in 1991 in the Minnesota state legislature that would legalize the status of marriages conducted in the Hmong tradition. This bill, the Hmong Marriage Bill (HMB), was intended to help legalize, prevent, and clarify Hmong marriages in order to prevent further legal problems such as child support, insurance, and specifically taxes. It would alleviate certain legal disadvantages, but it would also significantly alter crucial aspects of the Hmong marriage tradition.

In this study, I surveyed individuals in the Hmong community in Wisconsin (Milwaukee and Green Bay) to analyze their perspectives on Hmong traditional marriage and, more specifically, the HMB. I evaluated the attitudes of people in the Hmong community, focusing on whether and how demographic factors, such as education, gender, and age, influence those attitudes toward the HMB. In addition, I conducted unstructured interviews with Hmong community leaders and elders. The purpose of this research is to explore how Hmong’s perception on traditional marriage and practices might have potential affects on attitudes toward the HMB.