The Hmong are an ethnic group indigenous to the Southeast Asian peninsula. They typically live in the mountainous regions of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. They are rice farmers who are well known for their embroidery and the color of their dress, which gives its name to the different Hmong clans. During the Silent War in Laos, which was fought between the Communist party, called the PL, in Laos and the US American CIA, the Hmong aided the CIA by fighting on the ground as guerilla fighters. After the Americans lost the war, the Hmong were in danger of being put into re-education camps by the new communist government in Laos. Therefore, during 1975-2004, over 300,000 Lao, or 10% of the population, mostly Hmong, resettled in America (Cummings and Burke 2005: 31). Most of the Hmong immigrants moved to Stockton, California, Seattle, Washington, Lacrosse and Madison, Wisconsin and The Twin Cities, Minnesota, where they formed Hmong communities, usually with extended families living in the same apartment building, if not the same apartment. The Hmong have had some problems finding a balance between keeping Hmong culture and tradition and adjusting to American culture and traditions.
[...] Symonds, however, takes a different view: “Because the sexual asymmetry of Hmong culture has been so frequently remarked upon, I would like to reiterate some of the areas of Hmong life in which power is associated with women,” (Symonds 2004:164). While she acknowledges that the patriarchal organization of Hmong society leaves women with overall less social power, women still have power in the family and in their relationships (Symonds 2004: 173). Although, it is not always evident how Symonds defines power, she believes Hmong women have power in nine realms “reproduction, sexual freedom during courtship, the role of the sister, protest within marriage, divorce, bride-price, flower cloth, funeral rites, and cosmological beliefs,” (Symonds 2004: 173). [...]
[...] This power women have over some rituals is never more evident than in birth and death. Women are the guardians of the soul, such as when it passes between worlds during birth and death. Women are in charge of watching over the body of a deceased person until the body is buried; this is especially true when the deceased is the woman's brother (Symonds 2004: 168-169). Besides being guardians of the soul, women contain the essence of life. Women's menstrual blood and breast milk are both thought to be extremely powerful substances and are used in medicine (Symonds 2004: 166-167). [...]
[...] It is clear from her description of childbirth and her description the risk involved to both mother and child by giving birth at home with only the mother-in-law present that Donnelly does not see childbirth as a realm in which women have power (Donnelly 1994: 33-35). Divorce Divorce is not common among the Hmong, but occurs often enough to be addressed by both Symonds and Donnelly. As noted above, Symonds believes that divorce is an area where women have power (2004: 165-166). [...]
[...] In the evening, the Hmong boys go to the house of the girl they like and tap on the wall, or play a musical instrument, to ask the girl to come outside (Donnelly 1994: 121; Symonds 2004: 56-57). If the girl chooses to leave her room, which she usually does since it is very important for her to find a husband, the couple will go to the field house to get to know each other and experiment sexually (Donnelly 1994: 121; Symonds 2004: 57). [...]
[...] When the Hmong immigrated to America, the women found that it was accepted practice to leave a husband if he was abusive, even to the point of having organized coalitions, such as the Battered Women's Shelter, to help women get out of bad marriages and families (Donnelly 1994: 170). Hmong elders, however, felt that these types of institutions only succeeded in undermining Hmong culture (Donnelly 1994: 170). In Hmong society the way of dealing with family conflict was to remind the woman that it was her place to respect and obey her husband: goal of Hmong counseling is always to keep the family together, which means persuading the wife to reconcile herself to her situation as well as persuading the husband not to be irresponsible,” (Donnelly 1994: 170). [...]
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