For many decades the word Hmong has been said to mean human being or free people in Hmong language, but this meaning has never been proven to be true. The Hmong people of Southeast Asia are some of the most recent immigrants to the United States. Like many ethnic peoples today, the Hmong face rapid erosion of a once proud and distinctive culture. Scattered from their homes and devastated by war, many arrived in the some U.S. communities (such as San Diego) in the late 1970’s where they now struggle to maintain economic stability.
The Hmong began as a small group in an area that later became part of China. Here was where they began to take on an identity as a separate people with particular practices and social structure. After 1800, thousands of Hmong began southward out of China towards Laos and Vietnam. The Hmong organized themselves for nearly self-sufficient production, and avoided political entanglements with other groups as much as possible. But as the French colonial power of Indochina grew, conflict arose as did the Vietnam War. Thousands of Hmong were again forced to flee, this time to Thai camps and other settlements. Unable to farm and frequently on the move, the Hmong struggled to keep their culture alive. Between 1975 and 1981, thousands of Hmong arrived in the United States without English skills, knowing little of American life, and disoriented by their recent hard experiences.
Although they lost great economic self-sufficiency, they retained much of their cultural identity. The Hmong kept memories of their tragedies as an ethnic charter of identity in their new environment. It is estimated that over half the Hmong population died during the Vietnam War and the subsequent flight to Thailand, but the Hmong (as their name suggests) to this day have been characterized by their will to survive.
Currently there are 3,000 Hmong living in San Diego with about 15% of that number enrolled in Linda Vista Schools.
Hmong is spoken in China, Laos, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. A predominately monosyllabic language, Hmong has two major dialects. The language is tonal with particular tones being associated with each syllable. The primary dialect spoken by the vast majority of Hmong individuals worldwide is know as White Hmong. Here words are stressed within the throat. The other dialect is known as Green Hmong, were the stress of the words lies on the rolling of the tongue. The words are softer with more intonation with the tongue. The writings of the two are very different.
When they came to the United States, the Hmong brought their ancient culture with them in forms of art, poetry, songs and stories. Part of this is due to the fact that the Hmong language did not acquire written form until the 1950’s. Therefore, the Hmong had to depend primarily on oral and artistic traditions to pass on their history, legends, beliefs and cultures form one generation to another. They wrote their stories of their ancient culture on elaborate hand woven needlework pieces called Pandau (pronounced pan-dow). It was a way to keep their memories sacred as well as a way to make a small living creating new designs.
Within the Hmong culture, family is very prominent. Hmong families are usually large and close knit. The family name and face are both very important and children are often disciplined to avoid negative sanctions to avoid shame. Children are taught to love, respect, and obey their parents and elders. The family, in Hmong culture, takes precedence over all other group allegiances.
Education is valued by Hmong parents, but as many of them are without education themselves, they are unable to help their children. They are strict in exhorting their children to study and ingrain as much educational value in them as they can. Most Hmong children are high achievers in school, but most adopt Americanized attitudes as they reach upper levels, which tend to alienate them from the Hmong culture.
Learning to adapt to a new lifestyle, the Hmong undergo much stress which carries tremendous cost. Besides feeling losses of their traditional values, many parents complain about losing control over their children. What they consider discipline is now classified as child abuse. In all aspects of their lives, the old ways are losing out to new beliefs and customs.
Cha, D. and Livo, N. (1991). Fold Stories of the Hmong. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
Donnelly, Hang, L., and Mallison, J. (1998). Hmong Batik: A textile technique from Laos. Seattle, WA: Mallison, Donnely.
Websites Worth Surfing
The Hmong Electronic Resources Project (HER):
This site provides information about the Hmong and Hmong issues including full-text documents, resources of materials, and Internet sites.
Hmong WWW Homepage:
This site provides information about Hmong’s geography, history, culture, and current events.
Website for Hmong Cultural Center which includes a list of books touching many concerns of Hmong students.
Websites For Teachers
This site provides articles, books, videos, pedagogical resources, available on the ERIC database, and additional websites.
This site offers a wide range of language learning resources. The ordering for materials can be done on-line.
This site provides an on-line database for information on Asian and Asian American studies for grades K-12.
Chan, Sucheng. Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and America.
Faderman, Lillian and Xiong, Ghia. I Begin My Life all Over: The Hmong and the American Immigrant Experience
Fadiman, Anne, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (USD
Library: 306.461 F145a).
Hamilton-Merritt, Jane. Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992.
Moua, Mai Neng (Editor), Kuoh-Moukoury, Therese Neng. Bamboo Among the Oaks: Contemporary Writing by Hmong Americans.
Becoming America. (USD Media Center: VC 4442).