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  • Kristi Yang

Silenced: The Oppression of Women in Hmong Community Echoing Vietnamese Traditions

This story is republished with permission from Kristi Yang. Though Yang is not of Vietnamese descent, her story resonates with Vietnamese traditions. Here is her story:

I hated everything about the Hmong culture. I hated attending weddings, gatherings, funerals, and different events if it’s held by Hmong people. I then asked myself, “Why?” when I also love the culture as much as I hated it? After thinking and separating culture and traditions I realized the problem. It is the oppression of women in the Hmong community.

Whenever my family went out to Hmong events I saw women head straight to the kitchen to help out and men head straight to the tables to drink beers with the guys. Eventually I was old enough to be in the kitchen to help prepare or serve food to the men at their table. I did so because that was what girls are expected to do. I hated serving all the men at the “important tables” and I hated that men got to eat before the women. Whenever I asked my mom about this she would say, “That’s just the way it is.”

I remember always complaining to my mom when I was a kid why my dad and brother can do whatever they wanted while we did the cooking and cleaning? Her answer was simple, “Because we are girls.” And that was it. I did not understand it, but I accepted it. Of course being the person I am, I never stopped asking her whenever I felt infuriated watching my younger brother play games while I cleaned the house. She will then reply, “Stop being jealous. Just do it. When you become a nyab (n-yah: daughter-in-law) you will know what to do. If you don’t know how to clean and cook, your in-laws will not like you.” Again, I did not understand it, but accepted it anyways. I did what I was told and held my anger in because I wanted to please my parents and that’s what good daughters do. I wanted to be a good daughter for them. This went on for a long, long time. In my young mind, I thought when I grew up and finished school all I will have to do is get married and be a good nyab. I remember thinking, “That’s it? That’s it to life? There’s nothing more?” For the very first time I felt bad for myself. I felt bad because I was a girl and this was going to be my life forever. Little did I know, my own brother and other Hmong brothers were going through their own battles too. Theirs is known as toxic masculinity. Back then, I didn’t know the words to what I was feeling I just knew it was not fair. The more I learned the more I understood what I felt and experienced was oppression and injustice. Before I figured out the difference between culture and tradition, I used to think my culture was the reason why there are gender roles, but that’s not true. The definition of culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” The definition of tradition is “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”

In cultures, traditions play a big part. It’s the reason why we do certain things at certain events or why we celebrate this day every year etc. We cannot change our culture, but we can change our traditions. We can choose not to celebrate this certain day if we want to. We can choose not to do certain things at events if we want to. So, let’s stop the tradition of traditional gender roles in our culture. There is so much beauty in the Hmong culture and I have gained much love for it these past few years. Stop blaming the culture. Instead blame it on the traditions we follow and enforce. Seeing the nasty traditions that still occurs in our community is truly disturbing. To end these traditions, we have to teach our future generation this is not right and let our parents and grandparents know it doesn’t have to be this way. I know it’s easier said than done, but we have to start somewhere and we can be the ones who start it. Men and women are equal. This is not just a problem in the Hmong culture, it’s all over the world.

I will not be a good daughter, if it means I am silenced and oppressed by your outdated traditions. No one gender is more superior to another, and if you think otherwise fix your brain please. There is so much more to say but I will leave it at that. I drew the picture below almost a year ago, but finally had some time to slap some colors on it to finish it. It is not the best (and the wrong paper to paint on), but when am I ever satisfied with what I create? The year I created this was when I realized and experienced how much people (including myself) are silenced by others. They do not have a chance to say what they want to say or when they want to say it. Not only do they get silenced by others, but they also learn to silence themselves. Therefore, I call my piece: Silenced.

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