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Hmong Contemporary Issues
Hmoob cov Xwm Txheej rau Tiam no
Les Problématiques contemporaines des Hmong

Analysis of Hmong American Most Sensitive Issues
by Kao-Ly Yang, PhD

Presented during the 2003 Series of Summer Lectures
Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Birth rate
Census 2000
Generational Gaps
Major issue
Women's issue

Based on the census data of 2000 and the research conducted in the Hmong communities in California and in Minnesota between 1999 and 2003, here are some of the most salient aspects in term of issues in the Hmong American community.

I. When Numbers Talk

Number of Hmong: 94,439 in 1990; 186,310 in 2000         
Rate of increasing:    97.3% (in 10 years)

Genders:    95,000 men and   91,000 women

Median age of the total population:   16.1 years
(The median age in the US  is 35.3 years)

People under 18 years old: 56%

People between 18 and 24 years old: 13%

Total population of youth under 24 years old: 69%

People between 25 and 44 years old: 20.4%

People between 45 and 64 years old: 7.8%

People over 64 years old: 2.8%

Total population in the  working age: 28.8%

Household average size: 6.3 people
(The highest size in the US)

Distribution in State and Cities:
CA 35%         
Fresno  12.1%          
Sacramento 9%
MN 22.4%      
Twin Cities  21.8%
WI 18.1%
NC 4.3%

II. ... Which Issues Do They Unveil?
The Hmong American population in the US was very young (16.1 years old in average). There were more children than adults (1 adult for 3 children), which revealed the lack of support of adult and Elderly to the young generation.

The low level of education and a high rate of  birth (at least 4 children per couple) lead to some social challenges.

The various sectors with issues:

HEALTH: Due to the cardiovascular epidemic and Post-Trauma Stress Disorder related to the Secret War in Southeast Asia. The consequence was that there would be less available Elderly to transmit the culture, language and history and their associated values, norms, and social standards.

EDUCATION: Due to the lack of mentors to support the development of more professional leadership skills and to guide the choice of careers.

SOCIAL ISOLATION and EXCLUSION: Issue related to the urban lifestyle and family destructuring directly or indirectly responsible for the social isolation of the Elderly,  single mothers, polygamy, gang problems, prostitution, gambling or drugs uses. Issue of social exclusion due to mixing marriages, early or late divorce, or illegal migration.

APPROPRIATE COMMUNITY SERVICES: Most of the non-profit organizations were created in the 1980's for a refugee population.

GENERATIONAL GAPS: With the young generations born in the US, more acculturated and less aware of their parents' survival mode, there were gaps between parents and children regarding their identity, priorities in life, and cultural heritage preservation in a more comprehensive way, language uses, etc.

MARRIAGE: Persistance of early marriage and early pregnancy following by potential divorces, which stayed barriers to higher education, especially for women, and sources of family conflicts, misunderstanding. Predominance of domestic violence between genders.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Prejudice and lack of tolerance toward lesbians and gays.

SUICIDES: Critical socioeconomic and psychological problems leading to suicides of teenagers and adults.

POLITICAL DIVISION: Internal political conflicts that divided the Hmong community in various socio-political fractions.

LEGAL ISSUES: Misuses and misunderstanding of the legal system,

RELIGION: Diversifying religious choices that, instead of favoring tolerance, generated religious conflict inside the Hmong community.

III. The Hmong Paradox

According to the point of view of outsiders such as researchers, journalists ..., the Hmong community would be well adapted to the Americain way of life because there were successful stories such as the election of Mee Moua, a female lawyer in Twin cities, as state senator. Also, the ability of the various Hmong groups to advocate for more fairness and visibility made the Hmong community perceived as proactive and engaged in the Mainstream society.

Beyond a few success stories, there were questioning issues. The media only retained the best and the worst of this community, which finished to associate some stereotypes to the Hmong people instead of seizing its complexity, or challenges.

Inside the Hmong community, leaders highly trained in the Western education and knowledgeable of the Hmong culture were numbered.   The lineages with their patriarchal system governedd the social life, the successes or failures. The Hmong women remained in their female role. The new generation of leaders lacked cultural competency and understanding. Most of them did not know how to relate thee two worlds, the Hmong community and the Mainstream society, so that they could appropriately communicate with their parents, or to their children.

According to the census 2000 and observations of Hmong people from 1999 to 2003, it was obvious that the Hmong community was one of the poorest group among the Southeast Asians at the economic and health levels.   In addition, because of the internal conflicts existing between the various sub-ethnic groups regarding their dialectal uses, religious choices, economic opportunities and cultural differences, the Hmong community found itself divided more into small fractions, which weakened more the already changing and fragile relationships between the clans and lineages. Such a division formed an ineluctable obstacle for the community to stand up for urgent and common causes for the well-being of the whole Hmong community. The case of the Bill AB 78 in CA was a good illustration of such a dialectal division: Green and White Hmong, respectively two ethnic sub-groups speaking two different dialects with however about 80% of common vocabulary. At the beginning, the Bill used the ethnonym "Hmong". Because of the this division, the term "Hmong" was replaced by "Southeast Asian" to politically avoid the Hmong internal conflict.

Living in a capitalist country, money opens doors: For the social events like conferences organized by some major Hmong organizations to address community issues, the registration fees (more than $100) were quite high for the poorest of the community to be able to attend.  Such events would be opportunities for the whole community to develop common vision and understand the stakes.
Instead of promoting common goals and better understanding, this example showed that such an approach sought to develop an elite, which would create more social gaps and economic classes inside the community. In the long term, it would generate a society living in two speeds: the rich would become richer, and the poor, poorer, without the traditional social support due to the individualization that occured in the same time.

IV. What Expect In the Coming Years?

If the birth rate was maintained in the year of 2010, the Hmong population would be still very young --with less adults to take care of the children.

Let highlight this epidemie of cardiovascular diseases among the adults, that was a factor of the death. More adults would die in coming years, which left the Hmong community with less leaders to fulfill the roles of mentors and of role models.

The urgence would be to educate the Hmong youth:
    1. to marry later after graduationg (Girls continued to marry at 14 to 15 years old)
    2. to have higher expectation for oneself in term of education and professional excellence
    3. to dream for a better life
    4. to acquire a capital of social network,  wealth, and academic knowledge from both Hmong people and the Mainstream society.

There were needs to educate the parents to have better parenting skills so that they would know how to support their children during the critical age of teenager. Hmong ways of socializing children needed to be adapted in order to enhance their children's success and well-being.

New structures such as the cultural centers with more academic perspectives or recreative centers needed to be built in order to offer appropriate spaces and to develop long-term projects for children to learn about their culture, language and current changes so that they would be knowledgeable of their double culture and identity, and could relate to their double heritage as assets to succeed in the Mainstream society.

There was need to develop more professionalism, critical thinking skills and sense of community commitment to enhance leadership skills, especially the women's, to improve the Hmong American scholars' academic skills, and to reinforce the efficiency in community collaborative projects.

At last, Hmong people should become more aware of their diversity and to find courage to apply principles: being more tolerant toward cultural, individual, ... differences or preferences, especially in marriage choices, being more selfless in term of quest of knowledge, sharing welfare instead of using the poorest and the sickest people to build personal financial success, surpassing conservatism in term of clan solidarity and going further for solidarity based on common values and visions, and reaching the understanding of cultural heritage as a changing thing where culture is also a product of creativity and of invention.

Kao-Ly Yang Ph.D.

Edited in July 2018.