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

May's First Love
by Kao-Ly Yang

The favorite marriage in the Hmong society has been between the brother's daughter and the sister's son. Often, during war times, this cultural practice is steadily applied. This is the case of this fictional story. A son had to leave his family behind in a refugee camp of Thailand. His parents chose his first cousine as bride to accompany him in his lonely journey to America. Close family ties would ensure real support between the two. However, the bride's feelings for another man were neglected. She married for survival, not for love. After a few years, May suddenly met again with her first love.

May was still a young girl when she was forced to marry her first cousin --phauj tus tub -- in Ban Vinai, one of the refugee camps that was built in Thailand after 1975 for the Southeast Asian refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to stay.
This is a perfect match! Why do you keep refusing? said her mom. You will be going to America. It's your first cousin, he will love you and he won't abandon you. You will be like a real daughter to his parents, and I will gain a real son. He's my beloved brother's son. Love would arise between you two very soon.

May remained in silence, head down. She was crying in her heart, thinking sweetly of Pheng, her patient and handsome boy-friend that she met when going pick up their portion of rice. 
At the end of the 70's, a daughter had to follow her parents'choice.
- You may be in love now, but Pheng is not our relative, and he may not love you for long time. Far from us, you need a loyal and physically strong husband to support you. My brother's son is a trustful man. The mother continued to reason her daughter. But love rarely listened to social reasons.
In the tradtional society, young women who did not accept parents'choice stayed single for many years. Some refusing to be forced into any unhappy marriages, and when unable to voice verbally their opinion, might commit suicide, to express socially their disagreement. Back in Laos, there were sad and despaired suicides of young women.

For May, however, it was not her choice. She obediently listened to her parents. Although all regrets and tears of sorrow, she married her first cousin, and went to America with him.

The first months of her life of exile in California were full of loneliness and distress. Fortunately, she found out that she had an old aunt in her neighborhood.
Her husband worked all day, so she often escaped her boring days by visiting her.
One day, when opening her door, she saw, sitting on the sofa, Pheng. Her heart skipped a beat. She glanced at him, showing a dreary face, trying very hard to avoid his gaze. She greeted him formally.
- "You also visit aunt?"
- "Yes", replied Pheng.
She turned to her her aunt without showing any attention to Pheng's reply:
- "I brought you some sour vegetables I did yesterday. Where do I put them?
May went to the kitchen, opened the fridge and put the bottle of vegetable in, while her mind is running like a crazy wind. "How am I going to do?". This was an uncomfortable situation. Her cheeks were however quite red. Her heart beat faster. She knew she was still in love with him. Moments seemed hours, time seemed eternity. Suddenly, to avoid him, she had to go home.
But tortured by her regrets, May still hoped to see Pheng again. She gave in to her heart, and went to visit the old aunt.

As for Pheng, no doubt, he still loved May. Knowing that his first love lived close to his aunt, he came daily to visit her. The two met each other, almost daily, but never talked to each other openly.
After a few weeks, May, regretting to not be able to say goodbye to Pheng in Thailand, decided to cleanly cut the relationship.
"But should I tell him that I did love him truly? It may console him. I can do that because he is still single.", she was wondering, torn between the urge to hug him and to cut him from her world. She chose to not say anything. Openly demonstrating one's affection was so problematic. Marrying is not about being in love, but surviving.
In each visit, she never stayed very long. She then ran back home, diligently cooked some fresh rice and boiled a chicken drum stick. When May knew it was time for Pheng to leave his aunt, she went out to wait for him on the road that took him to the bus station. When he arrived near her, they exchanged no word. He looked at her with his amorous eyes where lived so much longing. She avoided his gaze, and clumsily gave him the small bag of food. Sometimes, when she had money, she put $10 or $20 in the bag. After sadly looking at him walking away, she came back home, hartbroken.
The same episode of reunion and separation between the two lovers repeated day after day until the old aunt realized the unspoken passion in their eyes. She simply forbad her nephew to visit her. 

May had been waiting for him for days, but he never showed up again.

A few months after, May's family-in-law decided to move to Minnesota. She asked her husband to stay in California. But he did not want to be separated from his parents.
- "A daughter-in-law must serve her in-laws" he said.
She refused. He beat her. She followed him to the Twin Cities.

May never saw Pheng again. Her love for him slept forever in her heart. 

Years passed. Then after the birth of her four children, she relegated her first love to the precious memories of a loveless life. May stopped living for her. Her children were her priorities. What she could not get, she made sure they got it. She supported them to marry the ones they loved. 

For the rest of her life, Pheng remained a shining day with a sweet breeze. When her husband badly treated her, she kept remembering the innocent love of this young man.  

Edited on July 2018  
Copyright © 2003 Kao-Ly Yang
All Rights Reserved.


Cultural practice
Drum stick
First cousin
First love