Recently I witnessed something that would become an important matter in my life. My aunt was on the verge of divorce with her husband. She chose to stay with him because she could only think of the injustice she would face in our culture both here in Minnesota and in her hometown in California after leaving her husband. Having been there and witnessed it first hand, all I could feel was the injustice and biased, opinionated side of the story.
So, I ask, how did oppression against women begin? In the Hmong community oppression is high for Hmong women — the expectation, degradation and opinions that come to those who’re oppressed. As the younger female generation in the Hmong community, we are told to be patient when it comes to things that anger us. We are told to behave a certain way and to have good manners. We don’t have much say because it shows disrespect or we are viewed as less valued.
When problems in the Hmong community such as relationship issues are revealed, the women are told to “ua siab ntev,” which translates to be patient, respectful and don’t complain, or else be pointed out as the bad one. In a typical case if a woman were to be faced with judgment or be misunderstood, she must not speak her mind but speak of acceptance.
So being part of the oppressed group, I’ve seen how Hmong women struggle and hold in their thoughts and feelings, only to express to others who are facing the same problems. There are a great deal of cases where there aren’t many options when facing difficult times, such as the example I used earlier of my aunt. This is currently how oppression is in the Hmong community against Hmong women. Living in America plays a role in the changes of oppression against Hmong women. I’ve been taught to be patient and behave with manners, but living in America I’ve learned of the rights and laws I have and the limit of patience that I have against injustice that I face.
More Hmong women realize the rights given to them grant them more power over their own lives and choices. Some show or educate others of this oppression and how to overcome these obstacles by teaching the younger generations of ways they could hold out on their own. Another would be speaking out about what you can and can’t do and leaving when needed. So coming generations do not struggle like the past generation and face injustice.
Currently, struggling Hmong women are fighting against the demands from others. As more middle age and younger women are stepping out of the cultural boundaries, they’re speaking up about the problems, and showing the elders that Hmong women aren’t viewed only for marriage, having children, or as an object to own. Elders are also becoming more accepting of women sharing their voices and problems. They’re seeing relationship issues from both parties’ views and not blaming the issue solely on women.
As I get older and advance in school, I have more understanding of how other women from similar backgrounds face and overcome similar oppressions. It brings more power to my claims. I have a strong voice against the elders because of my achievements. I’m viewed as the educated and smart daughter. I’m now able to teach the things I’ve learned to younger generations.
Cultural oppression-wise, I’d like to teach my sister that as a woman she still matters and everything is her choice to make to be happy. I’d like to teach my brothers to understand what the women in the Hmong community experience and to respect any women they come to meet. To guide them through life as an older sibling who accomplished things, who they can rely on, so they won’t have to go through what my aunt faced.