Their World, Not Ours - Hmong Gangs in America

Article excerpt

Criminal gangs in immigrant communities are an American tradition, from the Irish, Italian, and Jewish gangs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Russian and Vietnamese gangs of more recent years. Though gangs can provide excitement, income, and a sense of belonging, the proliferation of Hmong gangs is an ominous sign of the continued erosion of Hmong culture in the United States.

Some Hmong kids don't feel they fit in with American society, but they can't relate to their parents' culture, either. They're adrift, looking to grab hold of anything that will keep them afloat. The gangs provide temporary buoyancy until the kids are shot, jailed, or wise up and quit. "I see the style of parenting in the Hmong community as contributing to the gang problems," says a Fresno counselor. "Some Hmong parents are heavy-handed, barking orders and refusing to discuss issues. Or they simply give up, expecting schools to take responsibility for raising their children."

Since the Hmong are a group-oriented, "shame" culture, parents avoid asking for help when their children skip school, get into trouble, or become involved with a gang. The Hmong believe that if you ask for help, you'll lose "face" (personal honor), because you're admitting that you cannot control your own family. …