Learning More about Hmong Students

By Vang, Christopher Thao | Multicultural Education, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Learning More about Hmong Students


Vang, Christopher Thao, Multicultural Education


Today's classroom is a rainbow of cultures, traditions, and languages. The culture of students and their parents has significant impact on how students perform academically. I am very excited to present some information about the Hmong culture that twill help K-12 teachers understand their Hmong students and provide them with very best education.

Brief History of Hmong

The ethnic roots of the Hmong are in northern China, near Siberia. The Hmong lived in China for a few thousand years before migrating a few hundred years ago to Southeast Asia in search of freedom and economic opportunity. The Hmong are known as freedom fighters and hard working individuals.

After the fall of Laos to the communism in 1975, the Hmong people once again emigrated to the west for safe haven. Today, Hmong can be found in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, France, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Of the 7.2 million Hmong, 250,000 live in the U.S. In the U.S., California has the second largest Hmong population (approximately 38,000), and Minnesota has the largest (approximately 42,000).

Hmong Family Traditions and Customs

Hmong like to live close to one another in areas where relatives and inlaws are within easy reach. The extended family is of major importance in everyday life. Connections to family and clan are extremely important. Divorce is a severe disruption of the ties between two families and two clans and is therefore very uncommon.

Unmarried children, regardless of age for females, live with their parents until they form new families. To a Hmong child, "family," means great grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings, in-laws, relatives, clans, and community. Multigenerational homes are common among the Hmong in America because of socio-economic difficulties, especially for uneducated parents who have unstable incomes and limited resources.

Life events in the Hmong culture are times for families to gather. Occasions such as engagement and wedding are major events. At every family event, all parties are welcome to participate. A Hmong proverb says, "Only the house is crowded; the people are not." This means that the home is open to all family members. Schools need to be aware of the importance of family ties to their Hmong students. When events such as graduations, picnics, social gatherings, and reception dinners exclude some relatives because of limited capacity, Hmong students and parents do not understand.

In the event of death, Hmong have elaborate mourning customs and rituals. All funeral and graveside services are reserved for immediate family members, clan leaders, and elders. Family members of the deceased may wear black costumes with red cloth bands wrapped around the head to signify a loss in the family. Most family members are depressed. The funeral may take a few days, the exact time depending on the family's economic status and the mourning may continue for a few weeks. Hmong children will miss at least two weeks of school to pay respect to the deceased, especially in the event of a parent's death.

In some cases, family reorganization will take place immediately following the death of a parent in order to help family members cope with the loss. Traditionally, the surviving female parent often marries a close relative right away. On the contrary, the surviving male parent can marry a new wife of other clans. Today, however, the living parent has the option to remain single or to find a mate outside the family circle.

In the Hmong culture, there is no hugging, kissing, or direct eye contact in public. Eye contact may be construed as an insult or a sign of disrespect. Male and female Hmong differ in the ways they greet one another. Hmong men greet one another warmly with handshakes. Hmong women, however, are culturally reserved and shy. They greet one another with warm and friendly words. They are not prohibited from shaking hands, but traditionally they do not take a man's hand because the Hmong want to avoid any possibility of infidelity. …

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