Changing Lives of Refugee Hmong Women

By Nancy D. Donnelly | Go to book overview

8
DOMESTIC CONFLICT

A functional argument is generally made for unequal domestic decision- making among Hmong in Southeast Asia ( Lemoine 1972; Cooper 1984; and Lee 1981). The cultural definition of family as built around a core of related men reinforced and was reinforced by agricultural process and religious ritual. Men, as heads of families, negotiated between themselves through discussion and consensus. Within the household, although discussion between husband and wife was usual, the husband operated as leader of the family enterprise. Since men's farming decisions determined the prosperity of the whole household, men had to be able to command the labor of wives and children to carry out their decisions. Thus a rationalized model of the Hmong household in Southeast Asia placed men in key ritual and economic positions, and at the heart of the very definition of family. Women's obedience was crucial for the survival of all.

What is happening among Hmong now that the functional explanations for these lines of command within the household ate no longer reinforced by the local economy? In marriages what seems to be very important are propriety and loyalty to family. For women in particular in this new ambiguous environment, these factors may be seen as making or breaking marriages. Actual actions or events appear as variations on these themes.

This assertion is based on cases involving conflict and dispute. The 1981 proxy wedding of Kia Her and Tsu Ly, described in chapter 6, for instance, became an example of such a problematic situation. In March 1983 I visited Kia Her and Tsu Ly in Stockton, where they lived in public housing with his father, the father's second wife and infant daughter, and the father's sister. The father's second wife was younger than Kia and did not speak English; she tucked in her chin and gazed unsmiling at me. The middle- aged unmarried sister, red-haired and freckled, had a bleak and cold eye, and frowned intently without speaking once during my visit. Also visiting were a young distant cousin of the father from Kansas, and Kia's mother and young brother (who loudly practiced his English on me, telling me how he and his mother and siblings had moved to Stockton "to be near Kia" although he was intending to return to Seattle where his brother had stayed).

Of the people in this household, only Kia and Tsu spoke English; I had

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Changing Lives of Refugee Hmong Women
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • HMONG LANGUAGE, ORTHOGRAPHY, AND NAMES vii
  • 1 - Discovering the Hmong 3
  • 2 - Hmong Society in Laos 19
  • 3 - Changing Times 48
  • 4 - The Hmong in Seattle 59
  • 5 - Selling Hmong Textiles 88
  • 6 - Courtship and Elopement 113
  • 7 - Wedding Negotiations and Ceremonies 145
  • 8 - Domestic Conflict 167
  • 9 - What Does Change Mean? 183
  • Notes 193
  • REFERENCES CITED 209
  • Index 217
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