WHAT DOES CHANGE MEAN?
In this book several topics intertwine: the refugees' desire to retain a sense of being Hmong even in America, gender and age hierarchies as the main skeleton of Hmong social identity, the impingement of American convictions about gender on Hmong lives, and marriage forms and practices as exemplars of the problems involved in trying to retain Hmong ethnic hierarchies in the American setting. What were the Hmongs' lives like in Southeast Asia? What are some of the consequences within Hmong households of moving to the United States? Do men and women treat their relationship to each other differently after this experience in the alien environment that has become their permanent home?
The range of ways to make statements about being Hmong narrowed for refugee Hmong after arriving in the United States. In Laos, Hmong language as one's native tongue, a life high in the mountains as farmer- entrepreneurs, particular rituals especially at New Year's, particular treatment of the dead, dressing in a certain style, political loyalty given on the basis of family ties, and certain assumptions about social hierarchy within the household provided the backbone of Hmong identity. During the war, economic and military experiences broadened possibilities for some Hmong, who began to identify with Laos in dress and politics. Lao was the language of education for a small percentage; a small percentage became Christian.
In the United States, Hmong-Americans live mainly in urban areas, dress like Americans, and make their living in out class-based society however they can, from welfare to laboring to teaching and interpreting work. There has been an upheaval in political loyalty as they strive for effective leaders within a new political system. Now English is the language of education. Rituals are very much abbreviated, and probably more than half the Hmong have become Christians. What then remains as touchstones of Hmong identity? Wearing Hmong clothes on special occasions such as New Year or weddings--but this too is in decline; speaking Hmong at home-- but some Hmong children do not speak Hmong at home; and maintaining particular forms of social structure within the household.
This study's most basic goal was to comprehend how changed circumstances create new social arrangements. Social change means more than