Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the blog posts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Learning to love my father's new wife

 By Destiny Xiong

It is so easy to look at someone and point out all the reasons you don't like them for a decision that your father made. It's even easier to ignore that person. But let's face it-that doesn't make the situation better nor does it make you a better person.

So, who is this other person? Let me tell you.

My mother lost her life after battling cancer. It was probably the most difficult thing I've had to deal with in my life thus far. I lost courage, I lost faith, I lost hope, and I lost myself.
Shortly after she passed my father remarried a woman that everyone thought was perfect for him. She was close in age with him, she was a mother already and could be a mother to us and she knew how to cook.  Needless to say that marriage didn't last very long. For whatever reason it was better for them to part ways.

My courage, my faith, and hope was not yet recovered. The journey to who I was began because I didn't have a mother to tell me who I should be.  I had to look deep within myself to remember the things she said that really makes me a better a person.

My father lost love, courage, faith, hope and himself too when my mother passed away. He never recovered. In his journey to find himself he went back to Laos.  Before he went, I recall saying, “Dad, don't go marry someone who is younger than us.”  He laughed.

Upon his return he showed us a picture of a young woman that he said he married. The anger and the disappointment I had was beyond words. The man that sat in front of me was not the same man that I remembered holding my mother in his arms as she began to wither away.

This young woman, who I called, "Kuv txiv tub poj niam," came to the United States not knowing that hell, in the form of me, my sisters, and the world that she knew nothing about, was waiting for her.

I avoided her as much as I could. When she spoke to me I responded in a single word or in English knowing she wouldn't understand me.

I saw my sisters doing to her what I did and in that moment I realized my anger and frustration is not because of her but because of myself.  I let myself become who I am not.

So, let me ask all of you the same questions I asked myself and of my sisters,
Do want a better life for yourself or your family?
Do you want to be happy?
Do you want friends?
Do you want an education?
Do you want to be loved?

In those questions I realized she is no different than us. She is a woman with hope, courage, faith, and while she may not know who she is she too is on a journey to discover who she is.  

I began to talk to her more. I let her get to know my children. I found out that she too like me tends to put a lot of salt on her boiled chicken that she packs for someone who is on a long journey.

So what now? While I still do not condone the act of marrying young women from other parts of the world regardless of what culture you are from, the fact is they are here and they need to be empowered to become successful in their journey.  They need English skills. We encouraged my father to talk to her in English. We talked to her in English so that she can gain the English skills she needed to buy groceries, to have conversations and to gain meaningful employment.

They need to be able to socialize with others besides their husbands. We encouraged my father to help her find employment. She is working now and probably understands 50 percent of what I say if I'm not speaking jargon.

They need to have their own identity and have fun being themselves. We encourage my father to allow her to be herself and not be someone she isn't or a person who my father thinks she should be. And guess what? We learned she likes to bowl and go cray fishing.

I remember the first time she hugged me and said in Hmong to me, "I don't know if you American children like hugs but I am going to give you one anyways." I realized that she truly wants the same things that I do too.

If we turn our backs and ignore these women who are coming here without an understanding or the opportunity to be empowered what happens to them? They fall into this system of oppression. And if we simply ignore them or only point out their faults we perpetuate this system.

So I ask you, how many of you know a young woman in a similar situation? What are you going to do? How have you identified yourself to being an ally to them? And what are going to say to their husbands? And lastly, who are you in your journey? We all have to take personal accountability in reducing oppression within our community.


  1. I know of a young bride who came into my uncle life 13 years ago. At the time he was not the typical old Hmong guy leaving his wife for a young Hmong bride from Thailand/Laos. Instead he was 15 yrs older than her but looked younger for his age, college educated, had a great career and never married. Right off the bat we (family) accepted her with loving and open arms. My uncle got his trophy wife and it showed. He taught her how to speak English and helped her register for English classes. Even opened up a successful restaurant at her request...to make a long story short...suddenly she starts to see her many friends, who like her lived in Thailand/Laos and married an older Hmong man from America, divorce their husbands for younger cooler guys. After 11 years of marriage and 4 children, she began to take long breaks from the restaurant, saying she would go home to take care of her 3yr old son. Yet her own parents who my uncle helped bring to the US, says she never came home. She began to bluntly praise her friends for having younger husbands in front of my uncle. Asking other wives about their sex life and even arguing with her parents when they would tell her what she was doing was so wrong. Almost a year goes by and after her continously begging my uncle for a divorce for months, he finally signs the divorce papers for her. I know of many older Hmong men who forced their 1st wives into divorce and then marry young Hmong girls from Thailand/Laos. They would keep them from going to school by having multiple children and never letting their wives socialize. I too thought it was wrong because I got to know them and saw in their eyes that they were yearning for help to learn how to read and write and more. Then 13 years pass and this happens to my uncle with his trophy bride. I also hear more and more of similar stories. Of many who marry just so they can come to the US and eventually bringing their whole family over, then out of the blue runs away or divorces their husbands for younger men. They have no idea the painful ordeal the 1st wife may have went through. There are even some who knows and makes mean remarks about how stupid Hmong American wives are to always follow what their husbands say and they deserve their husbands cheating on them. In some cities there are segregations of these two groups of women at family events, special occassions/parties for this reason. So now what? :/

  2. Hluag Nkauj Hmoob St. PaulNovember 20, 2013 at 8:39 AM

    I am positive that in EVERY cutlure there are those who are bad and those who are good; wife or husband. This is reality and we cannot turn away from this. BUT we can and should fight, encourage, support, lift, value and empower each gender. I doubt this page is for BASHING people. We all don't know what each individual has gone through nor who are we to judge. Yes, everyone is born into a disposition in where we will have our own opinions because it is nature of us to. That's how we survive. BUT "if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem." People need to stop being ignorant and realize that the Hmong culutre, people and traditions do discourage a smart, independant, resourceful and successful women. If it doesn't start with us, where will it begin.

  3. Yes you are correct. In every culture there are those who are bad and those who are good. That's what I wanted to hear. You stated the good and I stated the bad. I apologize if I sounded like I was bashing people. That was not my intention. I believe in order to solve problems you have to be open-minded. NO problem is black or white, nor is a solution. There is always grey areas. I presented a grey issue and asked for help on a solution. BUT if this is the response I get, how is that being part of a solution. Instead because I presented an opposing point for discussion, I'm automactically part of the problem. I do not doubt that we shouldn't fight or stop fighting for the better of our Hmong women or men. I fought and still fight today. I think its ignorant to say the "Hmong culture, people and traditions discourage a smart, independent, resourceful and successful women." Because the Hmong culture has come a long way. Not every Hmong family discourages women from being smart, independent, resourceful and successful. In fact I know of many Hmong families (including mine if you read my comment) who encourage sons, daughters, aunts and uncles to continue their education (for Bachelors, Masters and even PhDs), to be active in their communities for the better, to be independent so that they may succeed. There are Hmong parents that do not believe their children's sole responsibility is to take care of them as they get older, but to lead the best life they can with their parent's support. In return if the children are good people they will naturally turn back to help their parents. Its 2013 the Hmong culture is changing. Yes, there are still many who discourage women from being the best that they can be, but to say that of the "Hmong culture" gives no credit to those are are making a difference and who are part of the solution. Sure they may not be in any organization or blogging, but they are the foundation of many Hmong women today who are now speaking up for all of Hmong women. How can we have a solution, if we don't acknowledge those who are fighting for it. Some speak and some do, not everyone fights in the same way for the same cause. I'm sorry, I thought maybe I would be able to get some assistance, but I was wrong. I am a college educated Hmong woman married to a wonderful Hmong husband who respects all of me and encouraged me to succeed in my past corporate careers and now encourages me to succeed in our businesses. Not only that but I'm able to be a mother, a wife, a daughter to my parents and many aunts and uncles, a cousin that many look up to and more including helping other Hmong women and young girls succeed in their life. I'm not just bring up a story to cause a problem. Its a reality.