Who are the Hmong? Where did they come from? Why are they here? How different is their culture from ours?
The twenty-five or so people who attended this meeting got answers to all those questions and more from Nenick Vu, Hmong Innovating Politics (HIP) organizer and community activist.
To begin with, the Hmong are a largely agricultural people who populated the high country of Cambodia and Laos. Originally from China, they moved into the mountains of Southeast Asia rather than bow to the Chinese emperors. And this is where they were when our United States government broke the Geneva Conventions during the Viet Nam War by recruiting them to fight against North Viet Nam and the Viet Cong. This “Secret War” caused the Hmong and other mountain people the CIA had exploited to suffer greatly after we withdrew at war’s end. The US government, in time, permitted thousands of Hmong to immigrate, helping them avoid the fate of their countrymen at the hands of the victors.
Mr. Vu described Hmong culture as very different from ours. He challenged us to imagine what it has been like for people who lived without amenities we take for granted, such as electricity, running water, and Western style medical care, to face integration in our country. The Hmong are very traditional people. Their social structure consisted of eighteen clans who regulated and enforced the mores of their members. For example, he told us that women typically married men from clans other than their own and became members of the husband’s clan upon marriage, inheriting the husband’s ancestors as well. He pointed out that, whereas the clans are quite collaborative, women are not equal to men.
According to Mr. Vu, Hmong culture is influenced by the teachings of Confucius and based on ancestor worship. With strong belief in spirits, and seeing the condition of the human soul as being the cause of illness and well-being, the people have always relied on shamans and herbal medicines to maintain their health. This, he said, causes the biggest conflict with our culture: our reliance on Western-style medicine.
HIP seeks to help the Hmong and other minority groups become a force for change in the community.
This was a very enlightening afternoon. Thank you, Nenick Vu, for your excellent presentation. We wish you and your people success and contentment here.
Report prepared by Roger Zabkie