“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8).
This post is a response to Why I Cried Tears of Sadness on My Wedding Day by alwaysleelee.
To understand the post, you’ll need a little background on Hmong culture. It is a patriarchal society where sons carry on the family name and daughters are married off into other families to continue that family’s bloodline rather than her own. Typically marriage is til death do you part with divorce being frowned upon (especially if you are a divorcee or sometimes even a widow). This “til death do you part” runs chilling when it comes to the several generations of stories pertaining to physical and emotional abuse from husbands to wives and the wives who were then not allowed to leave their marriages due to fear of social stigma. “Not being able to leave their marriage” means their own parents (and or siblings) will not take them back and let them live under their roof which was debilitating as Hmong women in those societies had no means of financial support and did indeed need a husband to have any respect in society. So marriage in a sense, represented a one-way door regardless of the outcome and living situation you will face. That’s the gist of it…keep in mind, bare minimum here.
So in her post, Leelee wrote about how her grandmother said she is a daughter and will not stay with her parents forever. She was sad that she will no longer be under their roof. Some phrases mentioned were: “my home was no longer my home, my parents and family become “them” and not “we”… I am no longer under the wings of my parents, no longer protected. I don’t belong to them anymore.” Leelee stated in her post called “Prologue” that her family is a “pretty traditional family.” All in all, she acknowledged the cultural changes that have indeed taken place in America and how it will actually be probable to visit her parents often, yet she is still very affected by the very act of marriage and what the culture has ingrained it to mean for us daughters. It’s such a shame that Hmong American daughters still get wrecked up about things like this during a time that should be filled with joy. It’s important not to get this Hmong cultural connotation of marriage mixed up with the usual feelings that actually accompany this event. Any marriage is a step out of your own house and immediate family to join a new one and also start one with your husband (3 different families here regardless of culture usually). Any marriage is the closing of a chapter in life and the beginning of a new one. Any marriage is the official “you must let go of childhood” and be a “real adult.”
The tradition of not being a part of your family anymore after marriage is becoming more of an internalized concept in Hmong American society rather than actuality. Back in Asia where many Hmong people still live in remote straw hut villages, where most are farmers and live off the land, where unmarried women are shunned in society, I can see very clearly how leaving your family and joining a new one can potentially be devastating (especially if most of the time you barely know your husband). I mean you can end up abused, accommodating a second wife, third wife…even dead, and you’ll be your husband’s property. And should you leave, you will not be welcomed at your parents’ home or your brother’s or sister’s. You AND your children will be shunned in society and people may even cause you bodily harm without the protection of a husband to give you some respect. But in today’s American society where the whole environment and livelihood is completely different, the concept of marriage shouldn’t have the same sting (you’d think). Most of the time you pick who you marry. Women are more educated now and have incomes. Even if Hmong American society rejects you, you can still function in mainstream American society. If your family rejects you, you have safe houses and state programs that can help.
My husband and I are going on our fourth year and I can tell you, I actually love visiting my parents as a “guest.” I am not required to do all the chores anymore (much to the sorrow of my baby sister)! Hahaha. And I can say I still feel at home there. I lay down on the couch, I nap, I eat out of the fridge when I feel like it. I get all the benefits without the nagging (well…not too much of it at least). LOL. Marriage should be an addition to both families involved, no losses. My family gained a son; his family gained a daughter; and we as a couple, gained 2 family supports.
So please, Hmong women of America, enjoy your weddings and if you must cry, cry because you are too happy. Cry because the life you have been given now enables you to take on new roles as wife, daughter-in-law, mother, etc… Cry because you have been so loved that now you can share that love with someone else.