Being married at young age more common in Hmong culture

She misses a day of school because of sickness. But she wasn’t sick, her son was. Sometimes she is encouraged to go to school anyway, because her husband will take care of the children.

At 16 years old, Yer Xiong got married. Later, she had a son and a daughter. Surprisingly, Xiong’s family supports her marriage. In Hmong culture, she says, most families encourage their daughters to get married before they’re 18. “For the American girl, they’ll look down on you. But in Hmong culture if you’re 18 and you’re not married yet, the (grandparents) would say, ‘You’re too old. You’re 18 already, move out or go get married.’”

Now, Xiong is a senior and continues attending high school. “I know that I’m not going to stop going to school,” she said, “and nothing will stop me from going to school even though I had kids.” Some of her classmates, she said, would judge her for being married at such a young age. She adds that in one of her classes her teacher made the assumption that none of the students could be married at this age, but when she rose her hand to announce she was, the whole class turned to her in shock. “It’s life, and that’s how my culture goes, so I don’t care,” she said.

Jasmine Moua said, a freshman, thinks her generation is different from older ones. She says that in traditional Hmong culture parents would “force” their daughters to marry someone the parents know. “My mom, she’s different because she wants to change tradition,” Moua said. While her parents were married young, if she were to get married, she said, her parents would be disappointed in her choice but would still be supportive.

Sue Vang’s three older sisters were all married at young ages, ranging from 16 to 19. “In my culture, the girls are expected to get married,” he said. His sisters, except one, didn’t go to college. His second oldest sister, who did go to college, dropped out after one year when she got married. “(A woman) could stay home, but if you want to go to college, you can too,” he said. “(Your parents) can’t really stop you.” Vang, a senior, says that in a traditional setting Hmong women must know how to cook, clean and raise a family and Hmong men must work and be providers or they will “bring shame to the family” and get kicked out. “That’s what our culture is based on,” he said. Vang says his parents are traditional, but since he and his siblings were born in the United States, they are more aligned with American society.

However, he says his parents acknowledge the open opportunities offered in America and encourage their children to attain an education. Vang doesn’t believe his sisters were forced or pressured into marrying young, because they had all dated their husbands prior to engagement and are happy. “It’s a tradition to get married young so that way you can start a family earlier,” he said. Vang thinks most Hmong people go to Hmong New Year festivals to celebrate and enjoy the food, not to find a mate. “I’m trying to fit into my culture, but I don’t really want to marry at a young age,” Vang said. “I want to go to college before I get married.”

Xiong passionately supports independence for Hmong women. “You’re not really free,” she said. “You’re a housewife now. All you have to do is stay home and watch the kids.” Some Hmong husbands force their wives to assimilate to the traditional role of a housewife by not allowing her to go out with friends or have a job.
Xiong plans to go to Delta then transfer to University of the Pacific to become a nurse. Her husband fully supports her decision and actually encourages her to study while he takes care of their children.

“In America, there’s more opportunity for women,” she said. “I think a lot of women need to have their independence and freedom. I was thinking, what if I was 16 and married back in Laos and my husband didn’t let me do anything? I was only 16.”
Before she got married, Xiong didn’t tell her family. She and her then boyfriend merely told her parents and said they were going to the store. But they really left Sacramento, where Xiong lived, and came to Stockton to get married. “My mom was shocked,” she said. “I told her I’m not coming back because I chose the life to be married.”