Lonestar College Cy-Fair
Cultural Change among the Hmong
The Hmong were initially a minority group in lowland Lao and are currently struggling with involuntary mass dispersal that has seen them scatter across the globe. For this reason, they have struggled to retain unconventionality and ethnic culture. Moreover, acculturation, diffusion, and diaspora among other factors have resulted in a significant change in their culture. This essay examines the various causes of cultural change among the Hmong in addition to an overview of various relevant general cultural terms including but not limited to worldview, symbolism, values, and norms.
Various key terms and concepts in anthropology provide direction on this etic perspective of the Hmong society. An etic perspective allows a researcher, like in this case, to study and obtain viewpoints of society as an outsider or from an observer’s perspective. This perspective includes social norms or simply norms that represent standards of behavior or rules that create conformity in how members of society conduct themselves. Values augment social norms and constitute things members of society perceive to be important in their daily operations and way of life. The Hmong’s worldview entails an interconnection of all the things in the world. “..the world is full of things that may not seem to be connected but actually are..” (Fadiman, 1998. P. 21). According to this culture, everything in the world may appear isolated but is actually connected to something. There is no event to a Hmong that happens in isolation.
Plasticity is the capability of any culture to be easily molded or shaped. The Hmong society cannot be viewed in this light because they are extremely conservative and reserved and have for a long time maintained the defining aspects of it defying external influence. This attributes to limited interaction with other ethnicities, consequently limiting observation and imitation, which are the basis for cultural transmission. The functionalism theory in anthropology examines the different sects of society and their affiliation through organic analogy.
It is very clear that societal pressure has inevitably assimilated the Hmong to a different more dominant culture. Their current mode of dressing is a good indication of acculturation. Majority of the Hmong especially those in the United States dress in western-style and reserve their traditional wear for special occasions and festivities such as weddings and New Year’s. The women, however, are still a bit reserved and still wear Lao Sarong skirts. The reason why women have not been assimilated and influenced to change their mode of dressing is the effect of the communities gender roles that holds women back and require them to act a certain way in this heavily patriarchal system (Vang & Bogenschutz, 2014). Before, the Hmong had attires specific to the various subgroups. Today, as the community increasingly comes into contact with subgroups from Thailand, China, Laos, and Western Civilization, purchasing clothing has become easier than making their traditional attire. As a result, clothing is no longer an identity but rather a mark of wealth and fancy.
The Hmong’s long history of contact with various ethnicities through migration resulted in the adoption of new religions. Most recently is the assumption of protestant Christianity and the desertion of Shamanism and ancestor worship. Christian practices have influenced their response to Western biomedicine another addition to their culture. Western biomedicine is a new practice alongside herbalists in response to illness. The arrival of Hmong refugees to the United States where communication, technology, and transport is very advanced meant an enrichment to their culture through cultural diffusion.
In addition, the plight of the Hmong over the years is a good definition of diaspora. The Hmong people have been involuntarily dispersed for over a thousand years and in the past century fled persecution from Chinese forces to settle in Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand (Pfeifer, Chiu, & Yang, 2013). Then came the United States conflict with South East Asia which resulted in 150,000 Hmong receiving refuge in the United States as Fadiman (1998.) indicates “Because the Lees are among the 150,000 Hmong who have fled Laos since their country fell to communist forces in 1975,..” (p. 13). As exiles, the Hmong created a fertile location wherever they relocated for the foundation of a hybrid culture incorporating the elements of western civilization and their home culture.
As much as the Hmong people have been exposed to different cultures in their response to persecution and calls to assimilate, they have conditioned themselves in a manner that avoids extreme exposure to alien world perspectives. However, the power of cultural innovation has seen them imitate the behaviors of the host culture. Lia’s parents in Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down seek western biomedicine for their daughter although they still maintain caution. The Hmong people are exposed to new ideas of disease causation and diagnosis that their traditional methods cannot explain or provide solutions.
Fadiman, Anne. (1998) The spirit catches you and you fall down :a Hmong child, her American doctors, and the collision of two cultures New York : Noonday Press,
Pfeifer, M. E., Chiu, M., & Yang, K. (2013). Diversity in Diaspora: Hmong Americans in the twenty-first century. University of Hawai’i Press.
Vang, P. D., & Bogenschutz, M. (2014). Teenage marriage, and the socioeconomic status of Hmong women. International Migration, 52(3), 144-159.