Interracial Marriage Series: Caught Between Two Worlds
Marrying a Hmong person is hard enough. Marrying someone who is not Hmong can be even more challenging, especially when expectations from both sides are not communicated and understood.
Read along as one of our couples share their journey through interracial marriage.
1. How did you guys meet? How old were you when you got married? How long have you been married?
Him: I knocked on her door. I was 22 and she was 19. We've been married for 12 years.
2. What were the initial feelings your family had about you dating and then marrying outside of your race? What are their feelings now?
Her: We dated for a very short period of time and since I lived away from home, my parents weren't aware that I was dating outside of my race. Prior to being with him, I was with a Hmong guy so I think they never saw it coming. Personally, I never saw it coming either. I had never set out to seek someone outside of my race. I just knew there were certain qualities that I was attracted to, and whoever possessed those qualities was who I wanted to spend my life with.
When my parents found out, they were very against it. I am the only daughter and they had expectations of me marrying a Hmong man so that they can have a good vauv to rely on. I'm sure they felt very disappointed and that their heart broke since they are very traditional.
Him: My parents were not surprised because I was always into Asian culture, and my best friend is Asian.
However, her parents were a little different. I felt like they didn't like me. The impression I got from talking with my wife is that her parents had a really hard time with me not being Asian. The only thing that made it better was when I got there, and her mom said she felt better that I had black hair, brown skin and brown eyes.
Since we didn't go through the traditional way of marriage (with a wedding and everything), I met my in-laws for the first time during the Hmong New Year Festival. I was really uncomfortable. Her brothers seemed really rude, and nobody acknowledged my presence. It was like I wasn't there.
3. Were they accepting or not accepting of the relationship? How did you feel about that?
Her: At first, they were definitely not accepting of the relationship, but after some time, they knew they couldn't do anything about it. It definitely was awkward, and I definitely didn't know how to bridge the gap between my family and my husband. I was so young and naïve then. I wished I had been more confident, and set the tone so that my family would follow suit in how we should be treating him.
I know that several of my uncles were not accepting of my decision, and I definitely felt like I was a "bad girl" for marrying someone outside of my race. These were uncles that I grew up with, and I thought loved me and supported me. They tried to convince my parents to disown me from the family, and still to this day, our relationships are not the same. They don't really acknowledge my husband or me. Those initial experiences seeing that side of them made me realize how empty certain family members' words can be since their actions definitely told me that the love they have for me is only so much, since to them I was shaming the whole family by what I was doing.
My grandma accepted me, and for a long time, she was the only person who seemed to be accepting of my husband. Although she couldn't communicate with him through language alone, she would smile at him and I think my husband felt her welcoming spirit. She never stared at him or make him feel different.
Him: They were not accepting of the relationship. To me, they weren't. After that first trip, I told my wife that I didn't want to go back. I didn't feel respected as a man and as a person. I felt awkward and unsure of what role I played because I was used to a different culture, and people acknowledging me and asking questions about me. I recognized now that that was some selfish things; however, at that time in my life, I needed social acceptance and it was hard to walk into a culture where I did not feel like I knew what my role was.
4. Did you have an American wedding or traditional Hmong wedding? Or both?
Her: We didn't have an American wedding, and didn't have a traditional Hmong wedding until later on in our marriage. I think if we had done both, it would have been better to give my parents what they needed. However, we were so broke and I didn't really value weddings. I thought it was just to do it for other people, and not really to celebrate us. When we did our Hmong wedding, it was exactly what I expected: a celebration for other people, not for us.
Him: It never bothered me to do a traditional Hmong wedding. It was an opportunity for me to get more assimilated into the culture. The actual wedding wasn't too different from my expectation, except that I felt like the women were treated like second-hand help. For the most part, I babysat and it was extremely hot. I really liked being able to had my opportunity to talk about the fact that I value the Hmong culture, and to be able to represent a Caucasian male. I felt like prior to that, her family and extended families had a certain view of me and how I was, and it was nice to be able to express my feelings, and what I believed and that I really liked the culture and the fact that they were very close knit.
5. Did your spouse have to pay the dowry?
Her: It wasn't until 10 years into our marriage that we paid it. My mom reminded me throughout the years, and even had my sister-in-law tell me to pay it. We eventually paid it together since we had joint accounts. My mom wanted more but I told her that even though my husband wasn't Hmong, the expectations for him should be the same as a Hmong man, not more just because they felt that he could pay it.
Him: We argued a few times about the dowry because I associated time with the dowry because we had been married for so long and did a lot of time for her parents. When she decided she wanted to pay the dowry, I knew that it was part of the culture, and at the end of the day, it was just money.
6. Describe your relationship with your in laws?
Her: I love his parents. They didn't have those same expectations that I think Hmong in-laws had. They actually spent time getting to know me, and just thought everything I did was so great. It was very nice since even my own parents don't spend time with me when I'm there with them, and hardly ever verbally tell me that they are proud of me.
7. Describe your husband's relationship with your family?
Her: I remember my mom asking me if my husband missed his parents, or if he loves his parents. It was like she believed that he didn't have feelings, and that only Hmong people can love which is a very small view. Through my experiences of marrying someone who is not Hmong, I would have to say that Hmong people's love can be the most conditional. If you do everything that you're supposed to do, your immediate and extended families will love you. Anything outside of that, and you risk being the black sheep and shamed.
I remember my mom asking me to do a lot of in terms of helping financially with funerals and events. It was like I had to make up for the fact that my husband was not Hmong. I had to give her money so she can brag and tell her community that even though her daughter was married to another race, he was very generous. If I had been married to a Hmong person, I'm pretty sure she would have never asked the same out of me. The fact that she sees my husband not as a whole, but as a half still hurts me to this day. I hate having to "make up" because my husband is not Hmong.
Him: In the beginning, it was cordial meaning that her brothers felt strained to communicate with me. It felt like anytime her brothers had to speak English, it felt like an annoyance to them. Since her mom didn't speak English very well, it was really hard to communicate. I ended up not speaking up much because I didn't want anyone to feel like me.
I gravitated towards the youngest brother because he seemed less affected by the culture, and he was more receptive to me. The older brothers tended to be more into the culture and closed off. Gradually, I got to know the brothers and enjoyed their company. Still to this day, I never felt like anyone wanted my opinion on anything.
8. Does your husband participate in events within your family and the Hmong community, for example, attend funerals, killing cows, attending the New Year, etc.
Her: He always tried his best to help where he could. He always helped me which I appreciated. Even washing the dishes. I loved that he never cared that my family would tell him to go sit down and relax. He would help me clear the dishes and wash the dishes with me. It was nice to see a confident man who could go against that part of my culture since I do believe that men need to learn to wash dishes too!
Him: I liked killing cows, and I'm unsure of how to cut it since Hmong people seemed to have a specific way to cut, and if you don't cut it a certain way they take over, and they tell you to check on something else. I didn't mind attending the New Year because the food was good, but I didn't care for staying there all day watching people play soccer. It felt like attending a festival.
Funerals are tough. It's going to be boring, and it's going to be hot, and understanding the culture is important. The elders try to keep the culture, and understanding why they did what they did helped me to be patient with the long days and nights during a funeral
9. Would you do anything differently?
Her: I would have helped bridge the gap for him earlier on. There were a lot of things that I myself didn't understand, and I was struggling internally for a really long time with it.
Him: If we would have gotten married later, I would have done research more on the culture. Later on, I actually started learning the historical background on how they got here. If my wife would have told me more about her culture, it would have helped.
10. Any advice to others out there who may be struggling to receive support from their families.
Her: Stand up for your husband. Don't listen to the people who try to poison your mind. Don't let other people's opinions weigh you down.
Him: Ask a lot of questions. Look into the history behind the Hmong people of where they came from. Your key focus is to learn the parents, what their expectations are, what other kids they have. If you can understand the Hmong parents, you can understand your spouse better. For example, the expectation that Hmong kids have to become doctors isn't necessarily right, but understanding why is important. You don't always have to give an opinion. Even if you don't agree, you don't have to voice your opinion. If you voice your opinion, you have to be open to someone who does not understand your point of view.
11. What has been the best thing/worst thing about marrying outside of your race?
Her: It helped me to understand someone who could see me as an equal. That's not to say that there aren't Hmong men who wouldn't see me as an equal, but a lot of the more traditional Hmong families still see women in a different light than men so even though your husband might see you as an equal, his parents and relatives will still be able to move his thinking some.
The worst thing is seeing someone you love not be treated the same way. I definitely feel like my parents feel like they got the short end of the stick since he is not Hmong. I think they believe that they cannot rely on him because he doesn't know and he doesn't understand, when in fact he is trying his best to know and understand. Because of his different upbringing, he won't understand exactly everything, but he tries to understand in his own way. I definitely know that if he had been Hmong, my whole experience would have been different and that makes me sad.
Him: Two best things: a different viewpoint and the food - being accepting of food is important. If you can't eat their food, you're not really participating in their culture.
Worst: the parental expectations are difficult because it's difficult to understand the reasons behind the meaning. Her parents don't always explain things that are happening, and when they do, it's hard for me to try to relate that to what I know in my culture.
12. If you have children, how has that affected your relationship with family members?
Her: We don't live in the same town as my parents so our relationship with my family hasn't really been affected.
Him: Yeah, it hasn't really brought us closer.
13. If you have children, are they treated differently from the other children?
Her: My children aren't treated too differently from their cousins. We aren't around a lot of Hmong people so their upbringing is different from their cousins in terms of interactions with Hmong people and how much of the Hmong language they know. Otherwise, they're treated similarly to other children in the family.
Him: Our kids are treated differently because my in-laws never come and see them. My kids don't carry on their last name so I don't think they care about my kids. When my daughter was born, they didn't acknowledge her birth at all. At least they came to see my son.
14. If you have children, does your children know how to speak Hmong? Is that important to you for them to speak Hmong?
Her: They know how to speak very little Hmong, but we are working on it. It's very important for my kids to learn Hmong since that is part of their heritage, and I don't ever want them to be ashamed of their Hmong side. I want them to be proud of everything that they are.
Him: Yes, it's very important for them to speak Hmong because it's what they are. They need to understand their culture.