The Nyab Series: Teen Wives
For a long time, we've wondered how other nyabs (daughter-in-laws) felt. If you are a girl, then most likely you grew up with expectations and were raised to be a wife. A huge part of our culture identity as women were to become great wives someday. So as young girls, you were learning the duties of a homemaker. When we dreamed up The Story Cloth Shop, we wanted to hear what other people had to say. We wanted to allow fellow brothers and sisters to speak up and share how they truly felt. This series was birthed out of the desire to know and better understand how nyabs feel across the board.
Every nyab's experience is different. Because we are all collectively different and unique people, responses will be different as well. We did not include names to keep the identities of these young and brave nyab's confidential. What matters most is that they were open to sharing their own experiences and we want to share them here for you to know (if you're a nyab), that you're not alone.
This week, we share with you interviews we did with 2 young nyabs (teen wives). Maybe your response is alot like theirs or maybe not.
If you're a nyab, what have your experiences been like? Please contact us if you want to be included in The Nyab Series. We'd love to hear different perspectives and experiences.
Photographs credit to Hive Mind
the plural of daughter-in-law is daughters-in-law not daughter-in-laws
I’m a fairly “new” Hmong nyab, was married “late” in life (an old maid, they said, at the ripe age of 32), to a man with successful and Americanized parents, so much so that we can communicate in English without needing to revert to Hmong (though I am a fluent Hmong speaker). Even so, their expectations of a Hmong nyab are tainted with their a la carte expectations of how they expect a Hmong nyab to be, and I am none of those things: I am not patient. I am not kind. I do not want to sacrifice myself to keep up appearances. I despise all the misogynistic beliefs that are heaped upon me.
Why is it not enough that I work hard every day? Why is it not enough that I am doing my best to be understanding and forgiving? Why is it not enough that I am who I am and give what I can and am unwilling to forfeit being a woman and myself so that someone else’s comfort can come first? I am not altruistic. I am just me. Being sanctioned and punished for simply being yourself and keeping yourself happy is not the kind of Hmong nyab I want to be, and you can bet all your blessings I will not be teaching those “skills” to my daughter.
I cannot say how much I have been longing for the existence of this forum and hopefully future elaboration into this topic that is so important to us Hmong women today. In this 21st century, I’m finding myself struggling with the role of a nyab in modern society with consideraction of traditional Hmong values. As a nyab, you are not only judged on how well you can manage your household but also how to balance the relationship with your inlaw parents, inlaw siblings, spouse, kids and relatives. This juggle between daily life and the responsibilities or obligations we must uphold comes with no instruction except to abide by the expectations of everyone around us. These expectations are simply not achievable yet we continously strive to do our best or fear we will fall victim to prejudice, judgements or worst, having your reputation tarnished. One thing that always baffled me is that we women don’t realize we play a bigger role and are just as responsible for how we want to shape what it means to be a nyab. In one way or another we are a sister, a nyab, a wife, a mother and so on. We should have more compassion and empathy for eachother. We should share stories, experiences and advices that can help other sisters in stressful situations. But instead I’ve realized from personal experiences and stories i’ve witness that some women will rather turn the other cheek and are so quick to pass judgement rather than offer an uplifting advice. These are the same women who have experienced the same hardship yet they choose to stand with those who are wrong rather than stand up for what they know to be right. For example, a sister in law whom is also a nyab herself knows the struggles of being a nyab because she herself has experienced moving outside of her family home to live and accommodate to needs of her husband’s family. No matter how well she jives with her new family she knows there will always be times of disagreement. She too has nyabs who have moved into her family’s home to live with her brothers after they wed. As a sister, she can understand the struggle her nyabs must be enduring having to adjust to a new family but Instead of emphasizing with her nyabs, she chooses to conspire in negativity with her parents against her nyabs. Coming from her experiences shw could have offered her parents some insight into how her nyabs must be thinking and feeling but she adds more fuel to the fire. This is just one scenario of how women can play a bigger role in shaping what it means to be a nyab. It just takes some genuine compassion, empathy, courage and accountability. Of course not every situation is the same nor is all bad. Being a nyab comes with some very positive pros also. Those should also be shared so more nyabs who are struggling can learn and have something positive to strive towards.
In all honesty, not everyone will be lucky enough to be wearing the shoes of being married into a good family. Everyone expects so much from all the nyabs, and in the midst of it all, everyone else forget their roles in being a good sister in law, mother in law, father in law, brother in law, and most of all, a good husband. If everyone plays their roles right, there will be no bad nyabs. When it comes to family, they all have to work as a team. Some of us has experience working in a bad environment/office. When everyone is causing you stress, your work won’t be done and can cause you loads of stress. No one enters into a work environment with the intentions of being a bad worker (not unless you’re a complete ass and you do it on purpose), and yes, there are just some people who decides that it’s all just a game and cause drama to destroy the lives of others. I’m speaking from my own personal experience that. I hear from people all the time that it’ll be ok and that it’s normal. But it’s not normal and it’s not ok when no one else in the family knows their roles and expects the nyab to just be the good one. I applaud those who were able to be the good “in-law”. I think besides interviewing the nyabs about their experience, maybe it’ll help if we also educate mothers, and daughters in being mindful about those who are new to the family and learn to love another woman and embrace them all together.
What beautiful stories to share.
I remember watching all of my friends, cousins, and distant relatives get married growing up and having children, particularly at a young age. A part of me always felt an aching yearn for their lost youth, womanhood, and self-discovery. My parents were quite progressive and often criticized by their community for their forward thinking. Marriage wasn’t an important part of my family, neither were old Hmong customs of traditional roles. When I met my first Hmong boyfriend who I was in a serious relationship with, I wasn’t aware of the Nyab Reality until we were engaged at age 22. His mother poured out all of her values and expectations and it then became very real to me that my parents didn’t raise me in this environment and I wasn’t prepared. I soon realized, I was feeling quite foreign, since his parents were much older and carrying heavy age old traditions. There were a lot of fights, criticisms and disrespect due to our differences as his family didn’t approve of me and my family. His parents went as far as finding out who our clan elders were in my family clan and yelled at them. There was the concern of me not being “Hmong enough,” as my parents were raised in the US and have fully assimilated to American culture.
I became weary and that was the end of our relationship. It became a problematic experience with every Hmong man I met. Plenty of them had hearts of gold and were darlings. It just never quite worked because I wasn’t “Hmong enough” for their families. I respect that and I know for certain, I am not one to disrupt another person’s family, if they disapprove. I also knew, they’d never have the heart and soul to love my children if I started a family with their son.
Years later, I met my husband now, who is an American-Korean and we clicked like a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. His family and parents have a similar lifestyle to my family. His upbringing was similar too, even though we are two completely different beings. His parents absolutely adore and love me, sometimes more than their own son. I was enough for them and they treat me with much kindness, and respect. I still do my “Nyab” duties, but it isn’t expected from my in-laws.
One thing that saddened me from my life long relationships, was that there were many wonderful Hmong men that I met, it just never worked out because of their duty to their family. Yet, I ended up with a man from a completely different ethnic background, culture and tradition, yet they embrace and love all of me.
There’s always the phrase, “Hmong people should love Hmong people,” yet we aren’t practicing it. We forget to love our own people, when they need it the most, especially our Nyabs.