The Vauv Series: The Eldest Son
We're excited to interview one of our Hmong vauvs. There are certainly expectations of being a nyab, but we cannot acknowledge enough that through the support of a vauv, a nyab can shine even brighter. This goes both ways, and this interview certainly was an eye-opener on the pressure of not being just a vauv, but a son as well.
1. What's your current age?
2. How old were you when you got married?
3. What birth order are you?
I am the oldest son of four boys and three girls.
4. How do you think your birth order affects the expectations from your parents of you and your wife?
The expectations were very high for us.
5. How did you meet your wife? Were you in love?
I'm a native of Southern California and I met my wife at the park when I came up for a graduation. I went to the park to hang out with my cousins, and that was how we met. We were and are still very much in love to this day.
6. Did you know your in-laws prior to meeting them? Did you get along with them?
I did not know them until after I moved up to Fresno. I got along well with the family, except for the older brother at the time. We had some minor issues in the beginning of the relationship, such as him expecting me to ask him for permission to take his sister out to the movies.
7. What is your current relationship with your in-laws, including your brother- and sister-in-laws?
Very good. We get along well, and we often get together on the weekends. They are very helpful whenever we need them. The sisters always helps us watch the kids and the brothers always helps me to fix my cars. My father and mother-in-laws are also very helpful and caring so it's a plus for me.
8. Did you parent s know your wife before you got married? Did they get along with her?
They got to know her because we dated for seven years before we got married. Their attitudes and demeanors changed after we got married. You can say that they wanted a "nyab" that stayed home and did whatever my mother wanted or needed. She came from a very Americanized family structure so it was hard for her my mother to get on the same page.
9. Did you ask your in-laws to see if you could marry their daughter? If so, how did that go?
I did not ask but since we dated for seven years, both sides of the family were already pushing us to get married.
10. What are the expectations that you had prior to becoming a vauv? What did your parents teach you about being a vauv?
To show up to every "ua noj" and be prepared to go kill pigs and help cut the pigs at every gathering. Make sure to help your in-laws with everything they do.
11. Was it what you expected? Why or why not?
It is what I expected because I was very close to my dad so just seeing him do "vauv things" growing up, I figured out what to expect when I came one.
12. What has been the biggest struggle for you?
My parents were in their mid-60s and none of my siblings were married or had any kids. My parents kept pushing me to get married so I thought maybe me giving them a nyab and some grandkids would be a blessing, but as soon as I got married, it just got harder for us.
After a few months of being married, my parents expected that my wife and I would need to help pay more of the bills and buy more of the food. At the time, we didn't have kids yet so I was confused as to why all of a sudden, I was being thrown all these bills.
I was a fulltime student working a part-time job and my wife was a full-time student not working much. It was very hectic in the fact that they knew I didn't work much, but they expected that we had a lot of money in our savings. We had our car payments, credit card bills and car insurance to pay, yet my parents made it seem like we were selfish with our money and didn’t want to help pay any bills.
I talked to all of my siblings about how we should all split the bills between us, so we can buy enough food and pay all the bills. The siblings were ok with it at first, but my parents didn’t like it and my parents would make negative statements at times when I wasn’t home which made some of my siblings start to feel that they didn’t need to help pay bills. There were times when my parents thought that I wasn’t home, so they would make statements like “Why are the older ones splitting the bills with the younger ones. If we were to die, you guys will probably not love the younger siblings, they’ll probably be living on the streets” or like, “We paid all the bills for you guys growing up and never once asked to split the bills, why are you guys doing it to the younger ones”. It hurt me a lot me because I thought families help each other through tough times, but in this case, I was being blame more for not having a high paying job to take care of the family. It hurts me to see some of my siblings turn their back on me and talk down on me when I’ve always been supportive of them and pretty much raising some of them myself. Parents should never turn their kids against each other but instead teach each other to help and support one another.
13. Do you and your wife live with your parents? Would you move out? How would this affect your relationship with your parents?
We no longer live with them, we have moved out a year ago and everything is just better between my family and I and my relationship with my wife. There’s just less family drama this way and my wife and I argue less.
14. What are your parents’ expectations of you?
To be a good son to them and to go out to every family event to show my face so others will know me, which sometimes I don’t agree with because I feel like I don’t like to use all my weekends to just be at the “ua neng” or “hu plig”, I just want to stay home and spend time with my kids on my days off.
15. If you could tell your parents how you really feel about the responsibilities put on you, what would you say?
That I’ve been a good son to them taking care of all their issues and paper work since I was 9 or 10 till now, and with my siblings grown up and older now they should be able to take care of those issues now, so I can raise my family. I would like to tell my mother that she doesn’t understand the life of a nyab because she was never a nyab herself. She shouldn’t have been so hard on my wife and I but maybe a bit more open minded. My father was an orphan and he lived most of his life with my mom’s side of the family, so she never dealt with having a mother in-law breathing down her neck or always on her ass about what she’s not doing right. I would also like to tell them that it is easy for the siblings to hate and be negative towards their older brother and his wife when the parents encourage it by making negative remarks behind their backs. Your kids will follow in your ways of treating others, for example there were times where they would say that I wasn’t man enough because I couldn’t control my wife to agree with or listen to my mom. I am a fair hearted person who only speaks up when things need to get done/corrected otherwise I don’t chose side because I’m always in the middle fixing the issues.
16. Does your wife support you in your role as a vauv and/or father? And if so, how?
Yes, she does, she always sends me emails, text or sometimes write letters and place it on my computer for me to read and to encourage me to work harder in life when she sees that I’m hurt, sad, stressed or down. She sees that I love my family and I would do anything for them, but she also sees that they are quick to ignore me at times when I need their help the most. I guess since I’m the oldest, my siblings feel that I should be able to handle my own problem because they aren’t obligated to helping me.
17. What kind of advice would you give to a younger vauv on how to navigate both his and her sides of the family?
Being a vauv is hard because you can love and care about your in-law side but just make sure you also care and love your family the same way and no less. Your family will be hurt if they see that you do more for your in-laws than you do for your own family. Also, you should never hurt or put down your wife in front of your in-laws, because no family wants to see their “vauv” being negative and hurting their sister/daughter. This also goes for the “nyabs” they shouldn’t talk down on their husband in front of his family members either. Another thing is if you don’t know how to kill pigs or cut the pig, it’s still better for you to step in and help or ask someone to show you how, instead of standing on the side watching or hiding out. They rather see someone that’s trying than someone that don’t seem to care.
18. What is your view on what it is like to be a vauv versus a nyab?
Being a vauv is nowhere near as hard as being a nyab, you hardly hear about any vauvs complaining about their father in-law or mother in-law scolding them or treating them unfairly. Plus, there isn’t a high population rate where the vauv lives with their in-laws, so they don’t experience that family issue as an outsider. Being a vauv is being labeled as you are now married to their daughter, sister, cousin but you still hold your own. With being a nyab the way the Hmong culture see it is, you are now considered a property of the new family where you have to serve, listen and do whatever the family needs you to. You are a woman, so you have no rights to speak out or be any different from the norm and if you do then you are considered as not nyab material. This leads to a lot of divorce Hmong women re-marrying outside the Hmong race or divorcing their husband.
19. How do you think your parents treat your wife, and how does she think your parents treat her?
I believe in the beginning my parents treated my wife unfairly at times and not like a daughter but more of a stranger/outsider, which hurted me because I’ve always believed that when I got married everything would be very good marriage with no issues. It has gotten a lot better now that we live on our own.
20. Do you feel like your wife is living up to your parents’ expectations of her?
I believe she is, I mean she isn’t the type of nyab that will sit in the house all day long or go to the store whenever my mom goes but she has helped my parents out a lot. She is not one of those traditional nyab but when there is a “ua noj” she is there to help them from sun up to sun down. She is educated and have a good job also and she isn’t the type to argue back or talk bad about her mother in-law.
21. What will you expect of your sons someday?
I am very open minded and fair, so I will let them live their lives the way they want. I don’t want to be the one that controls their life, as long as they go to college and have a good career they can marry who they want and live where they like. I just hope that I will still have a strong bond with my sons when they get older.
22. What will you expect of your daughters someday?
Same thing as my sons. I’m open to them living however they want and marrying whoever they love as long as they finish college and have a good job. I don’t expect any of my kids to live with me or take care of me when I’m older. I don’t want to be the one they blame if they marry the wrong person or live a life of regret because I forced them to be a certain way.
23. Any other last thoughts?
Another issue was during the beginning of our marriage I worked two jobs and went to school part time in order to put my wife through nursing school, so she could achieve her career first. I remember my parents and uncles always telling me that I shouldn’t let my wife become more educated than I do, because she can leave me one day or she will start looking down on me once she becomes educated. I didn’t agree with them because in our relationship, we were very supportive of one another and we believed in helping each other become successful. After years and years, we were often told by the elders that there would be no way the both of us will finish school or have good jobs because we now have two kids to raise. As of right now, she is currently a full time Registered Nurse and I am now pursuing my master’s degree to better my education. We as Hmong men need to change our ways and grow out of our Hmong cultural norms. We need to stop having that mentality where we need to control our wife, so we can feel man enough but instead be supportive of their goals and career in life. When one of the spouse becomes successful it will only push and lift their partner to work harder and also become successful. And last but not least, I truly disagree with the fact that men should eat first at the table and the women will have to eat after. I feel that it is only fair if we all eat at the table together and clean up together to overcome these inequality issues.
Your story is kind of similar to me and my husband. I truly think that once your married you’ll shouldn’t make your wife live in your parents house for years before moving out, I believe that maybe after a year of savings the son and his wife should move out and live on their own. It will be less family drama and less arguing between you two.
Thank you for sharing your life experience and your thoughts on this. I didn’t marry (the oldest son) but your view on being a Nyab is right on. Your answer for Question 18 is right on. That is the leading cause of Hmong marriages nowadays to break, which leads to divorce. The divorce population for Hmong has increased tremendously. In the eyes of elders and in laws,the Nyabs that speaks up for themselves who are strong willed, Americanized, and can be independent are considered “going against” their in laws, not respectful, or the saying “their son must of been blind to marry them”. Etc. We as Nyabs are expected to yield anything and everything even to the wrong because we are a Nyab. In the old tradition; We have no say in what the elders say. No speaking back or standing up for ourselves. But that’s for a different topic another day. Being a vauv is difficult because you constantly have to balance both sides of the family. Yours and hers. I have witnessed some vauvs who solely care about his family and not hers, which is just ridiculous to me. You want your wife to serve your family and do anything and everything for them but refuse to help or acknowledge her side of the family. I just don’t understand those kind of men. Anywho. Thanks again for sharing your piece on The Oldest Son/ Vauv series.