Women were doing everything they could to help out in spite of the dangers and hardships during the war.: Becoming Minnesotan

Kim Yang, c. 2000.
  • Name - Kim Yang
  • Age at interview - 31
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 12.01.1999
  • Yang family in Ban Vinai refugee camp, Thailand, c.1978.
    Hmong clan village, Laos.  Photo courtesy MayKao Hang.

    Family, Gender Roles, Hmong, War, Work

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    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Traditions & Values: What makes up “culture”?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Traditional Hmong society is very patriarchal.  Men are the leaders of the clans and households, and they make most of the decisions regarding daily life, spirituality, and activities outside the home.  However, during the “Secret War” against the Vietnamese Communists who were trying to push farther into Laos and their Laotian allies, the Pathet Lao, many Hmong men went off to fight with the American soldiers, leaving their families behind.  Without the men around, women had to do many of the things that had previously been “men’s work.”

    To learn more about Hmong history and culture, visit our Hmong Community page.

    • Chapter 1

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    Note: Original interview was conducted in Hmong.  Excerpt is read in English by MayKao Hang.

    Narrator: Kim Yang (KY)

    Interviewer: Mai Neng Moua (MNM)

    MNM:  The period during the war and shortly after that, what were the duties of Hmong women?

    KY:  The period before the war, I did not know that much about it, but the period during the war I remembered that I was about six or seven years old. I did not know what other women's duties were, but as I remember about my mom, she cooked for the family, she cared for all of us, she washed our clothes, kept the house clean and neat, and helped my dad with farming because my dad was at the battlefield most of the time so he seldom came home. He only came home once every three months, so my mom was the one who cared for all of us and fulfilled our needs and made all the decisions for us.

    She is the main person who made all the decisions for us. Regardless of what the needs were, such as putting food on the table, everything around the house and going to work for additional money, my mom did it all. She was the one who led us.

    MNM:  Within the Hmong culture, the man usually makes all the decisions. Is this true?

    KY:  Yes, but…

    MNM:  But during the war, most men were at the battleground leaving the women at home with their children making all the decisions.

    KY:  Yes. Regarding our family… I didn’t know about others, but regarding my family, it was as I had mentioned. Before the war, I heard from my mom that as women, we did not have any rights at all. Even though you had a good idea, the men will not accept your ideas and they will not listen to you at all. This was like they took away all your rights. But during the war, my dad was at the battleground, leaving my mom with all the kids. There was no man there to make any decisions for us, just my mom. She moved us around as needed to avoid the war. She put food on the table for us. She would find clothes for us to wear. Everything that needed to be done around the house was done by my mom.

    MNM:  Did your mom go to the market to sell goods with others? Did she go with others to the market to sell something too?

    KY:  When we were still living in Long Cheng, my mom had a shop and she made papaya salad, pho, fried noodles, and sold miscellaneous stuff like candies. Our shop was located right in our home so even though my dad was never home, my mom could run the shop at the same time that she took care all of us. She supported the whole family with money from the shop.

    MNM:  But the shop was started before your dad went to the service?

    KY:  The shop was started before my dad got drafted into the service, but because my dad was busy doing something else, my mom had to run the shop.

    MNM:  Your father was going away. Did your mom and you guys run the shop by yourself?

    KY:  Yes. Even though my dad was not there, I was helping my mom run the shop up and down because I was the oldest.

    MNM:  That is a very important point. During the war, the women were the businesswomen and the entrepreneurs.

    KY:  Yes that is correct. It was very important that the women were doing everything they could to help out in spite of the dangers and hardships during the war. You could not go too far to work or farm because the Vietnamese soldiers were nearby so we had to do what we could to survive.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    Verb:  To conscript a person, force a person to serve in the military.  (drafts, drafting, drafted)


    Noun:  People who organize and operate a business venture and assume much of the associated risk.


    Verb:  To satisfy, carry out, bring to completion (an obligation, a requirement, etc.).  (fulfills, fulfilling, fulfilled)


    Noun:  Difficulty or trouble; hard times.

    in spite of

    Preposition:  Despite; irrespective of; notwithstanding.


    Noun:  The large, yellow, melonlike fruit of a tropical American shrub or small tree, Carica papaya, eaten raw or cooked in leafy greens.


    Noun:  A Southeast Asian rice noodle soup, typically with beef or chicken.

    Listen to this word: 


    Noun:  A legal or moral entitlement.


    Adverb:  Infrequently, rarely.


    Noun:  Informal name for the armed services, the military.


    Adjective:  Of or pertaining to Vietnam.

    Noun:  1. Inhabitant of Vietnam or person of Vietnamese descent.  2. Language spoken predominantly in Vietnam.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
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