Hmong Women’s Circle is a during-school program that had been held at Park Center for four years. This program is dedicated to addressing the needs and celebrating the identities of young Hmong females. The leaders are Michael Vecellio, a counselor at PC and Amee Xiong, an employee of Girl Scouts, the umbrella organization of HWC. All girls participating in HWC are, technically, Girl Scouts. The leaders meet with the Hmong girls at PC one day per week. There is an average of 8-12 Hmong girls that attend the 2 groups in PC on a given week. The program is voluntary and currently the majority of Hmong Girls here at PC are not in the HWC program. Each student in HWC is informed that they are responsible for their make-up work. Classroom expectations come first and if the student’s teacher wants them to be in class, they should stay for that hour.

The word “Hmong” means “free men”. Hmong people are an ethnic group living in southern China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Here in Minnesota there are approximately 33,984 Hmong living in St. Paul and Minneapolis, 2572 of which live in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. In the Hmong culture, the son is expected to take after the father as he grows up, including maintaining traditions, beliefs and rituals of his family. The traditional Hmong believes and worships their ancestors and spirits as well as practices shamanism. A shaman can communicate with one’s spirit and with the surrounding spirits. Shamans can heal an illness through the communication and offerings (such as meals) or sacrifice of a chicken, pig, cow, or even a cat or dog to the spirit. From the 17th century up until now, because of Catholic and Christian missionaries, many Hmong converted to Christianity. The majority in Southeast Asia are still very traditional and practice shamanism.

Shamanism is practiced by some traditional Hmong families in the U.S.
Typically in Hmong culture in Southeast Asia, the women have to do all the household work like cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids, caring for the crops after they are planted. They also have to take care of the animals; the most important chore was to care and feed the pigs with corn so that they can grow fat and stay healthy. For the men, they plant and harvest the crops, hunt for foods in the mountains with a crossbow, cut trees in the forest to use as small or medium logs to make fire for cooking. The men also have to protect their family from wild animals, and care for their parents. The youngest son has the most responsibility when he reaches manhood/gets married because his parents will be living with him when they grow old.

In America, some Hmong families expect their children to marry other Hmong people to extend the family religion and traditions. A few Hmong American families are strict with their kids while the other Hmong families let their kids be independent because they’re “Americanizing”.

In the Hmong culture, the same clan/last name can never marry within the same clan/last name because it’s strictly forbidden. In the Hmong culture in the Southeastern part of Asia, Hmong men typically get married between the ages of 14 and 18 and they can marry as many wives as they would like if they can support them. In the U.S., Hmong men often get married at the age of 18 to 20, but they can’t marry more than one wife even if they wanted because of U.S. laws. He could marry another woman if and only if he is separated or divorced. In Southeast Asia, Hmong girls are often married by the time they were 15 years old, but here in the US, Hmong girls get married during their middle/late teens, still very young by American cultural standards. Very few Hmong women here in the U.S. tend to go to college then get married afterwards.

The program, Hmong Women’s Circle, was founded by Kashia Moua in 1999. Hmong Women’s Circle has since expanded to five cities: Sacramento and Stockton, California; St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota and Wausau, Wisconsin. The Hmong Women’s Circle program helps develop and nurture young Hmong women to be leaders in their schools, homes, and daily communication through a series of developmental activities and discussions. It also helps Hmong girls understand and appreciate their personal identities and culture. Hmong Women’s Circle empowers Hmong girls to become active citizens in a global world. It also provides an opportunity for young Hmong women to be heard and it helps Hmong-American women know that there are other options in life besides getting married after high school. It also help the girls improve themselves emotionally and physically. This program helps the Hmong girls focus on issues such as their personal identity, college preparation and/or career planning, Hmong history, protecting oneself from sexual violence, how to be strong in school, and healthy social development.

Some of the girls in Hmong Women’s Circle think that this program is helpful because it helps them understand more about the Hmong culture. It also helps them out with their problems and helps them look towards the future to a better life full of education. Below are few quotes from girls in HWC:

Phalada Xiong,“I like how we get to share what we’ve been through and what you can connect with others.”

Kacee Thao,“I have learned about the Hmong culture, college, traditions and problem solving for Hmong women. This program had helped me recognize other Hmong women’s perspectives in life and to respect each others problems/situations.”

Ia Ong Vang, “What I like about Hmong Women’s circle is that we get to talk about our problems. It also helps us deal with and think about our life/future. Hmong Women’s Circle prepares us for the future.”

Hmong Women’s Circle will continue to help Hmong teenage girls at Park Center develop as they grow and mature throughout the years.

Sources:

-See Her