Cultural Identity in Post-Modern Society: Reflections on What Is a Hmong?
Being Hmong is Living in a House of Many Rooms | Members.Ozemail.Com.Au
“An American Anthropologist, Clyde Kluckhohn (246), once said that “human life should remain as a house of many rooms.” The world no longer operates as if human societies are isolated from each other, unchanged by the mass media, modern technology, or contacts with other cultures. According to Clifford (10), we can no longer speak about other cultures as “primitive”, “pre-literate” or “without history”. To do so would be to see them as mere caricatures frozen in time and isolated from the influences of the most powerful economic and political systems around them. No society is isolated today. The encroachment of capitalism and government into the heartlands of the most isolated tribes means that virtually no human groups have been left untouched. This encroachment has changed many materially if not culturally, often forever. In the words of Clifford (22), people in different countries now “influence, dominate, parody, translate, and subvert each other…. enmeshed in global movements of difference and power.”
Cultures never hold still: they are alive, constantly evolving, adapting, being borrowed, forced upon one another. They are like moving pictures on a screen (Wolf: 387). For the Hmong in their many different settings, new trends and ideas emerge all the time, both within their own society and from outside. Thanks to the initiatives of Xu Thao and other enterprising Hmong in the United States, we now have international movies dubbed in Hmong, Hmong videos and feature movies, documentaries, music, and dance adaptations from all sources far and wide (Indian, Japanese, Lao, Thai, American, and Chinese). There is now even rap music in Hmong. This represents real progress and shows that the Hmong culture can be dynamic and not static, can develop and change. The ability to travel freely to other countries where Hmong live and the informal Hmong mass media have allowed the Hmong people to rediscover each other, to see each other on videos.
Hmong girls in Australia and America have now adopted the colourful Hmong traditional costumes from China in their dances. The modest Hmong Quarterly “Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws,” published by our Hmong community in French Guyana, has become an international Hmong voice: through it we can now share thoughts and read Hmong stories or news written by Hmong in many countries for other Hmong. A Hmong is Hmong when he or she reaches out to another Hmong. We are not one single homogenous group located in one single geographical area, but a multi-ethnic and multilingual community living with many people in many countries. We are a community numbering in the millions but without any geographical boundaries. We must accept these facts and to meet their many challenges without fear and without shame. We need to recognise that despite all the differences in languages, life styles, religion, customs and economic status, we are but one people.
We are challenged by the need to adopt a common Hmong writing for all and not the many scripts we now use. We are challenged by the need for a common history book incorporating all the local histories of the Hmong in whatever countries they now live, and not the myriad versions we now have. We need to share our house of many rooms with each other, with our friends and our neighbours. In the old days it is said that wherever a Hmong might go he would always return home, return to his beloved highland. These days, however, this is not always the case, as many Hmong are scattered in many areas, many directions, creating disloyalty and divisions. The house of many rooms has become a divided house, a neglected house. Unless we come back home more often or permanently, our house risks being a deserted house and eventually a ruin. To be Hmong, we need to look after our own house. This house is held together by our leaders: they are the posts holding the house together.
The posts need to support each other, and other parts used to build the house need to stay together or else the house will fall. We need to remember that no matter what clan we belong to, this should be used only to define our marriage rules, and not as something that divides us in other areas of life. Our clan differences should not be used to override our unity of purpose, our common identity. Hmong of one tribe or clan should trust or not betray those of another clan. If we avoid favouritism by treating each other as equals, we will be able to stay together to support the house of many rooms and many tribes. Other people around us build monuments and write books about their leaders: we need to do the same to celebrate the achievements of our great leaders, not just criticising them but these leaders should also set examples to show they deserve this.
Our house should not be destroyed by ourselves, but should be kept in excellent repair so it will provide us with comfort and protection against our adversaries. Additions and extensions should be made to our house so that it can grow bigger to accommodate new members, new ideas which will help us survive as a nationality in humankind’s long march to the future.”