Hmong Traditions – The Elders

The elders are very much respected in the Hmong culture so that individuals do not fear growing old and were respected because they had lived a long time and had many life experiences. Some of the many ways of showing respect to the elders are; reserving special seats for them, serving them their choice of foods, using honorifics to address them, assuming certain postures of respect such as bowing in front of them, taking care of their bodily needs and holding special celebrations in their honor. Hmong elders use stories to explain why things are the way they are and give advice on crops, marriage and other matters that was followed. Helping the younger generation to understand and to remember their ancestors and their roots, where they came from. However, in American Society, the elders are often pushed aside to make room for those who are younger and stronger. They rely on the young but are terrified that they can no longer count on their children or grandchildren in taking care of them in their old age. One of the most painful moments they endure, is when their own children and grandchildren no longer consult them, listen to their advice, or show them any respect.

The elders have long-suffered the harshness of involuntary displacement and the move to America may be the most difficult of them all. Many of the elders have experienced a dramatic loss of status and self-esteem because in America social position depends on education, professional achievement and financial success. Their knowledge of the traditional culture is often seen as irrelevant in the “American society” and has experienced much hardship due to their poverty and social oddness in America. Adapting to the new ways has been painful to the elders and life in America can be a terrible and lonely journey. The English language is a great barrier to the elderly and many of them have had no schooling or reading skills prior to coming to America. So simple things like, going to the store or walking around town can be a terrifying experience for them. They have suffered a lot from the damages of war and loss, and now living in a strange country with strange values and a language that many will never learn has caused many elders to suffer from psychosomatic illnesses, such as headaches and stomach pains as well as stress and depression. The elders that choose to learn English can intensify the feelings of isolation and worthlessness because they don’t learn at the same rate as their children and their grandchildren. Some of the elders stare out of their windows and remember the past becoming powerless by the tragedy of their past and mourn of their loss. Those who once were called the wise men that solved problems, judge arguments and make important decisions feel useless and helpless. Many elders have said that they’ve became children again, having to sit home wandering around with nothing to do except watch television or spend hours talking on the phone with friends who have been placed on other resettlement sites or stay home and devote their time to the upbringing of their grandchildren so that the parents could work. They elders are fearful of taking public transportation and being victimized by crime in the low-income neighborhoods that they’ve been put in. They would become hysterical whenever someone knocked on the door and hesitate to answer because they were scared to see people they do not know, especially English-speaking people.

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