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A Perspective of Polygamy In the Hmong Culture

November 10, 2011

by Joua Yang

The Hmong hold on to their practice of polygamy regardless of the American law. Most first generation women turn a blind eye to their husband’s desire for another wife. It is the children, their sons and daughters who were born and raised in America, that now challenge this practice.

There is currently a debated issue of whether or not Hmong men should be able to marry a second wife. Hmong husbands legally divorce their first wife and head overseas to court their second wife. The Hmong culture holds two laws; the American law and the Hmong law. Divorcing your wife legally only means she no longer has rights to your property when you die. She is still obliged to stay until the husband divorces his wife through the Hmong law. If she chooses to leave, she will be labeled as an unjust woman and be unwelcome in the Hmong community. Literally, unwelcome to Hmong churches, shunned by Hmong stores, ignored by any Hmong authority and disowned from her family. We must also understand what life is like in Thailand and Laos, where many Hmong still reside. Many are desperate to come to America to free themselves from their lives of poverty. Girls have an advantage. They can court an American man in hopes of having a safe home to live in, getting an education and one day bringing their families to the Americas.

The truth behind this practice is that the girls who come to America are forced to stay in the homes to cook, clean and tend to children. They are obliged to their husband’s sexual desires for the rest of their life. Hmong culture does not teach a woman that she can refuse sex. Young women understand when they are wedded that they must please their husbands sexually. The women who come from Laos and Thailand as a second wife trade their right to their bodies in hopes of having a better life. They are what I would call “enslaved” to their husbands. They are obliged to live by their husband’s demands. Very few times, if ever, has a second wife been able to actually get an education or a job and use these resources to benefit herself or her family back home. It will be many years before their children learn that what happened to their mothers was illegal and unethical.

This is an illegal practice of polygamy, sex trafficking and human trafficking. This practice has never been challenged because there was no one to challenge it. For the first time, through their children, Hmong women are given rights and better yet, a voice.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. MaiBao permalink
    November 13, 2011 3:54 am

    To me, the practice of polygamy in the Hmong culture sends a message to the men that women are worthless, dispensable, and replaceable. I have heard one too many times people saying, “If you don’t like her, marry another one.” I find it very contradictory that many older Hmong folks argue about the importance of family values, yet, most of them condone a man taking a second bride. Doesn’t polygamy ruin families? Well, in my mind it does.

  2. Mai Vang permalink
    September 20, 2012 2:52 am


    I never really thought of this act of polygamy by Hmong men as sex trafficking/Human trafficking. That’s very interesting. Yeah, I agree with you and the commentor Mai Bao. Too often when Hmong men marry second wives, their first wives are always treated horribly and they often leave. But the husband will say something that will make her come back but in the end, she is just treated the same as before. I find it all very irritating because it not only hurts the couples, but the families involved.

    • Mai Vang permalink
      September 20, 2012 2:55 am

      Another comment, more recently or not recently but now more common, Hmong women are also going overseas to court young men. It’s very depressing how things are turning out but again, I read on Mai Bao’s a Hmong Woman’s blog, they have certain reasons for things. But sometimes it’s for very “otherly” things that are inappropriate to talk about.

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