Early marriages.: 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
  • Blong Yang and Sua Vu Yang shortly after they were married, Laos, 1968.
    Sua Vu Yang in front of the family’s second car, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1970s.

    Gender Roles, Hmong, Marriage

    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

    The Hmong in Laos typically had large families, and the children spent most of their time helping the family with farming and household tasks.  However, having a lot of children could also be a burden if there was a year with bad crops, leaving not enough food for all of the family members.  Because families often struggled to support everyone, it was common for young people to get married at a very early age compared with the U.S., often in their young teens. Early marriages do still occur in the U.S., often performed by the clan elders and mej koob (wedding negotiators) instead of by someone licensed to perform legal marriages in the U.S.  However, it is becoming more common for Hmong young people to wait until they are older to get married, at least until after they finish their educations.

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Kim Yang 2
    1:59 Minutes | 1.9Mb


    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:  Did you say that you were sixteen when you got married?

    KY:  Yes.

    MNM:  What about your friends, about how old were they when they got married? Are they older then you or younger then you?

    KY:  At that time I had lots of friends and some of them are younger than me about thirteen or fourteen years old and they were married, but others are much older than me before they got married at a later date. But I felt so sorry for my cousins and my friends that went to high school with me. Some of them got married before me and others got married after me, but most of those couples were divorced after about four to five years into their marriage. Like the Americans said that the first ten years of your marriage are the years that you two are still growing and have the most crises. If they are not patient with each other then they will not survive those years and finally their lives will be falling apart. Lots of my friends’ marriages were falling apart.

    MNM:  Most Americans out there think that the reason the Hmong people get married when they are very young (13-14 years old) is because of culture or tradition. Do you think that is true or not?

    KY:  I think that back in our old country that may be true because our country was a farming country. We have to farm to survive so we don’t have enough education, opportunities and the chance to do something else. Even though you are an educated lady, but there will be no job for you to do. So most of our elderly believed, that as a woman, once you are married, you will come home and take care of your children, stay home and take care of your household. If you do that then they will say that you are an important woman, so our opportunities were very limited. But I believe that after we got to this country, there were a few that married very early. Right now I see that there are lots of Hmong women that were still single between 20 and 30 years old. They finished college and some of them already found good jobs, some of them were leaders in different organizations and others were leaders with their household and their families. I believe that right now our Hmong ladies have changed a lot.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.  (plural: crises)


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


    Noun:  A chance for advancement, progress, or profit.


    Noun:  A custom that is practiced within a group.


    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
    nid: 465