Hmong Culture

A Young Hmong Nyab

Something about Hmong people, which isn’t so common nowadays, is early marriage. Marriage for women could be as young as 13. So no, not women but girls. Girls get married as young as 13 (perhaps younger but none that I personally know of) and boys who became the husband tend to be only a few years older. Then there are the cases of 23-year-old husbands with 13-year-old wives.

Early marriage in a young man or woman’s life often ends in divorce. It only makes sense since when you’re that young, how do you even know who you are?!

Yes, not so common anymore but there still are the few who trickle in and wound up getting married in their teens. And like the cycle, many end in divorce.

Hmong Nyab

Nyab means daughter-in-law. When a woman marries, her husband’s family will call her this. It is a title for her, followed by her husband’s name. For example, if Sally married David, she will be called “Nyab David” and Deb married Scott, she will be called “Nyab Scott.”

There’s this thing in the Hmong community where In-Laws somehow find the Nyab as the enemy or something. Not for everyone, but in most stories I come across, this is the case. They expect the Nyab to serve and do everything perfect. If you can’t do something or know how to do something right you are talked badly about. For example, if you can’t make dinner. If you can’t be there for an occasion, you are looked down on. It’s hard to be a Nyab when everyone never sees the good you actually do.

Let me tell you about the one I know

Lee got married to her husband at the age of 14. He was 17 at the time, a few months shy of graduating from high school. After their marriage, Lee moved into his house, his parent’s house which was a new adjustment for him too. She was now 180 miles away from the only home she ever knew.

As any young girl would do, she helped with chores around the house. She went to school and came home to help as much as she was allowed to with making food or cleaning up. There was no question that Lee felt out of place being around new people and a new home. Her husband’s family didn’t socialize with her much either. Lee was lonely, but when it got dark and everyone settled in, she knew she had a place when she was with her husband.

A year later, her husband begins college and works full-time to provide for them both since she was still in high school. They rented a small apartment and was able to get by with the little that they had. They had very little, but Lee had her husband and was happy. I think she was also happy to now be out on their own not having to abide by anyone’s rule but their own. Yes, she was young, but she was married and knew she wanted a place of her own and to have privacy.

Then came baby

Once Lee graduated she had severe episodes of stomach cramps. The doctors weren’t sure what they were dealing with at times. Her husband would call and ask his mom what she could do or take to alleviate the pain. Lee’s mother-in-law gave her some herbs to drink. It would soothe the pain but it always came back. The stomach cramps would continue for 3 more months.

Her mother-in-law would call them to check on her progress occasionally until one day she received a phone call saying she would soon be a Grandma! Lee’s husband was the one who gave her the news. He was probably more excited than anyone in the family.

Lee gave birth to her son at 18 years old. She would have another son a few years later, and then a daughter many years after when she thought she was done having kids. Then to Lee and her husband’s surprise, they had their youngest a few years after. Lee had 4 beautiful children. Taking a break into between the second and third, Lee always said she felt like she had another start over and relived the years when she had only the two little ones.

It’s their love 

They loved each other unconditionally. Lee and her husband supported each other in everything and the one thing they did best was being parents to those kids. Her life was children. His life was for them.

Her husband graduated college and she would work jobs in between having kids. Her husband didn’t think she needed to work and she did enjoy her time as being a stay home mom, but eventually, Lee wanted a career too. So she would take classes here and there to build up her resume. She wanted to work with children and that makes sense since she was an amazing mom.

Final Thoughts

I know you were expecting a horror story that ended up in divorce, but not this one. It’s not one of the failed ones that ended in that cycle. This one ended with a perfect marriage, a perfect family, and living happily ever after. However, it does have a sad ending.

Lee passed away unexpectedly one month after just turning 40 years old. She left behind her loving husband and four beautiful children.

I will never amount to the “Mom” she is. Lee was my “Nyab”.

Anna MV

A Hmong woman practicing life finding art in everything. Blogger of Family, Life, Culture, Autism, Self Awarenes

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