I came into Thailand with the mind set that the Hmong people in Thailand will be more ‘traditional’ Hmong, meaning they will speak Hmong and know the culture better than the Hmong in America. However, the truth took an unexpected turn and hit me hard.
Some of the Hmong people in America struggle with how to speak Hmong and those that know it speak very little Hmong and know very little about the culture ad practices. Hmong Americans speak more English than Hmong because we live in the U.S and English is the primary language. There were also great number of Hmong Americans that have converted to Christianity.
When visiting the Hmong village in Chiang Dao district, the Hmong people there still wear Hmong clothes and still do some of the things that they did in the past such as the wooden cart rides, wooden archery and farming. There are two facts that hit me the hardest. The first fact was that about 90 percent of the Hmong in the village converted to Christianity and only about 2-3 families still practice shamanism. The second fact is that many of the Hmong youth in Thailand don’t know how to speak Hmong as much as I thought they would and those that do know how to speak Hmong know very little of it. One example is when I visited the Hmong museum. I talked to the grand-daughter of the Hmong woman and I noticed that she would speak very little Hmong to me once she knew that I could speak Thai. When I asked her something in Hmong, she would say a few words in Hmong then switched back to Thai automatically. I don’t think that it is because she knew that I could speak Thai that she choose to speak Thai to me. I said so because I could tell that she doesn’t feel comfortable and confident to speak in Hmong and struggled each time she tried.
It’s not wrong to convert to Christianity and to not know how to speak Hmong, it is their decision. These two facts were so surprising to me because I went into it with such a close-mind and my expectations were the total opposite of what the truth is. The Hmong in Thailand speak and learn Thai because it’s the primary language just like Hmong Americans, we speak and learn English because it’s the primary language.
Even though I do accept these facts, I will admit that I am somewhat disappointed although I have no right to be disappointed about it whatsoever. These facts led to many thoughts and these thoughts led to many unanswered questions. I got very emotional thinking about what would happen to our Hmong people, our language and our culture. I could see that it is slowly disappearing in both America and in Thailand. What will eventually happen to the Hmong culture, language and writings? What will we answer others when we identify ourselves as Hmong but don’t know the language and culture? The thought of our Hmong people slowly disappearing from the face of the earth scares me, I am fearful of what to come to our Hmong people and what we will become.