Comparison of Hmong and American Concepts of Face

Losing face and preserving one’s honor is an unique cultural trait of the Hmong, a refugee population that traces its history to different parts of Southeast Asia. The Hmong are a group-oriented people with standard methods that put much significance in household ties, social hierarchy, and individual honor or “face.” With these qualities in their culture, it is inescapable that the Hmong meet the culture of their adjusted homeland of America– a culture that values individualism, and one that does not have stringent principles and dictates relating to losing face and preserving one’s honor.One of the locations of American society in which this clash is frequently observed is in the academe. University find themselves harbingers of American culture, at chances with the traditional teachings of the Hmong house and homeland. Although children of immigrant Hmong discover it easier to assimilate into the standards of America, they are still quite rooted to their traditional culture, especially with the assistance of their senior citizens, who consist of the first wave of immigrants from Laos and Thailand.This research will shed insight into the different elements and views of the principle of “face” both in the American and Hmong culture, and in doing so shall provide the resemblances and contrasts of the two cultures in the personal, academic, familial and social dimensions. This research looks for to depict the cultural differences in between the Hmong and American cultures, in part to improve cross-cultural communication, in part to have a more thorough understanding of this aspect of the variety of American population.More importantly, however, by comparing the attitudes and beliefs associated with the concept of losing face and saving face in the Hmong and American cultures, the information collected can then be applied to the classroom, to the presidents of ESL environments, the teachers. This knowledge could even encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s education, and their own interaction with the teaching institutions and mentors.Another goal of the research is to discover how people of different backgrounds and ages would define the concept of “face” and the circumstances surrounding it. Specific social situations shall be taken into account, especially in the classroom, where any disparity between two cultures could create barriers that could infringe learning and personal growth. This information can then be applied to provide better understanding of social situations where the possibilities losing and saving face are high, like classroom lectures, parent-teacher consultations and school conferences.In doing so, the school can encourage strong parental involvement and further it, benefiting not only their interaction, but their interaction with their students/children as well, making a way to dissipate the lack of communication created in part by cultural barriers. The knowledge on the Hmong concept of “face” could harness a positive self-image in the parents and even promote camaraderie, that they would be comfortable enough to interact with the school and involve themselves further in their children’s educations.Likewise, the research could guide teachers and other school officials on how to persuade Hmong students to better voice their thoughts and opinions. It will raise awareness on the norms and concepts associated with shame and “face,” instructing school officials on instructional strategies that could be used in order for students and teachers to avoid losing face; and on the other hand, promote instances that could potentially save face. LITERATURE REVIEWAn examination of the cultural differences between Hmong and American cultures shall go a long way in helping teachers gain a better understanding of one aspect of our diverse American population. This knowledge shall improve cross-cultural communication and help in producing and training more effective, culturally sensitive teachers. Thus, sufficient background knowledge is needed to understand Hmong cultural values, especially to fully comprehend their people’s concept of face. It is necessary, then, to have knowledge of the Hmong as a people to have knowledge of the Hmong as a culture.The Hmong culture in America is a widely overlooked one, and the Hmong as a people have confronted many challenges in their history, and their culture is comprised of a dynamic blend in cultures. In Hmong at the Turning Point, Dr. Yang Dao (1993) describes the settlement of the Hmong small villages in the mountains of Laos, after leaving the banks of the Yellow River of China. In the mountains, they raised animals, hunted, raised crops of rice, corn, and other food crops. They led an ordinarily nomadic lifestyle, not for want of resources, but to be closer to relatives, or because of war.The people thrived, coming from numerous local skirmishes and wars in Laos, and then several stints in refugee camps in Thailand, where they endured harsh living conditions because of the wars. From Laos, the Hmong then made their way to America to settle and build new lives (Henige, 1988), although not without more challenges. The country’s first wave of immigrants faced the inability to seamlessly assimilate into their adopted homeland. The stark culture shock was a foremost problem for the Hmong people, who discovered that the fast-paced, modern America contrasted so much with the traditional, close-knit culture of their race.In the generations that followed, assimilation to American culture was more attainable, and yet the problems that then arose were between them and the older generation, who remained steadfast to their culture. This conflict within the Hmong people has not only created obvious disturbances among them; it has made waves in American society, most notably in the academe, where the disparity is most obvious due to the Hmong children who face the brunt of being torn between two clashing cultures.Teaching Strategies Beliefs and Behaviors of Hmong and General Education Teaachers in the Technical College (Schulze, 1998), is one study that addresses and analyzes the differences between Hmong and American education. The study focuses on the cultural beliefs, behaviors and learning strategies of Hmong students. This knowledge was then used by the teachers and integrated in the classroom dynamics. Schulze found both teachers and students believe in the stable structure of education. Both also expressed the value they placed on building and developing relationships between teachers and students.In another study, this one of O’Reilly’s (1998), the research found that school holds very little influence on the issues that affect the academic performance of the Hmong students. Basically, any educational institution has no control over things like “economic situations, family size, home language, and cultural differences” (p. 101), which have been known as significant factors in a child’s schooling. However, other studies have shown that it does help if the school is aware of these issues.For example, another study on the effect of the different education value system is Refugees: Implicating Factors for Adult Education in Cultural Assimilation in American Society (Hammond, 1993), and it focused on the struggle Hmong students have adjusting to American customs and language. In a book about immigrant life and leaning, the author Hones (1999) interviewed a Hmong parent, Cher Shou Cha, and inquired about the immigrant experience. She then detailed the values of Hmong culture, her perception of American culture, and described how the two contradicted each other (p.21). Proper comprehension of “face,” its loss and saving, and the differences of the concepts in the Hmong and American perceptions, shall be a vital lesson for educators and administrators in America today, particularly in Minnesota. The Hmong cultural values and teaching methods shall be better understood, as this research shall examine the notions of “face” and the circumstances surrounding it, from both the Hmong and American perspectives. The research shall then gather personal opinions and testimonies from members of both cultures.The knowledge and information collected and gained from the research could then be applied to the educational setting, primarily in classroom dynamics. The act of preserving one’s social standing and outward dignity is commonly regarded as saving face (Victor, 1992). Its cultural definitions range from simply being respected in the community, to saving one’s self from humiliation or shame, and protecting reputations, either yours or your family’s. Face is often regarded as a public presentation of one’s self, and is considered as a display of one’s character, worthiness, industry, and frugality (Victor, 1992).According to a Hmong colleague of mine, having “face” in the Hmong community is equivalent to having the respect and the admiration of others, as well as genuine praise. “Face” in the Hmong culture has varied aspects, as well as dimensions: personal, academic, familial, and social. These aspects primarily revolve around the family name, the family circle, and the family clan; as well as ascribing to the Hmong cultural ideas and beliefs, views of the elderly; and staying true to the expectations of one’s self and expectations of one’s family or others.The average worry of a Hmong is that one wrong action by the individual could have repercussions that could ruin not only individual lives and careers, but that of the family’s as well. The Hmong place great significance in protecting the family name. In order to lose face, other people have to have a certain power or influence over you, as is the case of cultures that relies a lot on group dynamics. Sometimes, people intentionally create circumstances for other people to use face, and they do so by citing an shameful incident and using this to their advantage by constantly bringing it up in the community.Although this type of manipulation of “face” exists not only between families or clans but also occurs within particular families or clans (Thao, 1986), the Hmong still generally make it a rule to uphold the name of the family by being model citizens and law-abiding individuals. For example, in most cultures, if a woman is having a love affair, it would have implications on many different cultural aspects like morality, but it would not be an issue of face or self-dignity – it would very rarely be an issue of overwhelming shame for the family and the culture.And yet in the Hmong culture, for instance, a woman’s love affair is exactly that, because before anything else, the wrongdoing of that one individual brings great shame and dishonor to the woman’s family. The community will talk about the affair constantly, and talk about what the woman has done wrong, and how she could have prevented such, etc. This kind of talk within the Hmong causes the individual’s family to lose face. With remarks like this, especially if based on truth and reality, it is inevitable that the family name shall be shamed.In the Hmong culture, the possibility of losing face is a rather considerable influence over a woman’s life. The loss of face could occur when a Hmong woman is too outspoken with her thoughts and opinions, and thinks nothing of saying what she thinks (Thao, 1986). Usually, it is Hmong women who have acquired a post-secondary education speak out more often (Thao, 1986), causing embarrassment for her family and her husband, if she is married. Women do not hold much important socio-political roles in the Hmong. When a situation arises in the family and clan meetings are held, the women are very rarely included, or even not at all.Examples of such situations are: when someone gets married in the family, the father will call all the closest family members – or extended family members as long as the extended family has the same last name and share the same beliefs – to a meeting about wedding preparations; when there is a death in the family, all of the men take it upon themselves to discuss the funeral; when a child gets into trouble with the law, the men gather and discuss and negotiate among themselves the punishments and consequences.