COMMENTS of the WEEK | Hmong bride price returns

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 A surprise and a pleasure in keeping tab on reader comments is how often a comment responds to an article you would have thought was long out-of-date. Last week, for example, Tara Thompson commented on a Planet piece about clothes for winter biking, from Nov. 20, 2012! What do you guess she Googled to that got her that link?

But the prize for “late” comments that really aren’t late goes to an article by Talee Vang,  The Truth Behind the Hmong Bride Price. Vang’s piece appeared last October 23. Right away it prompted a record-setting 64 comments, almost all from readers with Hmong names. Then suddenly last week, after seven months reader silence on the subject, our in-box filled with 59 more. 

Clearly something important is going on. Let me try to summarize.

Vang wrote as an “activist,” “feminist” Ph.D. candidate in psychology. The thrust of her piece was that the Hmong bride-price tradition is not about “selling our daughters” but about the groom’s family making a commitment to “love and care for the bride as if she was their own.” The tradition comes from a deep context of recognizing the importance of ancestral family spirits in Hmong culture and religion. The money or other wealth that changes hands before marriage “symbolizes a promise to always love and protect.” It “does not represent the value of a woman; it was never intended to.”

In last week’s new comments, as I read them, there are two broad varieties of response to Vang.

One type says: Thanks so much for setting the record straight on a venerable and still valuable tradition of our people.

Here’s one example among several:

Anna Sailue YajGreat article! Thanks for explaining the true reasoning behind the bride price. I have always understood it to be this way as well. It is important to understand culture and the reasoning behind each tradition. The bride price was a form of protection for daughters. In America a man buys a woman an expensive diamond ring as a promise of his love for her. For Hmong people there was more risk to the daughter and her family when she marries. Therefore, the bride price was a promise from the groom’s side of the family to the bride’s family that she will be loved, protected, and respected as one of their own. If you think about it, it’s still a promise of love just in a different concept.

The other type of comment argues: A tradition may be venerable, but that’s not enough to keep it valuable. Our times have changed. We’re no longer in Laos or Vietnam. Not all Hmong still keep to the old religion. Some are Christian. Some are neutral. For some the bride price indeed is now demeaning to women.

Let’s rethink. Here’s an excerpt that reflects the second type:

Kab Nras Lee This is a controversial topic today. . The cultural meaning behind this “bride price” is very deep, but it really varies in each family. Yes, there are some families who just want money and charge for the “value” of their daughters. But what about those families who give it all back to the bride and groom as pij cuam? I really think a lot of the older generation are misrepresenting our culture, and it’s not our fault as the younger generation to despise or find no value in some of our cultural practices. We can’t say the bride price is a valuable cultural practice when even our older generation portray it as a patriarchal practice today. The reasoning behind this has been misinterpreted for too long; it no longer has a significant meaning in the western world.

Rethinking. That’s what’s going on, as apparently the Planet’s Hmong readers know well. African American, Native American, Euro American, whatever — tune in to the original article and the whole thread of comments; feel what it’s like to live in a vital, vibrant multicultural Twin Cities.

And remember, reader comments are the lifeblood of community conversation in the Daily Planet. Join in. Agree or disagree. Praise or criticize. Be brief, be civil, be heard!