Archive for January, 2011

A Lesson from the Hmong

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

A while ago I met a new friend who is a Hmong. The Hmong in the U.S. are a sad legacy of the Vietnam war. The U.S. tried to interdict the Vietcong supply lines which ran through Laos. Because of international treaties and internal political reasons, the Laotian war (The Secret War) was fought by proxy. The C.I.A. recruited the Hmong, a mountain-dwelling people, to do the soldiering. Eventually, the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam and had no use for the Hmong soldiers. In the meantime, the Laotian monarchy was overthrown by communist rebels who, with the help of the North Vietnamese, conducted a genocidal war against the Hmong. The latter tried to flee to Thailand. Those who made it, suffering incredible hardships, became political refugees there. Eventually, a large number of these refugees were admitted to the U.S.
Originally, millennia ago, the Hmong arrived in China, probably from Siberia. They never assimilated with the Chinese. They were expelled in the 19th century seeking refuge in countries south of China. In those countries they also managed to preserve their identity, including their language and religion. As an over simplification, the Hmong religion is animist/shamanic – far removed from Asian Buddhism and certainly monotheism.
My Hmong friend was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Both he, and his lesbian sister, were outcast from their clan after coming out to their family. As far as the family was concerned, Hmong did not indulge in such activities. I am sure that in the Hmong villages in the mountains of Laos there were homosexuals. Maybe the men ran into the woods for quickies; the women did it discreetly in their homes. The Hmong have no scripture that explicitly forbade this activity, nor laws against it. So what was that all about?
Then something popped into my mind. Until fairly recently, left-handed children were forced by their parents and teachers to become right-handed. As a result, many left-handed children became stutterers or developed other psychological problems. Nature intended their left hand to be the dominant one; they certainly did not choose it. I believe that human beings have a compulsion that all members of the group behave in a prescribed way, regardless of their nature. The prescribed way is what the majority practices and, therefore, natural. I am reasonably certain that in a cannibalistic society people who refuse to eat human flesh would be punished for their nonconforming behavior.
There are about 10% of the population born with a dominant left hand. Now they are accepted into most societies, but not in many Asian countries, where the left hand is used solely for sanitary purposes. Some modern researchers even speculate that they are superior to right-handed folk. Being gay is now accepted in many countries, but not in most of Africa. In Uganda, for instance, the death penalty has been proposed for habitual homosexuals. It is almost as if societies are seeking out a group, in some respect different from the majority, to pick on. In the U.S., the gay children of Hmong refugees slowly are coming out of their closets to the great dismay of their elders.
The most annoying phenomenon is the fickleness of society. Within my lifetime, a gay person could be sentenced to a long time in prison just for having sex with another men in private. Now the debate is whether gay men can marry one another. But, soon enough, society will find other scapegoats who do not conform to its dictates. And, sure enough, the gays will join the rest of society condemning the “unnatural behavior.”