Thu | Jun 17, 2021

Hmong women beat the odds

Published:Monday | June 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM


In a crowded refugee camp in Thailand, Misty Her, often sneaked away to a school house and listened through a hole in the wall. She knew she could never attend, being Hmong and a girl.

For centuries, the Hmong, an ethnic minority group clustered in Asia's mountain villages, held to a rigid division in gender roles. Boys were revered and nurtured. Girls were men's property, to be married off for a dowry, forbidden to study or work.

Even in California's Central Valley, where Her's family and other Hmong refugees fled en masse after fighting in America's secret war in Laos, rigid roles endured. But Her would help break that mold.

Now 36, she overcame resistance, got a college degree and climbed the career ladder. She became an assistant superintendent with the Fresno Unified School District this school year.

Hmong community members say many women are now challenging old norms, delaying marriage and having fewer children. They're becoming lawyers, doctors and journalists.

"Today, more Hmong girls are going to college and taking jobs. It's a huge stepping stone for us," Her said. "It's also a challenge: being young, single, but doing it in a way that you're still respected."