Perception of Elders in Laos Compared to America


In Laos, elders were generally viewed with respect as reflected in the following two proverbs:

  1. Cov laus lawv noj ntau diav mov lawv yeej paub dau
    • English translation: Elders have eaten more spoonfuls of rice and therefore know more.
    • Meaning: The meaning of this proverb is that wisdom is the product of a long life.
  2. Rab riam ntaus tau zoo nkauj los txiav thiab hlais tsis tau nqaij. Yuav tsum muab hov ntawm lub zeb ho
    • English translation: The knife made by the blacksmith, is very beautiful, but will not cut meat unless the blade is tempered and sharpened)
    • Meaning: This proverb conveys that the beauty of youth may be pleasing to the eye, but utility, like wisdom or knowledge, lies in unseen values and must be learned (Gerdner, Xiong, & Cha, 2006, p. 26).

Effect of U.S. Immigration

Traditionally, elder Hmong have provided stability and have been the “bearers and gatekeepers of culture and tradition” (Frye, 1995, p. 273). They provided wisdom and experience that was necessary for the survival of the family. However, immigration to the U.S. brought the need for knowledge and skills different than that required of an agrarian ethnic group living in the remote highlands of Laos. Consequently, the knowledge held by Hmong elders in the U.S. is viewed by some as obsolete, resulting in a deterioration of their status within the community.

Current Views on Youth

Currently, the Hmong community as a whole has focused much of its efforts on educating its youth as a means of promoting economic well-being for succeeding generations (Hutchinson & McNall, 1994). Preparing youth with advanced educational degrees (i.e., law, medicine, education) is viewed as an investment in the future which serves to empower the extended family (including the elders) and the Hmong American community as a whole.