WHO ARE THE MONG? MOOB YOG LEEJ TWG?
(aka Hmong or Miao) is an Asian ethnic group that
originates from China. The Mong people have a history span of
about 5,000 years with the Chinese. Today, there's an estimate of 7-9 million Mong worldwide including China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand,
Burma, United Sates, France, Canada, and a few other smaller countries.
For those who may not know, there
are two major groups of Mong known as Mong Leng (Moob Leeg) and
Hmong Der (Hmoob Dawb). In the West, Mong Leng is sometimes
referred to as Blue or Green* Hmong, and Hmong Der
is usually called White Hmong. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that all Hmong Der were once Mong
Leng. In this web site, "Mong" is used to refer
to ALL groups.
There are still other names such as Striped Mong, Black Mong, Red Mong, Flowery Mong,
etc., who live in parts of Southeast Asia and China. These are all
subgroups of Mong Leng or Hmong Der. These
designations are said to have been given to the Mong by the Chinese in earlier
dynasties, who tried to divide them by requiring each group to wear
different colors of clothing. Regardless of their labels, all
Mong still consider themselves as one ethnic group. In China, the Mong are known as "Miao,"
a term that is not exclusive to Mong only. The majority of these Chinese Mong
speak Mong Leng but mixed in with some Hmong Der words. They
also carry the Chinese accent in their enunciations.
Sometimes my non-Mong colleagues
asked if the spelling of "M-o-n-g" is a typo? I often
tell them that there are two major groups of Mong and this is how Mong
Leng write and pronouce the word. In fact, the word
"Mong" derives from the word "Moob," a term Mong
Leng use when referring to themselves.
Similarly, the word "Hmong" is a derivative of the term "Hmoob,"
a Hmong Der word. The "H" in "Hmong" is silent. As seen here, even when written and
pronounced slightly different, the two words, Mong and Hmong
or Moob and Hmoob, mean the same and refer to the same people.
How different are Hmong Der from
Mong Leng when speaking? Some say it's like English spoken in
England and the U.S. Others explain that it's like Thai and Lao,
where if you speak one language than you'll understand the other.
I say between 60-70% of the words are the same and 30-40% different.
See the examples below. The differences are in quotes.
It is important to note that some Mong in China speak totally different from the Mong of say Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, or the U.S. Therefore, the sentences and words above could be uttered completely different from what they are and we may not even understand them. In the summer of 2009, I traveled to Kuming, Yanan Provice and met a relative of mine whom I met 10 years earlier in Fresno, California. When I first met him, I could not understand a word of what he was saying. However, since then, he had learned how to communicate the way Mong Americans do and I was able to comprehend him better.
Clothing used to be another major
difference besides spoken words but not that significant anymore. In Laos, Mong Leng
women usually wore red, embroidered skirts; and Hmong Der women dressed
in plain, white skirts or usually wore black pants as men.
Nowadays, in the United States or even back in Laos, Mong people wear
western clothing so one could hardly distinguish the other
unless you hear them speak. Even at Mong New Year celebrations,
Mong children often dress in whatever they feel pretty or
"cool." One noticeable cross over is that most Hmong Der
girls now have at least a pair of the embroidered Mong Leng skirts
because of it's beautiful designs. It is also generally agreed
that Mong Leng is more humble, while Hmong Der is more assertive.
And most Mong Leng can speak Hmong Der while very few Hmong Der can
communicate in Mong Leng.
Today, there are still debates as
to which name, "Hmong," "Mong," or both,
should be used side-by-side. Terms such as "HMong" or
"Mhong" have also been suggested as compromise. Some
Hmong Der argue that using the word "Mong" will only divide us
and confuses the outside world. Mong Leng disagree and say that
this is how others have tried to marginalize them. In fact, they
have tried to use the word "Hmong" for the past 30 years in
the U.S. and it's not helping them. They point to the inequities in
federal fundings and material translations in government entities such as
social services and schools, etc., which are mainly done in Hmong Der.
Mong Leng say they are tired of being treated as a second-class citizen
and demanded that they be recognize as who they are, Mong.
So far, there's little compromise
on the naming issue, but one sure thing is that the word "Hmong"
is now standardized in the U.S. However, this is not to say that
the word "Mong" will disappear or Mong Leng will cave in
completely. There are actually some writers in the U.S. and other
countries who use the word "Mong" when writing about our
people. Government agencies in the U.S. have also started to take
notice of this sensitive issue and have tried not to take side.
In actuality, the word "Hmong"
is harder for non-native speakers to pronounce. As seen in Gran
Torino, a film about Mong gang violence in Michigan, Clint Eastwood,
a legendary movie superstar, pronounced "Hmong" as "ha-mong,"
which is completely inaccurate. Most people, native and non-native
alike, pronounce it exactly as written and spoken in Mong Leng, which is
Will Mong Leng survive as a group
and be able to maintain our language and culture as we have done since
the dawn of time? This is all up to Mong Leng as a collective
group. Personally, I believe that for as long as there are Mong Leng,
there will always be people using the "M-o-n-g" spelling, though it may never
reach the recognition or acceptance as the word "Hmong."
This does not concern me. Since I was born as a Mong Leng, "Mong" or "Moob"
is and will always be my first word choice.
Regardless of what your believes
are, we simply cannot run away from the truths. Whether we use Hmong or
Mong, we must learn to accept and appreciate this unique but very
important difference. It is when we fail to show respect or
recognize our diversity that often leads us to misunderstandings and
unintended consequences. Learn both Mong Leng and Hmong Der
and just be really proud of what we still have because some people in
the world don't even have what we have, which are our names and spoken words!
Often times when a Mong language
class is offered in high school or college, only Hmong Der is taught.
If you truly care and love our people, you shall cover both subjects
equally. You do this not to satisfy your critics but to meet the
needs of all your students and to preserve and protect our beautiful languages for
future generations. In fact, being able to speak, read, and write
both dialects should be a perquisite for ALL Mong language
teachers now and in the future.
Author: Tom Hang is a high school Mong language teacher in Merced, California. For comments or questions about this or any other topics, please feel free to email him.