Negotiating two cultural worlds: the development of career aspirations

The opportunity for self-discovery is relatively new to Hmong women whose traditional role has been to remain in the home. Through the voices of five Hmong women enrolled at Merced College during 2017, this study sought to understand how contemporary Hmong American women negotiated modern and traditional values to engage in formal education and select their careers. Four themes emerged from the data analysis: Restriction was a salient cultural practice within the Hmong family structure, the loss of identity and agency, education as a search for freedom, and career selection as a turning point. As a whole, these themes represent the process of self-affirmation that young Hmong women experience as they distance themselves from the family context to build an autonomous lifestyle. Participants shared the experiences of physical, emotional, and intellectual restrictions that are constitutive of cultural practice in multiple Hmong families. Participants emphasized that Hmong culture is both challenged and preserved by the actions and decisions of family members. Although the experiences of restriction engendered the loss of individuality and autonomous decision-making, these young Hmong women found pathways for self-expression and achievement through education. Participation in education provided these Hmong women with a different outlook on traditional gender roles and career opportunities. The participants’ selection of careers became a turning point that encouraged them to reexamine who they were and who they could become.