She is fiercely independent. She’s the type of girl who’s always ready to have a good time, loves to watch movies, and shop. She’s impulsive and a rebel. She’s got three tattoos, has had two piercings that are referred to as snake bites, and has dyed her hair more times than she can remember.
She sits at the counter sipping coffee, her faded, red hair tied back into a ponytail, her Levi acid-wash jeans tucked into boots, her leather jacket draped over her purse.
Her name is Dominique Heu, she is Hmong and was raised a Christian. Her rebellion was born out of a long list of restrictions and rules dictated to her since she was a child. The youngest of 14 kids, Dominique, or “Dom,” is first generation American. Her parents came to America in the late 1970’s, bringing their values, heritage, and their eldest children, born in either Thailand or Laos. They settled in a quiet neighborhood in Clovis and were determined to raise their children with the best of Hmong traditions and Christian values.
Dom’s parents seemed to be more relaxed than other Hmongs – though they practiced “old school” medicine and believed that good Hmong girls should be domestic, they never forced marriage onto their girls, something Dom attributes to their faith.
“My parents don’t court,” she said. In the Hmong tradition, being married is one of the only things women should aspire to. She explains that if a girl were to be out late with a boy and the parents found out, they get married – even if she was kidnapped. Her parents raised all their girls to be good housewives.
“When you’re a Hmong girl,” Dom started, “from the second you know how to walk, how to do things, your parents are already teaching you to be a wife.”
“By the time Dominique was in second grade, she was already doing laundry,” her sister Stephanie said. They both learned to fry eggs, do dishes, change diapers, and mix formula at a young age. In a way Dom and Steph are a lot alike; they both go against some of the traditions that their family believes in. Steph went to The Milan Institute to become a cosmetologist. They have both been criticized for dying and cutting their hair because a traditional Hmong woman keeps her hair natural and doesn’t cut or dye it.
“The longer the hair the better the fortune,” Steph said, laughing. They have both been told that no Hmong guy will marry them because of tattoos, hair dying, and piercings.
They both cringe at this since neither Dom nor Steph envisions themselves marrying Hmong. For one thing, Dom and her sister are considered past their prime. Traditional Hmongs can marry as young as twelve, which seems to be a conundrum since teen girls are not allowed to go out at night. Though their parents tend to be more lenient, their eldest brother Yia is not.
Dom recalls an incident in which her nieces were severely punished for going out late at night; one of her nieces is older than her.
“People at night don’t do good things,” she said, referring to the lecture she received from her brother. It seems nearly impossible for Dom not to be out at night; by day she works at Yoshino’s, and at night she works at Macy’s. Working two jobs provides her with the means to have a very active social life, and she takes full advantage.
She spends her nights with friends, going for coffee, or having dinner. Once Friday night hits, and if the mood strikes, she can be found at The Standard, dancing like there is no tomorrow.
She makes no excuses for the fact that she rebels against her culture. Her parents are adamant about her getting an education and eventually marrying. Dom emphasizes the struggle that she and her sisters face because while men go straight into the workforce, women are expected to get an education, be a good housewife, and be a good mother.
Her own mother spent nearly her whole life having children. Her brother Yia is 47. Dom is 23. All 14 kids take up three generations, and their mother wants to make sure her children are well taken care of.
Dom says she thinks her mother is a hoarder. Her house is filled with multiple sets of dishes, enough for every girl to have their own. She considers this her daughter’s responsibility; in Hmong culture, the girls are supposed to keep what is important to their mother. This is one way that their mother shows affection. Hmongs tend to suppress their emotion. Once children are able to walk, they stop receiving a lot of affection from their parents.
“Once you can wipe your butt, you can take care of yourself,” Dom said. She admits that she doesn’t plan to raise her children with all of the same values and rules that she was raised with, but she at least wants them to know their culture.
But the thought of children seems years down the road. She wants a career as a massage therapist. She wants to move to San Diego, and ultimately, Hawaii.
“Dude, I just want to live,” she said, smiling.