There is no one single word or phrase that can easily describe the Mien culture. They are people with strong family values, tolerance, ambivalence, and courageous. In order to gain a glimpse of the Mien culture it is necessary for one to understand not only the past historical events that brought them into the United States and other countries, but also the richness of their high context cultural traditions as well as their family dynamic and belief systems.
They are people with well structured of social hierarchy, strong behavioral norms, and the internal meanings are usually embedded in the deep social and personal interactions. Another word, during a conversation, the listener is expected to be able to read “between the lines”, to understand the unsaid, and appreciate the background knowledge of the subject. This form of communication can only be understood through the closeness of human relationship or knowing each other well internally. Most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person. Communication is indirect, ambiguous, harmonious, reserved and unstated and slow to change. The greater confidence is placed in the non-verbal aspects of communication than the verbal aspects. Therefore, the primary functions of the family include physical maintenance, socialization, education, control of social and sexual behavior, maintenance of family morale, motivation of individuals to perform in their familial and societal roles, the acquisition of mature family members, and the acquisition of new family members through procreation or adoption.
Mien people can easily be identified or recognized not only by their indigenous language but also by their traditional clothing. Traditionally, Mien women wear multi-colored pants, turbans, and red tunics. Young Mien children are recognized by their black and indigo-colored caps, covered in finely detailed, hand-sewn embroidery and pompoms. The Mien men typically wear loose-fitting black or dark blue pants and matching jackets, embellished with red, black, and white piping or sometimes edged with silver-wound braids.
The colors and styles of the women’s clothes are used to identify tribal affiliations of the Mien such as the round turban (m’nqorngv-beu-ping) versus the criss-cross turban (m’nqorngv-beu-paanx). Round turbans are worn by women in southern parts of Laos and by the Thai Mien who migrated to Thailand in the early 1900s. Criss-cross turbans, on the other hand, are worn by women in northern Laos. The Mien people place high value on their cultural symbols and revere them as important reflections of their culture. As such, to be Mien is to preserve the cultural traditions and leave behind a rich and long-lasting legacy.
To be Mien means to learn and live a lifestyle characteristic of Mien traditions. This includes the language, history, culture, and mannerisms characteristic of the Mien and keeping up traditional values of respect, obedience, and diligence in the household and in the field. In the Mien traditional value system, the individual serves as a harmonious contributor to the family. Important to the Mien culture, is the belief that one’s role in society is to be a good person (kuv mienh) and be hard-working (jienh), both in bearing and raising children and tending livestock. Kuv Mienh involves soothing over differences, cooperation, mutual acceptance, quietness of the heart, and harmonious existence. The Kuv Mienh’s behavioral expressions need to be in relation to the supernatural and to superiors in respectful, polite and obedient ways. Likewise, mutual assistance and sharing of household chores farming duties reflect the concept of ‘jienh’ (diligence).
Being Mien also means to understand the implicit family structure, and the roles and responsibilities of each household member. The structure of a Mien family is an important indicator of family wealth and wellness. Traditionally, the most important unit of social organization in the Mien culture is the family, headed by the father. As he ages, the father turns his responsibilities over to his eldest son. In the typical Mien family, multiple generations of parents, children (both married and single), and grandchildren live together under one roof.
The Mien family has a strong bond within the family from young age to adulthood. The internal and external affairs are strongly linked to family. The family has certain expectations for their children and the children know what is expected of them. There is a deep sense of family and respect the many generations that very often live in the same area. Wherever there is a large Mien community, there is an organization or maybe a church that exists to encourage adults and children alike to live in a well balanced life and assist them with their social, cultural, and religious needs. Within the three major states reside by large side Mien communities, there exist one or more cultural associations to help preserve the culture and grow in the new environment.
Some of the associations can be church groups, community support groups, religious groups or just a group of peers for children and adults. These groups can help their family and community members to become an integral part of the community in which they live. They can provide ideas and resources for dealing with the different issues and challenges. They try to enhance the traditions of Mien family while helping to integrate them within the new culture.