This thesis is based on information gathered throughout a six months long fieldwork within the Hmong community in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA, in 2002-2003. The Hmong are a clan based and pastoral refugee population from Laos and Thailand who started arriving in the U.S. in the mid 1970s after the communists consolidated power in Laos and made life there unbearable for the Hmong who had been fighting with the U.S. against the communist Pathet Lao. My aim has been to combine a processual approach to the field, which means seeing and describing the social scene as both being and becoming (Moore 1994), with a theoretical perspective describing a dialectical movement between structure and agency (Williams 1977; Ortner 1984; Giddens 1986; Barth 1993). I have also portrayed how the Hmong organize, produce and reproduce sexuality and gender views through systems of kinship and marriage and how this is tied to a male prestige structure (Rubin 1975; Ortner and Whitehead 1981).
The first generation Hmong, and the men in particular, are eager to continue the Hmong kinship, marriage and prestige system brought from Laos and Thailand and the age and gender hierarchy that this system conveys. The second generation Hmong, and women in particular, who in a greater extent are influenced by the American society and its values, feel constrained within this system. The generational and gender conflict that occurs has been analyzed by looking at the different perceptions and use of elements within the kinship, marriage and prestige system. Since the majority of young Hmong girls in the Twin Cities get married and have children at a very early age, it might seem they are reproducing the cultural patterns they are exposed to through the pressures from their parents and the Hmong community. My analysis shows that this is not the case. Instead, cultural patterns and social structures are being used and changed at the same time by the young girls who infuse new meanings and intentions into old categories and place them in new contexts, giving them new actionable references (Sahlins 1981; Moore 1994). These transformational moves are sometimes successful and sometimes misunderstood, they might empower the woman who made the move or they might retain her within the structure she was trying to escape. In any event, these moves illustrate the link between gender views and social organization. They illustrate the dialectical relationship between structure and agency and show how cultural patterns are given shifting nuances of meaning (Moore 1994) in relation to a changed context and how it influences the people who live by them.