Constant State of Learning

by Christine Nguyen, My Sister’s House

June 8, 2016


When Xai and her husband left Laos after the Vietnam War, Xai had only the support of her husband’s family in the United States. In the Hmong culture, when a woman marries, she leaves her side of the family and becomes a part of her husband’s family. Decisions are primarily made by the husband, the eldest males in the house or the clan leader. When Xai turned to her elders for guidance on the problems that were occurring in here marriage, she was told to keep it in the family. Xai suffered emotional and spiritual abuse by her husband, as he constantly threatened her by casting spells and calling evil spirits to curse her. Xai was also physically abused, as her husband would beat and demean her if he interpreted her comments or actions as disobedience.


Language barriers, pressure to not tarnish the family’s reputation, and having a minimal understanding of the U.S legal system are some of the obstacles that discourage Asian Pacific Islander women from reaching out for help. Xai was connected with My Sister’s House after finding enough courage to share her experiences with a Hmong staff member at her children’s school. Through My Sister’s House, Xai and her children were provided emergency shelter and legal advocacy, among other supportive services. Xai was also able to work with a Hmong advocate at My Sister’s House to follow her case, provide language translation and provide moral support.


Staff members at My Sister’s House continue to learn more about the unique facets that make up the different cultures in the API population. In April 2015, My Sister’s House invited a few Korean community leaders to have dinner and discuss how My Sister’s House can better serve Korean women who may be victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Over the sizzling bulgogi platter, the aromatic bowl of bibimbap and the colorful assortment of small appetizers (banchan),
we discussed some of the reasons women are hesitant to reach out for help. We heard different case narratives, such as a woman who stayed with her physically abusive husband because she believed it was better for her children to have both parents in their lives than to have a broken home. We also brainstormed ways how My Sister’s House can improve outreach and education to the Korean community to bring awareness to this issue.


My Sister’s House is spearheading this collaboration with other domestic violence agencies to encourage cultural competency and promote respectful engagement in an effort to provide culturally-responsive services for API survivors of domestic violence.

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