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Constructing a Social Problem: Suicide, Acculturation and the Hmong

Author(s): Machiline Xiong | Paul Jesilow

Journal: Hmong Studies Journal
ISSN 1091-1774

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2008;
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Keywords: Hmong American Studies | Asian American Studies

Between September 1998 and May 2001, eight Hmong teenagers took their own lives in one urban community. Newspaper accounts attempted to establish the suicides as an outgrowth of problems brought about by the Hmong immigration to the United States. In particular, the clash between the Hmong and American cultures was fingered as the cause of the suicides. Other explanations were ignored. The teenage Hmong suicides were depicted as a problem that needed addressing and identified the school district and mental health facilities as the appropriate institutions to deal with the problem. In-depth interviews were conducted with individuals either directly familiar with the events or positioned to provide the best information and overview on the issue. We conclude that the emphasis for the suicides was strongly associated with the Hmong’s status as immigrants in order to convince the Hmong that they needed to acculturate, in particular to accept and utilize mental health facilities. We illustrate that suicide can be a point of opportunity for those seeking to increase a group’s level of attachment to society.

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