Recently, one of my readers mentioned that she was called a mae jaeng by her parents and it was over things she did that really did not warrant it. Noi stated, “They think I’m imperfect, a smart aleck, they called me a “slut” or “mae jang” even though I haven’t done anything”. When I read this, it had me thinking about how some Laotians often use these words, “mae jaeng” or “heekill” in their dialogue without thinking or caring how it effects the other people. These words can be considered very deragatory by American standards as well as Laotians. For example, the word “mae jaeng” refers to a hooker, a prostitute. When you call someone a “mae jaeng” you are in a sense trying to imply that they have the manners or behavior of a prostitute. I have heard many people use that term in an insulting as well as a joking manner. This can be said the same thing for the word “heekill”. Both terms are usually understood to mean slutty. By American standards, a parent does not usually think it is slutty if their kids are a smart aleck, imperfect, or talking to boys. However, in some Laotian community, you are considered slutty if you talk to boys, hold hands, kiss, or hang out with “bad” people (people who smoke, drink, have sex etc). Even the way you dress, even if it is not revealing,can result in you being called a “heekill” by some Lao people if it is something THEY think is not acceptable. For example, when I was in my early teens, one of the fashion rage was stone wash jeans with holes in it. We would keep washing the jeans until it was soft and worn out and then we would purposely scratch on the little tears until it got bigger and longer to make a hole above the knee. Nowadays, you can actually buy pants with that worn out look and it’s considered fashion, but back in my Laotian community, in the eighties it was considered bad because we were ” defying” authority for dressing the way we want and not how they wanted. I remember my dad commenting, “kau been heekill that” (why are you being slutty). Even though I wasn’t showing anything, he would say that to show his displeasure of me doing what I want and not what he wanted which was to dress a certain way.
I think when it comes to the words, “mae jaeng” and “heekill” some Laotian parents thoughtlessly use it to refer to their own kids without any consideration of how that will affect their kids. They usually say these words to show their displeasure over what THEY percieve as an unacceptable behavior or to put or remind their children of their place in society. Of course, not all Laotian parents used these terms to express their discontent about their children’s behavior. I think sometimes Laotian parents use this terms to “shock” their kids in compliance, or to remind them what is expected of them. For example, when I was a teen I wanted to go to the boon (Lao party) but when I would ask for my mom to take me she would answer, “kau heekill that” meaning only “bad” girls want to party. It didn’t matter that she would be there and other adults. Most American teens would be horrified at the thought of going to a party with their parents.
What constitutes being called a “mae jaeng” or a “heekill”? In some Laotian community, you don’t even have to sleep around to be called a slut, just hanging out with boys can get you labeled. Are Laotian parents less sensitive to their kid’s feelings?