Mai Chong Xiong

At times, Mai Chong Xiong feels like she is swimming against the current. At 26, and with a thriving career, she is trying to forge a life that sometimes pushes against the traditions of her elders.

While many Hmong women marry young, she dated her husband for six years and lived with him before they married in a traditional Hmong ceremony last year. "That's definitely something that doesn't happen often," she said.

But when it came time to buy a home, the couple knew that they had to find one big enough to accommodate her husband's parents. It was expected that her in-laws would live with them. According to the old conventions, she also would be their main caretaker.

"Growing up, my mom and dad were always telling me how to cook and clean because that's what I was going to do as a daughter-in-law," she said. "But they also said, 'You have to go to school to get educated to get a decent job.' "

Xiong, who graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a political science degree, works as a legislative aide for St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao. She is ambitious and passionate about her work, which often requires long days and weekends. She can't always have dinner waiting for her extended family.

"I'm fortunate to have supportive in-laws who aren't the most traditional, per se, but they still have a traditional mind-set," she said. "There's never anything explicit, but you feel this burden on you. And all those expectations are continuously reinforced."

Xiong is grateful that she can ask her husband to pitch in — and that he will.

"We were both born and raised in the United States," she said. "We have a mentality that we both contribute equally to the household. But it gets hard to live up to those expectations."

Jackie Crosby