Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and America

Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and America

Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and America

Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and America

Synopsis

This collection of evocative personal testimonies by three generations of Hmong refugees is the first to describe their lives in Laos as slash-and-burn farmers, as refugees after a Communist government came to power in 1975, and as immigrants in the United States. Reflecting on the homes left behind, their narratives chronicle the difficulties of forging a new identity. From Jou Yee Xiong's Life Story:"I stopped teaching my sons many of the Hmong ways because I felt my ancestors and I had suffered enough already. I thought that teaching my children the old ways would only place a burden on them."From Ka Pao Xiong's (Jou Yee Xiong's son) Life Story:"It has been very difficult for us to adapt because we had no professions or trades and we suffered from culture shock. Here in America, both the husband and wife must work simultaneously to earn enough money to live on. Many of our children are ignorant of the Hmong way of life.... Even the old people are forgetting about their life in Laos, as they enjoy the prosperity and good life in America."From Xang Mao Xiong's Life Story:"When the Communists took over Laos and General Vang Pao fled with his family, we, too, decided to leave. Not only my family, but thousands of Hmong tried to flee. I rented a car for thirty thousand Laotian dollars, and it took us to Nasu.... We felt compelled to leave because many of us had been connected to the CIA.... Thousands of Hmong were traveling on foot. Along the way, many of them were shot and killed by Communist soldiers. We witnessed a bloody massacre of civilians."From Vue Vang's Life Story:"Life was so hard in the [Thai refugee] camp that when we found out we could go to the United States, we did not hesitate to grasp the chance. We knew that were we to remain in the camp, there would be no hope for a better future. We would not be able to offer our children anything better than a life of perpetual poverty and anguish." Author note: Sucheng Chan, Professor and Chair of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is general editor of Temple's Asian American History and Culture Series.

Excerpt

The 1990 U. S. census of population counted some one hundred thousand Hmong in the United States, more than forty thousand of whom are in California. Minnesota and Wisconsin ranked next, with over sixteen thousand in each state. Many studies have been done of the Hmong since they entered the United States as refugees in the late 1970s, but few of these contain accounts of Hmong experiences told from their own perspectives. This book, the first collection devoted entirely to first-person Hmong narratives, was produced in collaboration with four of my Hmong students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Since Southeast Asian Studies was one of my areas of specialization in graduate school, I have been more interested than have most of my Asian American Studies colleagues in the refugees who have arrived from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia since Communist governments came to power in those countries in 1975. As their numbers increased, I realized it was important to document their traumatic experiences during the war, during their flight, and after their arrival in the United States. But since I do not know the Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, or Hmong languages, I had to find indirect ways to record their stories.

During the 1979-80 academic year, I offered a course called "The Vietnamese Experience in America" at the University of California, Berkeley. To my knowledge, that was the first time such a course (in contrast to courses on Vietnam per se) had ever been given in the United States. Since there was virtually nothing available to assign as readings, I told the students in that class that much of the course . . .

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