Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Becoming American: The Hmong American Experience

Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Becoming American: The Hmong American Experience

Article excerpt

Hmong Americans, who came from a pre-literate society and rural background, went through many acculturation barriers and have had many successes between the time they first arrived in 1975 and the year 2000. Their first decade was preoccupied with their struggle to overcome cultural shock and acculturation difficulties. The second decade is their turning point to be new Americans, beginning to run for political office, establish business enterprises, achieve in education, and reduce their high rate of unemployment and welfare participation. Hmong Americans in 2000 appeared to have achieved much, yet have some serious challenges still ahead.

This paper details Hmong experience in America. It discusses their twenty-five challenging years of becoming Americans, and emphasizes Hmong Americans perspectives of their own American experience, including issues related to social, cultural, educational, economic, and political development.


The year 2000 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hmong history in America, and it is also twenty-five years after the end of the U.S. Secret War in Laos, which resulted in many Hmong of Laos coming to America. The year 2000 is also the end of the 20th century--an unprecedented century of changes and development for the Hmong. It probably brought more changes to the Hmong than any other century in their long history. The year 2000 is an opportune moment to take a look at the experience of the Hmong in America. Unlike European immigrants, post 1965 Asian immigrants, and other refugee groups from Indochina, the Hmong were culturally, educationally, and technologically unprepared to acculturate with America, the most developed country in the world. This conjuncture of the Hmong and American cultures has produced some significant strains in Hmong traditions. Nonetheless, Hmong have also produced some unusual success stories.^1. This paper is an attempt to explore the current experience of Hmong Americans, identify some of their successes as well as their current difficulties, and place the status of Hmong Americans into proper perspective. It emphasizes Hmong Americans' perspective of their history and other experience in America, including discrimination and issues related to social, cultural, and economic development.^2

The term Hmong Americans in this paper refers to all descendants of Hmong ancestrywho are now residents or citizens of the United States. The term Hmong^3 refers to an ancient Asian ethnic group who call themselves "Hmong" but who are labeled by outsiders as "Miao" in China, and "Meo" in Thailand.

Background of the Hmong Americans

The Hmong are an ancient Asian ethnic group found in China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and after 1975, in America, Australia, and Europe.^4 They call themselves "Hmong" not Miao or Meo, the name given to them by non-Hmong, and they prefer to be called by the name "Hmong".^5. They are believed to have lived along the Yellow River area of China around 3000 B.C.^6 If this account is accurate, then the Hmong have a known history of at least 5000 years in China. Many scholars have gone further by suggesting that the Hmong were the aborigines of central China,^7 and that the Hmong were the first settlers of the basin of the Yellow River.^8 Another school of thought suggests that "of their pre-history only one thing is certain, that is the Miao [Hmong] were in China, before the [Han] Chinese, for it is the latter who indicate the presence of the Miao in the land".^9

During their long history, the Hmong went through many developments and struggles and through many periods of war and peace.^10 They have been pushed and pulled from north to south, from east to west, and from the fertile lowlands of China to the desolate mountainous highlands.^11 The inhospitable eco-geographical mountain environment might be one of the many main factors that trapped the Hmong into poverty and their many distinctive technological and socio-political conditions. …

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