Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans

By Huping Ling | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
From Laos to America
THE HMONG COMMUNITY IN THE UNITED STATES

FRANKLIN NG

Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the Hmong from Laos have become an increasingly visible part of the American population. Part of a “secret war” in Laos conducted by the U.S. government and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Hmong cooperated with the Royal Lao army to fight the Communist Pathet Lao. They also fought against the Communist North Vietnamese, who had entered Laos through the Ho Chi Minh Trail to provide supplies for the Vietcong in South Vietnam. When the U.S. government decided that the overall situation in Laos was no longer tenable, it asked the Hmong to halt the North Vietnamese military operations. After the Communists marched into the capital of Vientiane and took over Laos, many Hmong fled the country by crossing the Mekong River into Thailand. From Thai camps, they eventually made their way to the United States. Others were accepted into destinations such as France, Australia, Canada, and French Guiana.1

Upon their initial entry into the United States, the Hmong found that they were not well understood by most people. The American public had scant acquaintance with Southeast Asia, and many assumed that arrivals from that corner of the globe were likely to be Vietnamese who came after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Nonetheless, there was little understanding about the peoples and cultures of South Vietnam, let alone those of Cambodia and Laos. The ethnic diversity of the refugees from Laos, which included the Lao, Mien, Khmu, Lahu, and others, also contributed to the confusion about the Hmong. Oftentimes, the term “Laotian” was applied to all these groups. However, the U.S. Census Bureau applied the label “Laotian” to the Lowland Lao and designated the Hmong as a separate group.

Adhering to the lessons learned from the flight of Cuban refugees who severely taxed the financial and social resources of Florida, the U.S. government dispersed the Hmong into different states and localities. Some even went to Hawaii in 1975, although most eventually migrated to the continental United States because of Hawaii’s high living costs and the desire to join with other relatives. For several reasons, such as weather, agricultural opportunities, and a desire

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