Jeff Lindsay lives in Shanghai, China, though it was during his many years in Appleton, Wisconsin where he came to know the Hmong people. He has worked with Hmong people since 1994 and speaks a little Hmong. In fact, his family was part of a Hmong-speaking congregation in Appleton for a couple of years. Jeff has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University (BYU), has been an Assistant and Associate Professor at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology on the Georgia Tech Campus, where he taught graduate-level science and engineering courses and advised many graduate students. Jeff is a registered U.S. patent agent, is the former Corporate Patent Strategist of Kimberly-Clark Corporation, and more recently was Director of Solution Development at Innovationedge before becoming Head of Intellectual Property for a major company in China, APP-China. Jeff loves inventing, photography, writing and learning.
"The Tragedy of the Hmong" is dedicated to understanding the Hmong people in the United States and the tragic events that brought them here. Few people know their history, their role in fighting for the US in the Vietnam War, and the challenges they face now. The Hmong people have a story of courage and suffering that the world needs to know. The tragedy of the Hmong did not end with the massive emigration to the United States in the 1990s. Many thousands are still in jeopardy in Laos and Thailand, and even those in the U.S. still need our understanding.
My involvement with the Hmong people began in 1994 when I moved to Appleton for my second time. I was sitting in a church service and heard some people behind me talking in what sounded like Chinese but wasn't. I learned that they were recent immigrants from Laos and were called "Hmong" (pronounced like "Mong" but there is a hint of an "h" sound before the "m"). I would soon get to know the Hmong people of both Christian and traditional Hmong belief systems. By about 2000, Appleton's Hmong population grew to about 4,000 in a small town of only 70,000.
Some of the most joyous and most traumatic experiences of my life would occur as I interacted with the Hmong people and their families over the next several years. Eventually my entire family would serve in a Hmong speaking congregation in Appleton, one of the best things that ever happened to us.
The Hmong people are in the U.S. as victims of US policies in the Vietnam War and then victims of persecution by Laos after the war. There are others who supported the U.S. but are still in Asia, facing persecution for their support of America. Many escaped to Thailand, but many of them have been forced back to Laos. For example, below is a video from Doctors Without Borders reminding us of the reality of forced repatriation:
I also recommend "The Leftover People" which received a Robert F. Kennedy Award for the Disadvantaged. Photographer Manny Crisostomo and reporter Stephen Magagnini introduced Sacramento to the Hmong people who would soon be joining them after their long ordeal in Thailand's refugee camps. There are 35 photos and can best be viewed in fullscreen mode. Nice work!
Many Americans mistake them for Chinese or Vietnamese, but the many Hmong immigrants in our nation are from a distinct culture. Most of the adults were born in Laos and grew up as mountain farmers from northern Laos, before they were recruited to fight a bloody secret war for the United States.
There are roughly 260,000 Hmong people in the U.S. according to the 2010 census, mostly in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Several million Hmong people remain in China, Thailand, and Laos, speaking a variety of Hmong dialects. The Hmong language group is a monosyllabic, tonal language (7-12 tones, depending on the dialect), with features that may make it an important bridge between Thai, Burmese, Chinese, and other Austro-Asian languages. An ancient written language is said by some to have been eradicated over centuries of persecution in China (though it is not certain that there ever was a unique written language for Hmong). According to some traditions, Hmong women once sought to preserve their banned Hmong writing by stitching stylized characters into their dresses. Some of the symbols may have been preserved, but their meaning was lost.
It was not until late in this century that a writing system for Hmong was introduced by Europeans. Several forms were attempted, but the dominant method is a romanization system in which pronunciation seems highly nonintuitive for English and Hmong speakers alike, though it may be based on sound linguistic principles.
Here are two comments from Hmong readers that I hope will help motivate young Hmong people in America to remember the sacrifices of their families and ancestors, and to push forward to find success in the new land of America:
"Hello Mr. Lindsay,
"I just want to thank you for the wonderful, unbiased work you have done on the Hmong for the community. Of all people, we know that it's not easy to adapt to changes, especially when you have a cultural shift. My family have been in the US for 12 years now. I've witnessed many challenges that my mother had faced through just to become more Americanized and learning the American way. For example, in 1999 my mother struggled breathlessly trying to learn English, work, and get her driver's license so she could take the kids to school. Through all these I've seen her made great progress in assimilating to the American culture, yet still keeping the good things in my Hmong culture.
"I want to thank America's patient for letting us learn and share the American culture. If my mom can make great changes in America, I'm sure that the new generation can and will too. I've seen progress in the Hmong community in adapting to the American culture and laws. And I just want to let you know that we, the younger generation whom have learn the American way and laws, are trying our best to keep the elders more noticeable of their actions as well as ours. It is through works like yours that have contributed to a greater America and keeps us all moving forward. Once again, Thank you!"
--T. Chang, Oct. 2010
"Mr. Lindsay, your fantastic homepage touched to the deep core of my Hmong heart, and it brought tears to my eyes. At one point of my reading, I couldn't go on anymore but forced myself to because I had to finish the reading. Thank you so much for the remarkable true information about Hmong history. I even learned something new about our role in the war. My father was a soldier in Laos at the time, and I was born on the way to Ban Vinai Refugees camp. It's quite amazing how I can tell an American these stories and he would know exactly what I'm saying. Thank you for giving us credit in the war when most Americans lack the knowledge of it. Thank you for being on our side, and creating the homepage. I will give out your homepage's URL so everyone will realize why we are here in America. Thank you again." --Tong Xiong, Jan. 25, 2001
The Asian Hmong culture is agrarian, like many cultures in Indochina, with religious beliefs based in animism, including the use of shamans for guidance, healing, and other ceremonies. Hmong culture emphasizes relationships between relatives and members of clans, with respect for elders and strong families. Remembering ancestors and traditional ways is important, and many efforts are made to preserve traditional ways and to keep the memory of the accomplishments and suffering of ancestors. Elaborate Hmong quilts or "flower cloths" (bandao or "paj ntaub" in Hmong) are one example of Hmong art that conveys stories from the past.
Hmong refugees in the U.S. struggle with our unusual ways, though the rising generation of youth have assimilated much of American culture, even at the risk of losing touch with their heritage. For the older generation, adopting the new ways has been painful. The language is a great barrier to the elderly, many of whom have had no schooling and had no reading skills prior to coming to the U.S. Simple things like going to a store or walking through town can be terrifying experiences for the elderly.
The Hmong in the U.S. came mainly from Laos as refugees after the Vietnam War. Their peaceful agrarian lives in the hills of northern Laos changed as roughly 40,000 of them were recruited by the CIA to fight in the secret wars in Laos during our Vietnam War. They fought bravely and suffered many causalities, but once we pulled out from Vietnam and abandoned them, contrary to our promise, the North Vietnamese and their puppet government in Laos sought to punish the Hmong. Some would call it genocide. Many of the Hmong fled from invaders, losing many lives as they traveled through the jungle and swam the Mekong river to Thailand.
The attacks on the Hmong are said to have included the use of chemical weapons including deadly "yellow rain" that killed hundreds. Some dispute the stories of and evidence for yellow rain. The book Tragic Mountains does a pretty good job of demolishing the allegation that yellow rain was just bee feces. I think the claims of chemical warfare against some villages need to be taken seriously.
Every Hmong family I have met here can tell of blood-chilling stories of escape or of the awful deaths of loved ones. It seems like everyone lost a mother, father, brother, sister, or spouse during the war and during the escape to Thailand and the U.S. The stories told by young people, describing what they experienced at age 4 or 5, are especially chilling.
The Hmong are different and highly misunderstood. Real bigotry exists in some quarters. of the problem is that many Americans do no realize how they Hmong got here. Many think they are just flooding our borders to get welfare benefits.
"Forgotten Soldiers" is a lengthy article by Susan M. Barbieri, staff writer, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, May 1, 1994, Page 1A:
My Article in FutureHmong Magazine
An excellent but now defunct magazine about the Hmong, FutureHmong, recently published an article of mine, "Why the Hmong Are in America," in their June 2002 edition, pages 14-15. It was their cover story. For your convenience, I've made my text available online at
Hmong veterans are aware that many Americans do not welcome refugees who do not speak English. They know that many are unaware of how the Hmong took orders from Americans, cooked food for them, guarded them, carried them when they were wounded, wrapped their bodies when they were killed.
When their American friends left in 1974, Hmong hopes for a free Laos were dashed. Tou Yang, 41, constantly relives the years after the American pullout, when he and the other Hmong resisters were trapped in the mountains, valleys, and jungles that teemed with hostile troops. Though his body is here in Minnesota, Tou Yang's spirit walks in post-1974 Laos. "The Americans left and we felt abandoned and there was no escape. We couldn't get to Thailand; we couldn't get to freedom; our leaders left us. Now that we are in America, we still feel like we've been abandoned," he said....
While serving in special guerrilla units during the Vietnam War, between 10,000 and 20,000 Hmong men, women and children were killed, and more than 100,000 fled to Thai refugee camps. There are 27,000 Hmong in Minnesota, and an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 of them fought in the CIA's special forces....
Vietnam veteran Bob Anderson is deeply involved with the local Hmong population and often travels to Laos.... "The Hmong who fought in (General) Vang Pao's army understood they were fighting for the Americans and that they were in some sense an American army. They often mention the promise that was made. It's not clear who made it and when, but some promise was made that if the war went badly, the Hmong would be taken care of," Anderson said. "The Hmong were used."
A Hmong couple at the Appleton Farmers' Market, Sept. 2004. Hmong families grow many flowers and vegetables for sale at my local farmers' market. I had just purchased these flowers from this couple and had their permission to take a photo. I see a lot of goodness in these faces. This photo is one of the photos in my Hmong photo album at Sanity Defense (archived). Also see my main Hmong photo collection.
I recently finished the most disturbing book I have ever read and have to speak out. The book is Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992, by Jane Hamilton-Merritt (Indiana University Press, 1993). This book documents the genocide that has been practiced against the Hmong people by the tyrannical governments of Laos and Vietnam. Many people think that the Hmong came here to enjoy U.S. economic benefits, but in fact, most are here to escape the death and horror of a genocidal war against them. The long campaign of the Laotian and Vietnamese governments to destroy the Hmong is vengeance for Hmong support of the United States in the Vietnam war.
For many years, the Hmong people fought at our request with incredible bravery and tenacity, greatly slowing the advance of the North Vietnamese into Laos and South Vietnam. Their fighter pilots, some of the most dazzling aces ever, fought until they died in a desperate war with inadequate support. They sacrificed thousands of their lives in deadly missions that ultimately saved thousands of American lives. The U.S. got them into war against our enemies, trained, them, urged them to fight, depended on their bravery, then broke our promises to them as we pulled out without doing anything to protect them against the terrible revenge that was promised and has been delivered.
As overwhelming evidence came in of the chemical and biological warfare that was used against the Hmong, our State Department ignored the situation and for years refused to even list Laos in reports monitoring human rights problems of other nations. The press and the State Department ignored the victims, their chemical wounds, their chemical samples and the chemical analyses of deadly man-made toxins and biological agents, pointing instead to ludicrous theories of bee pollen as explanations for the "yellow rain" that was killing thousands. (The red and blue toxins that killed just as effectively were rarely even mentioned.)
After all that the Hmong people went through fighting in Laos and risking their lives to escape, they ended up in abysmal conditions in the refugee camps of Thailand, void of all rights. As it became clear that the U.S. was unconcerned about the Hmong, camps became virtually closed to outsiders and the Hmong were subjected to gross forms of abuse by Thai guards. Some have managed to come to the United States, seeking not a free ride, but life.
After all the human rights abuses the Hmong have escaped in Laos, I am outraged to learn of FORCED REPATRIATION from the Thai refugee camps back to Laos - an atrocity that was funded by the United States beginning in 1991. Several million tax dollars are being used to finance the forced return of a people targeted for extermination as we try to build "friendship" with the tyrants of Laos and Vietnam.
When I read of this in Tragic Mountains, it was too much to believe until I spoke with Hmong families in Appleton, Wisconsin (and more recently in Green Bay) and learned that forced repatriation still continues, as is the campaign of torture and terror against the Hmong by the Laotian government. One man told of relatives who were forced back to Laos just a few months ago. The suffering of the Hmong continues, but no one listens to them. The tragic suffering of the Hmong is ultimately our responsibility, for we got them into war against our enemies, trained, them, urged them to fight, then broke our promises to them as we pulled out without doing anything to protect them against the terrible revenge that has been sought.
I urge readers of this paper to write or phone their representatives and insist that we stop providing aid to Laos and immediately reverse our support of forced repatriation of the Hmong people. I suggest that we cut off all aid and funding to the governments of Laos and Vietnam and work to restore the human rights of a people that has bled much for us.
Sadly, the human rights abuses of the Communist Laotian government continue in their persecution of the mountain tribe of Hmong people. "Children of Laos tribe 'butchered by soldiers'" is a disturbing story reported by Kim Sengupta in The Independent (United Kingdom) on Sept. 14, 2004. The torture and slaughter of Hmong children, for example, is one aspect of the state-sponsored terror from the brutal Laotian regime. I hope the United States will take action against Laos and not reward that terror regime. Unfortunately, the Senate passed a bill in 2004 that gave Laos full trade benefits (like the old "most favored nation" status).
In the United States, there is still significant prejudice against the Hmong people, though many people are reaching out to them. I feel that Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin has been helpful and concerned about the Hmong, and has publicly praised them for their heroic support of the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Sadly, many Vietnam vets have no idea that the Hmong were fighting for us. They saw no Hmong in Vietnam and heard no stories of Hmong assistance, for the Hmong were fighting a secret war in Laos that was not revealed until well after the war ended. It pains me to see a few (a minority, I believe) Vietnam vets angry at the Hmong now, suspicious of their reasons for being here. Hmong casualties in the war were even greater than U.S. casualties. They fought and died for us. Sure, they have many problems now, and some may just be here for economic reasons. But almost all would rather have stayed in Laos if only they could have been free from tyranny and even genocide. I hope we can remember why they are here.
The Hmong in Asia are scattered over several countries: Laos, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. Their heritage of independence make them a thorn in the side to dictators, especially to the Communist bosses of China and Laos. They remain a persecuted minority facing grave dangers. Hmong art and culture in Asia is threatened with the changes occurring there, including the effect of persecution. Awareness of Hmong art is rapidly fading among the Hmong in the United States, but some Hmong students, teachers, and artists are working to keep Hmong arts alive.
I am continually impressed with the goodness and excellence I find among many of the rising generation of Hmong. Rising is the word: they are rising from poverty, rising from the oppression of misunderstanding and even racism, rising from the stigma of welfare, rising from illiteracy, and becoming sources of hope for our future. Many are already contributing greatly to our society and communities.
Listen to the words of one of these impressive Hmong-Americans who sent me this e-mail in May of 2001:
My name is Schwa Yang. I'm a first Hmong generation to America. I came to Omaha, Nebraska in July 1979 at the age of 12. I am now living in Fresno, California, the second largest Hmong city in the United States....
I just want to let you know that I was very impressed by the reports you have compiled on your webpage about the Hmong people in the United States and else where. I was also very impressed by the American citizens who supported our roles in the Vietnam War and spoke highly about us. It made me feel good to know that there are still some good decent people out there who understand and appreciate the life of others. I'm grateful for your effort in trying to help clear the negative perceptions about the Hmong people through your website. I hope others will see us the same way you do.
It is unfortunate that many Americans still refuse to understand us, the Hmong, and the struggles we endured. They must realize that we didn't come to America for economic reasons. We came to America because we had only two choices -- go to a third-world country or go back to Laos and possibly face persecution. Which would you choose, especially when you had just fought with the Communists for the last ten years?
Many Americans thought we knew where we were heading for when we chose to come to America. In fact, we didn't know what America was. All we ever heard was America had giant hairy demons that ate people, which was the reason why many Hmong refused to leave their refugee camps in Thailand, so they wouldn't be fed to the hairy demons.
I don't want to go through explaining why the Hmong people relied on welfare as soon as we arrived in United States. I mean as soon as in "the very next day". Just imagine yourself in a country which you knew nothing about nor spoke its language, and you had just crossed the twilight zone into a 20th-century society from a 17th-century culture, and you had 9 children plus you and your spouse. What would you do?
Five Hmong girls at Appleton's Octoberfest, Sept. 25, 2004, working to raise funds for a community group that helps needy families. Fine examples from the rising generation of Hmong youths.
1975 marked the first time in American history any Hmong family was ever brought to America. We began life here with nothing but the clothes on our backs. We were fed through churches and other organizations that sponsored us when we arrived. The first dollar sign we ever saw was the welfare check and the food stamps we received from the welfare department "the very next day". We scrubbed floors, toilets and washed dishes to get additional money to pay for our rent and buy food for our families. We planted vegetable in our backyard to reduce the cost of buying food from the supermarket.
Today, we are not that same Hmong family anymore, and many of us don't rely on welfare for our prosperity. Within the last 20 years, the number of Hmong professionals has grown from zero to the hundreds. We now have more than 200 doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and other professionals. In addition, the number of successful business entrepreneurs is increasing. We now have hundreds enrolling in colleges and thousands more graduating from high schools. Every year, that number seems to multiply.
For those that have very little faith in the Hmong, and think that we are here to suck on their tax dollars, I want to promise you that someday soon, within the next 25 years, the Hmong people will rise to the top and will be able to contribute to the American society equally, leaving poverty and welfare behind. Remaining on welfare is not our intention. It is only our temporarily necessity. We will prosper like many immigrants that came to this country, no doubt!
Thank you, Schwa Yang, for that message!
In 2004, I received the following note from Kaohly Her, which I quote with her permission:
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your website. Being an Appleton girl myself (graduated from Appleton East in 1991), I grew up extremely ashamed of being Hmong. It has just been in the last decade that I've started to learn about Hmong people and their history. Reading through the articles, quotes and links to your site made me extremely proud to be Hmong and of the contributions we have made.
Growing up I didn't have any Hmong friends and my siblings and I were very sheltered. Now that I am a parent also, I understand that what my parents were trying to do. Their hope was to give us the best of both worlds - being good traditional Hmong girls but Hmong girls with an education. They were afraid that if we became too involved in either of the cultures that we would loose our way.
My family did not talk in great detail about the war. I'm not sure if it was because my parents were too busy working (usually 12 hour days and multiple jobs) or because the Hmong traditionally are not boastful people so they did not want to talk highly of their role in the war. Whatever the case, the only thing I knew about Hmong people was what the media fed me, that Hmong people are lazy, government assistant dependent and not willing to embrace the American way of life. I think at times I'm disillusioned with the notion that people no longer view Hmong people in that light but sadly enough, that's not the case. I hope that more people read your site so that they too can learn the truth.
I will be speaking about Hmong people at Howard Community College
(Columbia, MD), in August.
How sad that many Hmong youth do not fully appreciate their proud heritage. But how good it is to see bright young people like Kaohly better understand who they are and help others (including their own children) to proudly move forward with their lives. May the Hmong people truly be free.
Here is e-mail from Ntxawg Cha of Washington, received Nov. 9, 2004 and used with permission to show the challenge that many young Hmong people face in terms of understanding their identity and their roots:
I just recently read your article "The Hmong Tragedy".... I'm from Washington State where it's not very populated with Hmong. So I grew up with many different influences, and recently I've been pondering the questions, why am I here? and who am I really? your article helped me enormously.... because my dad always told me stories about how he used to hide out for several days before he decided to take his family into Laos. And how my grandfather was found dead at a river with several gunshot wounds and was drowned to death with a huge rock onto of his body to keep him from coming up for air... but I never saw any articles about the Hmong role in the Vietnam War over all...It's sad to see that with all the sacrifices to the Americans by the Hmong, your article is one of the most informative one that I've found about Hmong in U.S. History.... I've been searching for a while about my family's role in the war and it's so frustrating because there's no documentary about us at all.... So it's very warming to know that at least there are some True Americans in this country who will give my ancestors and my people the recognition they deserve. Thank you once again.
Finally, some insight into the experience of the rising generation is gained from the following e-mail I received in 2004 from a Hmong woman in Arkansas, quoted with permission:
I just recently stumbled upon your site.
It was very touching and explained quite a bit. It explained why my parents taught us to dislike the Laotians while growing up.
One day while relieving the receptionist at the company that I worked for, I was asked the usual questions like, "Where are you from? When did you come to the states? etc." Then I was asked what my parents did while they were in Laos. I haven't the slightest clue. That night I want home and asked my father. That is when he told me of the recruitment by the CIA, but that was as much as he'd tell me.
I had moved positions in the company that I worked for and was cleaning out their library one day when I came upon some old National Geographics depicting some Hmongs. There were some interesting articles in there, but none as what is described on your site. I brought the National Geographics home and asked my father about them. He told me that when he was a soldier in Laos, he was one of the people in charge of setting up the refugee camps. He didn't talk about it too much. I'm sure it was painful for him to recall the events.
When I got pregnant, I was worried about what the weight of my baby would be. The doctor explained to me that it depended upon the weight of the mother at birth. I didn't know the answer to that question either, so I asked my mom. She informed me that she didn't know because I wasn't born in a hospital, so it was never recorded. I knew that I was born in a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand, but I assumed there were medical people around. My father added that the only people present was my mother and him, and my father delivered me in the refugee camp bathroom.
My parents kept all this very private and all the children in the family knew nothing of my parents' past. We just knew bits and pieces. My mother still believes that her brother is alive and missing in action in Laos. I still have an aunt that lives in Laos and so far, is doing quite well.
I am an Americanized Hmong living in central Arkansas. The United States is all that I can remember. My parents didn't enforce the language and culture too much when we were all children. My father had wanted us to "be Americans". I speak English and know very little of my own language. There aren't many Hmongs living in Arkansas, so when we celebrate the Hmong New Year or the Rice Harvest, it's just a small gathering at one of the cousins' house. . . .
There is some prejudice amongst the Hmongs, too. My family faces it every time we go to Wisconsin, Minnesota, or California to visit other members of the family. Since my brother, my three sisters, and I don't speak the language, we are shunned. We can understand the language, so we can understand them when they talk about us in Hmong in front of our faces thinking that we don't understand them. Adding fuel to the fire, they also know and can see that my husband is Caucasian. My brother's and my older sister's spouses are also Caucasian.
Situations like this, I start to hate old customs, but I know that it's the elders that want to keep the culture alive.
I also want to thank you for all the information that you have provided on your site. It has filled in many gaps.
The following comments are taken from email from Lora Lee Fry, received April 21, 2003, and used with permission. I hope others will emulate her compassionate attitude.
In 1986, I was assigned as the first neighborhood police officer in the Bayview/Brittingham Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. I remember my first meeting with the local association of Hmong in the neighborhood. I don't know who was more curious: me, a blonde, blue-eyed, woman of German, Norwegian, Scot, and Cheyenne descent. Or the group of about fifty Asian men who had gathered there. I knew nothing about them and there was little in the way of reference material. So I resorted to what I would do in my Native American communities and asked if someone could direct me to some elders who would be willing to help me learn. I found several wonderful men to help as translators including Joua Kao Vang and others. I would spend an hour or two a day, off duty three of four days a week with various men and women and a translator while they told me of history, tradition and recounted harrowing stories of escapes and the secret war. I was invited to naming ceremonies, healing ceremonies, wedding, funeral, Hmong New Year, etc.
One of my favorite "adventures" was when I intervened when a family was cited for sacrificing a chicken and got the DA to withdraw the charge. I had to tell one family they couldn't raise chickens in the basement of their center city apartment. When they tried "freedom of religion" as an excuse, I explained sacrificing a chicken might be under freedom of religion and I would defend that vigorously. However trying to raise fifty chickens in their basement wasn't under freedom of religion especially as they were selling and eating those chickens. I went on to talk to them about how it was not sanitary and healthy to do so in crowded city situations. They understood and in a few days had disposed of the chickens. In the meantime, I located several farmers who were willing to provide chickens, pigs, and even cattle for religious ceremonies at practically their cost for raising them if the animals were for religious ceremonies. The farmers even provided a place to perform any rituals. I worked on getting some of the families community garden plots including my chicken family. They now own a small farm and are doing quite well and sell at the local farmers market.
I found most of the things they got in trouble legally for were out of ignorance and not malice. A local attorney (who worked pro bono) and I set up classes about American law and what to do if you got a ticket. The first two were sparsely attended, after that there was standing room only. I also gave inservice classes at the police department about the Hmong and brought in speakers from their community. One of the things officers would complain about was that they "conveniently forgot English". I could attest to how one forgot a second language under stress such as being confronted by a police officer. I had lived in Germany and did not speak a word of German the day I arrived. About two years later, I was in an accident. Although my German was quite fluent, I could not remember one word at the accident. It was anything but convenient.
I loved my time working with the Hmong. I found them remarkable. They were courageous, polite, friendly, eager to learn, and so lonely for home. The dreams of the older Hmong of returning home, like those of so many immigrants before, would never be for most of them. As their children became Americans who never saw or had a memory of Laos, you could see the pain in the parents faces knowing they would never return. They work to preserve language and culture and have added so much to the tapestry of life here in Wisconsin. I would have done anything for information that is available on the web and in libraries today back in 1986.
Lora Lee Fry asked that I mention name of an attorney who made many efforts to help with the Hmong people. The attorney was John Beaudin, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Anishinabe (Ojibwe or Chippewa) tribe in northern Wisconsin, who sadly passed away in 1993 from cancer (only 46 years old). Lora wrote:
[John] helped so much with his own time and efforts. I had never done any public speaking, worked with any groups problem solving, taught a class, etc. He reminded me of Native American traditions and learning from elders. Most of the ideas and approaches were from him. He and his wife became two of the best friends I have ever had. . . . Things would not have been possible without him.
Police officers, lawyers, ministers, neighbors, whoever you are, I salute those who treat newcomers like the Hmong with kindness and respect. Thanks, Lora, for letting me share your memories of working with the Hmong.
Advice from a Hmong College Student: Get All the Education You Can!
The following message from Aug. 2004 is used with permission from Kou Yang:
I am a senior at one of the local colleges from where I live. One of my biggest concerns is for my younger brothers; their only intentions are to go to a two-year college. I don't despise a two-year college education. Most of the young Hmong students that I have spoken to also mentioned the same intentions, to finish a two-year college and get a job. My feeling on this is that Hmong students or any other students should finish at least a four-year or higher learning. I was seven when we arrived in the United States and had to learn the ABC and 1,2,3; however, I endure and now I'm almost done with college. Most of the younger Hmong don't understand what their parents have gone through to get here. Living through the whole ordeal of running through the jungles or Laos and Thailand to get to safety in Ban Vinai has taught me a lesson. My father almost died because he would not eat the ball of rice (fist size) that was distributed to the five of us during the running. These are the things that are personal to me, that keep me going. I guess once my younger Hmong brothers and sisters realize what their parents have gone through, they too will think twice about finishing school just to get out of the way.
My Hmong brothers and sisters I don't have money either; however, there are loans and government grants available to assist you. Don't think about how much you are going to pay back in loans, just think about your continued schooling. Just don't think about getting a job that pays okay, but think about what jobs you could get with a four-year degree. There are a myriad of jobs available to four-year or higher college educated.
One last thing to ponder about is that you don't have to be smart to go to a university and graduate. My English teacher once said, "You don't have to be a genius to get a PhD." Finishing school is not about being a genius; it's about doing homework and going to class.
Many Americans with Hmong neighbors seem to have the stereotype that Hmong kids aren't able to compete with their Anglo counterparts in school. While I personally know quite a few Hmong youth who are excellent students, even I had assumed that they must be the exceptions and supposed that most Hmong children probably did poorly in school. It's a natural assumption to make, for Hmong children seem to face some serious disadvantages: English may be a second language to them and it may not be spoken at home; many Hmong parents do not read and may not be able to help with homework; in many homes there are risk factors and stress due to poverty; and academic pursuits are not a traditional part of the originally agrarian Hmong lifestyle.
Interestingly, my previous assumptions do not stand up in light of actual data, based on a recent study of Hmong children in Wisconsin. Here is a portion of a front page article in the Post-Crescent on Dec. 30, 1997:
Hmong Excel in Classroom
Hmong students in six Wisconsin public school districts, including Appleton, performed above the national norms on standardized tests and have a graduation rate surpassing that for white and other non-Asian students, a new study released today shows.
The positive trends come despite a prevalence of risk factors and a lingering, erroneous stereotype of Hmong students as educational underachievers, said researcher Ray Hutchison of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
"It is likely that Hmong youth will be more successful in their education careers than any other immigrant or refugee group ever to come to the United States," he said.
Fox valley educators say the study confirmed what they are seeing in the classroom....
Hutchison's study, done for Wisconsin's Policy Research Institute, analyzed the educational performance of Asian students in grades three, four, eight and ten in public schools in Appleton, Eau Claire, Green Bay, La Crosse, Sheboygan, and Wausau....
The study found that 68% of the Asian students in the 10th grade in the six schools scored above the national average in math.
In four of the six schools, third graders performed at reading levels comparable to or above those of other students, said Hutchison.
Asian students have a statewide graduation rate of 95%, and those who continue on to post-secondary education in the University of Wisconsin system have a higher retention rate than other groups.
In the Hmong community, "everybody realizes the possible economic gains from education," said Appleton Alderman Bon Xiong, a graduate of Brandeis University and the first Hmong to hold public office in the Fox Valley.
Six of his seven adult siblings are either in college or already have earned advanced degrees....
Hutchison noted that Hmong parents, in spite of limited education, strongly support the education of their children.
I'm thrilled to see these results - and am glad to realize that all the bright Hmong youth I know are not just rare exceptions. Another stereotype bites the dust!
Update from 2002: Wisconsin's First Hmong Principal
Kaying Xiong-Vue, a 28-year-old female, has become the first Hmong principal in Wisconsin. A graduate of UW-Eau Claire, Kaying is the new principal for Locust Lane Elementary School in Eau Claire. Congratulations!
Dark Sky, Dark Land: Stories of the Hmong Boy Scouts of Troop 100, by David L. Moore, Tessera Publishing, Inc., Eden Prairie, Minnesota, 1989; 191 pages.
This book contains the stories of Hmong young men who were recruited into a Scout troop by the author, David L. Moore. As their Scoutmaster, Mr. Moore came to know these boys well and has collected the stories of their lives and the lives of their families. What these young men experienced as children in Laos and Thailand, fleeing for their lives under the most desperate and terrible conditions, needs to be understood by anyone who seeks to understand the Hmong people and their reasons for being in the United States. Their stories also give valuable insights into Hmong culture - and the painful compromises that war forced. In spite of the horror that these Hmong young men experienced, the book offers great hope for the future - and shows the powerful good that can be accomplished by those who sacrifice to help others. So odd that a book can be inspiring and gut-wrenching at the same time.
Grandmother's Path, Grandfather's Way by Lue Vang and Judy Lewis, Zellerbach Family Fund, San Francisco, California, 1984 (developed in the Folsom-Cordova Unified School District, 1091 Coloma Street, Folsom, CA 95630); 197 pages.
A fruit of the Hmong Preservation Project, this book offers oral lore from the Hmong people. There are many legends, myths, and stories given in both English and Hmong. Sayings, songs, and brief biographies are also presented, along with extensive information on Hmong culture. Detailed information on Hmong needlework, clothing, daily life, and seasonal activities is presented. This book may be hard to get, but it's precious. I borrowed a copy from the Appleton Public Library in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Myths, Legends and Folk Tales from the Hmong of Laos, 2nd edition, edited by Charles Johnson and Se Yang, Linguistics Department, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105, 1992; 519 pages.
A monumental collection of Hmong stories in English and Hmong, with abundant notes explaining details from Hmong culture and language that are needed to better understand the stories. Extremely valuable for understanding Hmong culture - plus these stories are often great fun.
English-White Hmong Dictionary by Brad McKibben (Route 11 Box 349, Parkersburg, West Virginia 26101), printed in Provo, Utah, 1993.
The best Hmong dictionary, in my opinion. (Ernest Heimbach's is bigger, but since it's organized by the Hmong words, it's very hard for English speakers to learn how to say anything.) English words are not only translated to Hmong, but examples of usage (full sentences) are given for every entry. I bought my copy from Hmong Handiwork in St. Paul, Minnesota for $19. Brad is said to be one of the foremost experts on the Hmong language among non-Hmong Americans. He may offer a second edition of this valuable book in the next few years.
Codename Mule: Fighting the Secret War in Laos for the CIA (Naval Institute Special Warfare Series); James E., Jr. Parker, William M. Leary. Recommended to me as a moving story about the tragic plight of the Hmong, and the Americans that sacrificed so much to support the effort in Laos.
Others to consider:
Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos; Roger Warner.
Hmong: History of a People; Keith Quincy.
Covert Ops: The Cia's Secret War in Laos; James E., Jr. Parker.
Changing Lives of Refugee Hmong Women; Nancy D. Donelly.
The Hmong (Celebrating the Peoples and Civilizations of Southeast Asia); Dolly Brittan
I Begin My Life All over: The Hmong and the American Immigrant Experience; Ghia Xiong (Contributor), Lillian Faderman.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures; Anne Fadiman.
Sky Is Falling: An Oral History of the CIA's Evacuation of the Hmong from Laos; Gayle L. Morrison.
A Changed Perspective: Email from Aug. 2004
"I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your article on the Hmong population in the United States. It was extraordinarily informative and like all of your articles, well written.
"I am embarrassed to say I may have been considered a racist before reading the Post Crescent article and then yours. I believe most of us are unaware of the real contribution the Hmong made to our country. I certainly had no idea they had given up their entire country to fight for the U.S. and then were completely deserted by our government.
"Thank you for enlightening me and for causing me to go to work and let everyone know what I had learned. I think many were amazed at my passion for changing our attitudes toward people we really don't know at all. I was deeply saddened that an educated, gainfully employed person like me could be so ignorant.
"I don't always agree with your opinions, but your article on the Hmong was so moving that I just had to say thank you for writing it. I wanted you to know that you reached at least one person with your words." (Message used with permission.)
An Internet friend of mine, Jack Austin Smith, wrote an insightful letter to the editor in response to a negative letter about the Hmong people by a Ms. R. (full name withheld) printed in the Appeal Democrat of Yuba/Marysville California on Tues. July 2, 1996. The negative letter below by Ms. R. expresses a common misunderstanding:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
[W]e don't need any more Hmongs here. Have you noticed the new cars and vans they drive? It is our tax dollars buying them. How many of the widows of the Americans killed in action get their medical bills paid and are they driving new cars? Do they get their medical bills paid or do they have to work to pay them?
My son-in-law and a nephew went to Vietnam and fought for our country. They saw their buddies killed in action and others crippled in World War II. He doesn't get a big check or food stamps. We don't owe a dime to any of these people that our boys fought and died to save. Enough is enough... think of our people first.
- Ms. R.
ENOUGH of WHAT?
Jack Austin Smith's response is quoted below with permission:
You're are right, Ms. R., enough is enough. I am a retired Chief Master Sergeant with 27 years of faithful duty to my country. I was a professional. I entered the service on my 17th birthday and have fought in every American war or police action that we were involved in since. I have been decorated and wounded while defending your rights to complain. I have never felt it wasn't worthwhile, until this narrow-minded racial hate was started locally....
The war in Vietnam was fought on several fronts and I served in two them. The main American battle ground was in the Southern end of South Vietnam. In order for the North Vietnamese forces to fight us there, it was necessary for their supplies and troops to go through Laos and Cambodia on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Laos was controlled by a Pro-Communist Government at that time. Therefore America was not allowed to have any forces on the ground, although we were allowed to bomb and attack North Vietnamese troops with our aerial forces. About 99% of the combat forces on the ground were Hmong irregulars who were persuaded by Americans to forget about being neutral, and to fight the N. Vietnamese regulars (not relatively poorly trained Viet Cong guerrilla forces). We supplied air cover, but every combat trooper knows aircraft can't take and hold ground. We depended on the Hmongs to do this. Without modern arms, without medical help.
After the fall of Saigon we pulled out of Southeast Asia and left the Hmongs to continue the fight without air support. When we left, the Hmong had to fight both the Laotians and the N. Vietnamese. They could not fight tanks, heavy artillery and aircraft with rifles. A great many Hmongs were slaughtered in their villages. Many were slaughtered at airfields where they waited for evacuation planes that never came. A few were able to fight every foot of the way across Laos and cross the Mekong River into refugee camps in Thailand where they were further mistreated by rather corrupt UN and Thai officials. Out of a estimated 3,000,000 prewar Hmong population less than 200,000 made it to safety. One other ill informed or stupid writer said "they were all gone" meaning, I guess, that the combat Hmongs were all dead, they are wrong. Most of the survivors are in Australia, France and here among us.
Now I don't know about those heroes who have never heard a shot fired in anger, but I am embarrassed that my country so mislead these people. The Hmongs gave up literally everything for us: their country, their homes, their peaceful way of life, most of their families, everything that we would cherish. We promised them our continued support and then we bugged out.
Ms. R., you mentioned having relatives who fought in Vietnam and I hope they all survived. However their chances would have been much less if the Hmongs hadn't intercepted over 50% of the N. Vietnamese troops and supplies. If you truly loved your relatives, you should be grateful for the Hmongs' sacrifices.
Another point you complain about: new cars etc. Look again. Most of the cars are older models, but they do keep them up so well that they do look like new. I believe that is called pride. The Hmong boys in auto mechanics are teaching the others as fast as they can: fathers, uncles, cousins, to know about cars, too.
Now about rights of citizens, the Hmongs are legal immigrants and they have the same rights as any one else here, whether Canadian, Mexican, German or... Sure there may be a few that abuse the system, but don't judge them all by the few.
Germany has been our mortal enemy in two wars and their treatment of the Jews was so totally depraved that history will never, and should never, forgive them. Let's not be guilty of a similar mistake against any one minority group.
We are all immigrants to this land and I, for one, have greater faith in Americans than you do. But I'm deeply disappointed that more Americans haven't spoken out against this racial injustice. We should never forget that Hitler got his start by encouraging the Germans to hate the Jews. Look at the hate mongers around us, the white supremacists, the church burnings, the bombings. This is the road that racial intolerance will lead us. Please, Americans, speak out against bigotry. Or by your apathy do you want to show the politicians that is the direction we want to go?
Jack Austin Smith, July 1996
Thanks, Jack! It's great to hear our veterans speak out in defense of the Hmong. Our fellow Americans need to be informed about who the Hmong people are and why they are here.
In November of 2004, a Hmong man, Chai Vang from St. Paul, Minnesota, was hunting in Wisconsin, sitting in a tree stand that other hunters had made. When the hunters that had made the stand showed up, an argument ensued. The details are unclear, but Chai Vang appears to have snapped and opened fire on the group, killing some right away. One man radioed to their base group for help, and three other hunters ran onto the scene, two of which were also shot and killed. In the end, Chai Vang killed six Anglos and left a couple others injured. He was apprehended later and is now being questioned. We do not know the full story yet, and we must avoid thinking like a lynch mob. However, his story actually agrees with the story of the survivors except for a couple of points: who fired the first shot, and whether the Anglo hunters made racist comments before the violence began. Chai Vang says the group made racial slurs against him and threatened him, and that one of the other hunters shot at him, striking the ground about 30 feet away. The survivors deny this and say that he fired first. Even if Chai's story is correct, shooting into the ground 30 feet away hardly justifies shooting directly at people and killing six mostly unarmed men, in my opinion (I understand there was only one gun among them). It seems like a clear case of murder - but we must wait for a jury verdict. But I think we all agree that even if there was racism and bad behavior on the part of other people, this would never justify violence. We must wait for the details to unfold through fair legal processes - I've had several people (non-Hmongs) tell me that there may be more than meets the eye to this story.
Importantly, the Hmong community is not making excuses for his action, and strongly condemns the killings. Both Anglos and Hmong grieve over what happened. This incident is a bizarre exception that is in no way characteristic of Hmong people and culture. Hmong hunters and Hmong people in general do not have a track record of striking out in violence against whites. They are not crazies who can be easily provoked into murder.
However, based on the mail I have received from whites on this topic, it is clear that racial tensions have been greatly strained, and that racism is alive and well among us. I have been contacted by a number of people who use Chai Vang's crime as an excuse to vilify the entire Hmong people or Asians in general. Here are some actual e-mails I have received in the latter half of November 2004. For each of these, please recognize that there are many people in the US with the same names, so don't assume that someone you know of the same name is the one who sent the email. Also, the names given may not be their real names.
The first one comes from a person who identifies himself as Mark Lawrence; his note was received on Nov. 22:
After reading the news articles about the Hmong mass murderer in Wisconsin that killed 5 unarmed, defenseless, innocent victims, I take great joy in reading of the suffering of this wayward, degenerate group as described in your bleeding heart, wimpy, crybaby website. The silent majority in America would prefer that all these worthless leeches go back to Laos. If they can't understand the concept of private property and respect landowner rights then they are in the wrong country. It's quite obvious to me why the Laotian got wants to exterminate this vermin.
Too bad this whole mess didn't perish in the Vietnam War.
What a pathetic collection of human garbage this group is, particularly their poster boy that's gonna fry in the chair when the authorities get done with him. When they execute this psycho, you will hear the celebrations from all over the United States.
Other emails I've received make the common mistake of confusing the Hmong for the enemies Americans fought in the Vietnam War. And even then, the war is over, Americans! Germans, Vietnamese, North Koreans, and even the English have all been our enemies at one time or the other (remember British aggression in the War of Independence and the War of 1812? I sure do!) , but that doesn't make those people killers in general, and does not justify ongoing hate.
On the other hand, I received a thoughtful message from Vince Manning (name used with permission) who points to some issues that some Hmong people may need to resolve. Here is his thoughtful message from Nov. 23, 2004:
I am an avid user of California's Ventana
Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. I'm emailing you with the hope that you can somehow influence the Hmong hunters in California where resentment is growing.
The Hmong have a poor reputation among campers, backpackers and hunters in the Ventana Wilderness as well as the neighboring forest areas. Many people who love the area are angry and resentful of Hmong hunters who leave ALL their trash and show very little regard for our hunting laws. It is frustrating to arrive at a usually pristine site and find an ugly mess. It is frustrating for a hunter who follows regulations to see a Hmong hunter blatantly disregard them.
I witnessed a friendly attempt to educate three Hmong we came across about the ethic of not littering. They didn't seem interested and all of a sudden pretended not to understand English. Similar stories abound. I myself do not hunt, but know the Hmong out here have a reputation for shooting any animal that moves regardless of season or location. A friend witnessed two Hmong shooting just a few feet from a road. When he confronted them in a respectful manner, they acted confused (perhaps they didn't speak English) and then ignored him. It is easy to get away with these transgressions out here because the Forest Service is severely under funded as well as the Department of Fish and Game so there is no emphasis on enforcement.
I have not heard of trespassing problems though.
Your website instilled sympathy in me for the plight of Hmong folk. Their plight will not improve though if they refuse to abide by the same laws and ethics that the rest of us must. Not understanding our ways is one thing but this excuse can only be valid for so long before it wears thin. It appears to many users of the Los Padres National Forest that Hmong hunters are not trying to understand or just don't want to. Hopefully the younger generation will be more adaptable.
Thanks in advance for any effort you make to convey this to Hmong folk in California. I will try to educate friends and members of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance in the sad struggle of Hmongs due to America's betrayal and ill-conceived war.
I hope all of you Hmong campers and hunters will pay attention to the concerns raised in the message above. Please go the extra mile to earn the respect of others. While I have gone camping several with Hmong people and saw no obvious problems in behavior, in cleanliness, or in respect for the environment and the camp site, the Hmong people I was with probably had been trained in camping etiquette by other experienced campers, and some of them had kids who had been exposed to Boy Scout camping. If you aren't aware of the basic rules of camping and so forth that are followed by the Scouts and other experienced outdoorsmen, please ask and learn!
A voice of reason hailing from New England sent me this response on Nov. 27:
I believe that I speak for the good people of this country when I say the racist e-mails you received, while they think they are the silent majority, are really the loud mouthed, ignorant minority. I wonder what they would have to say if the next time someone in their family committed a crime, they were all treated as human garbage or perhaps all prosecuted/persecuted and "fried" together!
As an example of the response in the Hmong community, here is a note received Nov. 2004 from a Hmong man, Xeng Ly:
I am still in pain about the terrible loss of lives. No matter what happened, six people should not have lost their lives.
My heart goes out to the victims, their families and friends.
I am with you.
As for the effect that the hunter murders have on the Hmong people, consider this message from Dec. 2004:
Thank you so much Mr Lindsay for your help and your support for the Hmong. I have sent the link to your site to many of my friends, families, and co-workers. Your voice shines a light in the darkness for our people. We cannot fully express our gratitude to you. I live in California, and in light of all the events that has happened within the last month with the tragedy in Wisconsin, things have not been so positive for the Hmong. My husband listens to AM radio in the mornings and evenings on his commute to and from work and he has told me of the many negative reactions that people have expressed towards the Hmong because of this tragedy. We have people of other races and ethnic backgrounds (mainly white) who came on the radio and publicly say that the Hmong are savages who would hunt, kill, and eat anything that moves - even dogs and cats. Conservative talk show hosts, such as Michael Savage, repeatedly bash the Hmong for this incident. It is a depressing and hopeless time to be a Hmong. However, with voices like yours, I am sure that we can get through these difficulties. I am proud to be Hmong... however .... I am moreso proud to be an American.
Other crimes involving Hmong people tend to get additional publicity in some areas. Yes, there are some social problems among the Hmong people, as with all parts of society, and these must be put in the proper perspective. The Hmong community is seeking to overcome some of the problems they face. But there have been some sad setbacks.
This is a good put together photos and writing about the Hmong New Year. A Hmong man like me cannot even do a good job like this. I am sure all Hmong readers love to read this site. You did an excellent job, my dearest American friend.
I want to share this personal story to this American friend. I am 42 years old now. When I was about 9-10 years old, I remembered an American helicopter pilot came to our village in Samnuen, Laos. My dad and the rest of the men in the village got together and talked about how to take care of this American man. They agreed that each family had to donate a chicken to make food for the American friend because he was from a country like heaven. We (kids) followed him every where he went. He looked so strange but nice at the same time. The village treated him and respected him like a king. I have not seen any Hmong person who would not like this man. You know, I was never imagined that I would have a chance to see a heavenly country like this America. Thanks god that we poor Hmong people got to know American service men during the war and had always kept the strong relationship with the Americans until these days. I know that our people did a good job for American men during the war, but in return, America has provided freedom, opportunity, other legal, social and political assistance to the Hmong world wide. There isn't any country in the whole world that will listen to and help the Hmong like the U.S. Thanks, again.
The Secret War in Laos: A Tribute to the Hmong by retired Sergeant Ervin "Dave" Davis. his site provides a lot of information about the war in Laos and the contributions of the Hmong from someone who knows what he's talking about.
The first chapter (introduction) of a book by Dr. Sucheng Chan, reproduced with permission from her and her publisher, Temple University Press. It provides a helpful and detailed historical background of the Hmong.
An excellent, multi-paged Web site about the Hmong people in Australia and about Hmong people and culture in general, including some pages written in the Hmong language. This site is maintained by Dr. Pao Saykao. He's sharp!
This page is in Hmong. If you're just curious to see what Hmong looks like, here's a useful phrase: "Nyob zoo," which means "hello" (literally: "living good"). Pronounce it as "Nioh zhung" where "zh" is a French "j" sound. A less common phrase is "Koj tus ntxhw xavtau noj dabtsi?" which means "What does your elephant want to eat?" (Literally, "Your [classifier] elephant wants eat what?") I pronounce it like "Goh doontsu sahdau noh dahchee." Hmong uses monosyllabic words, which often begin with a tough consonant sound like "ntxh" (pronounced like "nts" in "students"), followed by a vowel pronounced with one of at least seven tones. In writing, tones are indicated by the final letter in the word (b,g,m,s,v,d, or nothing). It's a fun language.
Cathy Bao Bean, born in China, provides help for people dealing with cultural diversity in the United States. She is the author of The Chopsticks-Fork Principle, A Memoir and Manual, which is about how she and her husband raised their Asian-Caucasian son to be at least bi-cultural.