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"We lose people, we lose everything, we lose the country by the war.” — Neng Vang Lor, 2009

Who are the Hmong?  |  Hmoob Yog Leej Twg?

The Hmong do not have their own nation state, and trace their ancestry back to China’s southern provinces. Hmong people began migrating south in the early 1800s, fleeing conflict with the Chinese dynasty. Most Hmong settled in the highlands of northern Laos, establishing small villages and practicing slash-and-burn agriculture.

Raw li keeb kwm qhia tseg mas Hmoob yog los Suav teb los.  Txij li thaum 1800 ces Hmoob pib khiav tawm hauv Suav teb vim yog kev ua tsov rog nrog neeg Suav.  Thaum 1800 yuav tas Hmoob feem coob tau los nyob rau sab qaum teb hauv teb chaws Nplog. Lawv los sib sau ua vaj ua tsev nyob rau tej toj roob hauv pes, luaj teb ntov ntoo ua noj ua haus nyob rau hauv Nplog teb.

The Secret War  |  Tsov Rog Nyob Nplog Teb

Laos gained its independence from France in 1954 and the Geneva Accords established it as a neutral nation. From 1961 to 1975, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency actively recruited Hmong men and boys to fight a secret war in Laos in direct violation of the Geneva Accords. Hmong soldiers under General Vang Pao blocked supplies headed for South Vietnam and served as the primary anti-communist force in Laos during the Vietnam War. When American forces withdrew from Southeast Asia in 1975, thousands fled to Thailand as refugees.

Lub teb chaws Nplog tau txais kev muaj vaj huam sib luag/kev ywj pheej los ua ib lub teb chaws los ntawm Fab Kis xyoo 1954 uas yog ib lub teb chaws lawv txwv tsis pub ua tsov rog nrog lwm lub teb chaws—nov yog txoj cai tsim los hauv Geneva Accords.  Txij li xyoo 1961 mus txog xyoo 1975, Asmeskas (CIA) tau tuaj ntxias Hmoob kom cov txiv neej thiab me nyuam tub mus ua rog pab Asmekas tua nyaj laj qaum teb yam tsis pub ntiaj teb paub ces qho nov yog ib qho yuam cai hauv Geneva Accords. Hmoob tej tub rog nrog rau Nais Phoo Vaj Pov tau tiv thaiv nyab laj qaum teb kom lawv txhob xa tau tej cuab yeej khoom siv ua tsov rog tuaj mus rau nyab laj qab teb lub sij hawm nyab laj qaum teb thiab nyaj laj qab teb ua tsov ua rog.

“So, when the war was over and the American CIA was withdrawn from Laos, the communists took over and they said we, the Hmong people, were the hands, eyes, and ears of the American CIA. And they killed mostly men … and young boys…. It was very difficult for us to live in there. After 1975, we moved to the jungle to hide.… We had fought until 1978 without anyone’s support.… We fought communists.… We lost our village, and my family with other families, about 3,000 people, walked and fought our way to Thailand. It took us about two and a half months to get to the Mekong River.… When we crossed the Mekong River, we used bamboo for floating.” — Joe Bee Xiong, 1992

  • Exodus to Thailand
    Mekong River The Mekong River represented a formidable barrier to many refugees who paddled across on inner tubes and makeshift bamboo rafts. View from Pak Chom area, Loei Province, Thailand, 1981. Photographer:  Wayne Persons

    From 1975 through 1992, more than 100,000 Hmong crossed into Thailand, along with nearly 250,000 ethnic Lao and other Laotian highlanders. Approximately 200,000 Hmong remained in Laos. While General Vang Pao and many of his supporters were airlifted to Thailand, most Hmong made the dangerous journey through the jungles and across the Mekong River to Thailand on foot.

    Thaum Asmeskas tshem tawm lawv tej tub rog hauv teb chaws Es Xias (Asia) xyoo 1975, muaj li 100,000 tawm tus neeg Hmoob thiab muaj li 250,000 tus neeg uas yog lwm haiv neeg nyob hauv Nplog teb tau tawm khiav ua neeg thoj nam tuaj mus rau sab Thaib teb.  Asmeskas muab nyob hoom thauj Nais Phoo Vaj Pov thiab nws cov tub teg tub taws coob tus tuaj mus rau sab Thaib teb lawm hos Hmoob feem coob ces khiav hav zoov hav tsuag tuaj ko taw tuaj mus hla dej Nab Khoom yam txom nyem thiab txaus ntshai kawg nkaus lawv thiaj li mam mus txog rau Thaib teb.  Lub sij hawm ntawv tshuav khwv yees li ntawm 200,000 tus Hmoob tseem nyob rau hauv Nplog teb.

    “I feel so sad because a lot of people died.… My husband was talking about when they escaped from Laos to Thailand and they came at a time that it was really a struggle. They walked at night only, and they crossed the Mekong River. They had to use the plastic bags, like garbage bags, to swim and cross the Mekong River. Or they could use the bamboo to tie together and then swim across the Mekong River.... It was a tragedy for everybody.”Jennifer Vue, 2018

    “And so it took a lot of Hmong families.  I don’t think there is ever any one family that didn’t have a tragedy in their family.”Blia Vang Schwahn, 2008

  • Refugee Camps | Yeej Thoj Nam
    literacy class at the Phanat Nikhom Refugee Camp A woman taking a literacy class at the Phanat Nikhom Refugee Camp in Thailand, 1980s.
    Photographer: Don Ranard
    Sia Yang, age 6, at Phanat Nikom Refugee Camp Sia Yang, age 6, at Phanat Nikom Refugee Camp, 1993. Courtesy Sia Yang.

    South of the Mekong River in Thailand, refugees poured into crude, overcrowded camps with food and water in short supply. Malnutrition and disease in the confined spaces resulted in many deaths. The camps developed a culture of their own with schools, markets, and recognized leaders. Bleak reports from Laos dampened any hopes of returning and refugees began looking for a home in a third country.

    Nyob rau yav qab teb hauv Thaib teb raws tus ntug dej Nab Khoom lawv tsim muaj cov Yeej Thoj Nam tawg rog uas Hmoob los nyob coob.  Hauv cov Yeej Thoj Nam tawg rog no mas zaub mov thiab dej haus los muaj tsis txaus.  Tej zaub mov thiab dej haus los yeej tsis huv thiaj ua rau Hmoob muaj mob muaj nkeeg thiab ua rau Hmoob tuag coob heev.  Cov neeg tawg rog los nyob rau hauv cov Yeej Thoj Nam no mam los tsim muaj tsev kawm ntawv, tsim muaj kiab muaj khw thiab tsa muaj cov coj noj coj ua.  Thaum lawv hnov hais tias yuav tsis muaj txoj hau kev rau lawv rov qab mus nyob rau lub teb chaws Nplog lawm ces lawv thiaj tau txiav txim thiab nrhiav kev tawm tuaj mus rau lwm lub teb chaws.

    Nam Yao Refugee Camp Refugees from Laos wait behind barbed wire at Nam Yao Refugee Camp in Northern Thailand, 1978.
    Ban Vinai Refugee Camp Hot boxes under a tropical sun, tin-roofed row houses built by United Nations stand alongside bamboo thatched houses at crowded Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, about 1984.
    Photographer: Jan Folsom

    “And so we lived in Ban Vinai refugee camp for five years. I think that was probably the longest five years because every day was the same. There was nothing new. We couldn’t go outside of the camp. Many Hmong people who tried to go outside usually got robbed or killed or put in prison.” —  Blia Vang Schwahn, 2008

    “I grew up during the war, so basically living from village to village or in the jungles throughout my life, so no chance to go to school there... When I came to Thailand, I didn’t know anything about reading and writing. So I learned English, and then two different types of Hmong writing, then Thai and Lao. You had those four or five languages to learn at the same time. It was pretty hard.”Chao Xiong, 2018

  • References

    Hmong Cultural Center, Hmong Archives. St. Paul, 2012.

    Hmong in Wisconsin:  A Statistical Profile. Madison, WI:  UW Applied Population Laboratory & University of Wisconsin Extension, 2015.

    Koltyk, Jo Ann.
    New Pioneers in the Heartland:  Hmong Life in Wisconsin. Boston:  Allyn & Bacon, 1998. 

    Pfaff, Timothy. Hmong in America:  Journey from a Secret War. Eau Claire, WI:  Chippewa Valley Museum Press, 1995.

    Vang, Chia Youyee. Hmong in Minnesota. St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008.