Members of the Hmong community in Minnesota, United States recount their history and ordeal to escape persecution and state violence in Vietnam and Laos. Through cultural activities such as those happening in the St. Paul Hmong Cultural Center, the Hmong people’s story and struggle is presented and shared. The Hmong still currently face persecution and live in fear of abusive and discriminatory security forces in Laos, whilst also often experiencing abject poverty.
The following article was published by Hutchinson Leader
With immigration an ever-present item in the news, it’s not surprising there was a high turnout Saturday for the One Book, One Community program, “Hmong 101.”
Txongpao Lee, executive director of the Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul, and Dr. Mark Pfeifer, director of programs, development and librarian at the center, presented the story of the Hmong people.
Ron Johnson described Saturday’s program at the McLeod County Historical Museum as “very informative, very interesting.”
“To hear the perspective of someone who had been through it and the other speaker who had studied it, having both angles was tremendous,” he said.
Jeanne Langan, a member of the One Book, One Community committee, agreed with Johnson.
“It was informative and well done,” she said. “The two speakers did a good job relaying their information along with a PowerPoint presentation.”
Among the things Langan said she learned — the Hmong originally came from China. They worship in homes and don’t have a temple, and how Minnesota came to have the second largest Hmong population in the U.S.
Saturday’s event was the first of three events providing background and context for this year’s community read, “The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father” by Kao Kalia Yang.
Lee and Pfeifer told the story of the Hmong immigration to Minnesota. It started during the Vietnam War when the Hmong backed U.S. forces. North Vietnam transported supplies through the jungles of Laos. To disrupt it, the CIA enlisted the help of Van Pao, the highest ranking Hmong leader. He recruited as many as 39,000 troops to fight in what was known as the Secret War.
After the fall of Saigon and the North Vietnamese invasion of Laos, an estimated 10,000 or more Hmong were killed. The Hmong people immigrated to the United States as well as other countries to escape persecution, human rights violations, military attacks and ethnic cleansing.
Today, California has the largest Hmong population of about 100,000, followed by Minnesota with 80,000 and Wisconsin with 55,000.
Many Hmong came to Minnesota because of the availability of manufacturing jobs. They also work in retail, educational services and health care. Some farm, selling their wares at the Minneapolis and St. Paul farmers markets.
In 1990, 13 percent of the Hmong were homeowners. By 2004, this number had jumped to 42.4 percent.
Success in their new country was not easy for the refugees. They had to overcome cultural differences and language barriers. As a result, many suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Read more at the Unrepresented Nations and People Organization