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Hmong Americans By Sarah Pica Hmong people are originally from Southeast Asia. They lived in the highlands of Laos. Copyright: Norodom Chanransey Heritage Foundation For more information and to view larger image click the following link:

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hmong americans

Hmong Americans

By Sarah Pica


Hmong people are originally from Southeast Asia.

They lived in the highlands of Laos.

Copyright: Norodom Chanransey Heritage Foundation

For more information and to view larger image click the following link:


The Hmong people who live in the U.S. have come to the country as political refugees since the Communist takeover of Laos in 1975.

Originally at


The Hmong people were recruited by the CIA during the Vietnam War to rescue American fighter pilots who had been shot down.


In 1961, President Kennedy sent the CIA into Laos to build a secret army of Hmong highlanders to fight communist forces in Laos and Vietnam.


For larger image and more information click on the following link:


Painting by Cy Thao

Copyright: University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

For larger image and more information on the artist and his work click on the following link:


Hmong attacked the Ho Chi Minh Trail,

guarded U.S. radar facilities, and

acted as the frontline defense of Laos.

30,000 Hmong served with the U.S. in the 15 year “secret war”.


As the Hmong worked with the U.S., they were systematically hunted down by the communists in Laos.

When U.S. forces left Southeast Asia, they left the Hmong to fend for themselves. Many were slaughtered by communist forces.

Communist soldiers burned Hmong villages, raped the women, and murdered men and children. They would dismember the corpses.

Painting by Cy Thao

Copyright: University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

For larger image and more information on the artist and his work click on the following link:


After the U.S. pulled its forces out of Vietnam, thousands of Hmong fled to Thailand for safety, where they lived in U.N. sponsored refugee camps.

Copyright:, 2009

For larger image or more information about the map click on the following link:



Hmong children in refugee camps

Originally at Copyright unknown.


Hmong people began to immigrate to the U.S. in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War.

The fall of Saigon


The Hmong population forms one of the fastest growing Asian-origin groups in the U.S., increasing by 88% over the past decade to an estimated 300,000 (U.S. Census, 2000).


The largest concentrations of Hmong immigrants in the U.S. are in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.


In the 2000 census, 170,049 people in the U.S. claimed Hmong ancestry.


Hmong in Wisconsin

neng xiong s story
Neng Xiong’s story

Neng Xiong was part of an early wave of Hmong tribespeople who fled the communists in Laos after U.S. forces pulled out of the country at the end of the Vietnam War.

  • Courtesy of the Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

Xiong’s story used courtesy of:

Survivor recalls flight from Laos

Alicia School’s Hmong interpreter uses experiences to help newcomers

June 09, 2008 12:07:00 AM

By Nancy Pasternack/Appeal-Democrat


Xiong left his village at about age 7 with his parents, 3 brothers, 3 sisters and various extended family members. They left with little except clothes, blankets, and 50 pounds of rice.

"We struggled all the way," he said of the scary two-month journey.


In May 1975, communist insurgents began attacking Hmong villages. His parents sold their animals and prepared to flee.

"My parents didn't feel safe," he said.


Mekong River

They began the long journey south toward the Mekong River and safety in Thailand.

Xiong's grandfather was unwilling to leave his home and his village and the life that was familiar to him. The old man stayed behind and was killed.


Death became an everyday occurrence for the family.

A few days out, they saw flares and heard arms fire. A group of Hmong ahead of them on the trail had been ambushed. Seeing their bodies, Xiong's group back-tracked and hid.


They waited several days, and next time out, they split up into smaller groups and only traveled under cover of darkness.

"We had kids and old people and we knew the communists were behind us and everywhere," Xiong said.

Many elderly travelers gave up, sat down and allowed themselves to be left behind.

For larger image and more information click the following link:


Xiong's group ate bamboo shoots, snails, dried meats and rice, when they could prepare it.

"There wasn't much," he said. "We would drink any water — sometimes mud puddle water."

For more information and larger image click on the following link:


After finally reaching the Mekong and paying for transport across to Thailand, pirates took the rest of what Xiong's group had.

An uncle's friend from a town nearby helped get them on a fishing boat, and the family went on a scary two-hour ride.


Most parties attempted to cross in makeshift boats and rafts made of inner tubes.

"Lots and lots of people died in that river," Xiong said. "Hmong people are from the mountains and can't swim."

Bands of communist troops were known to attack at the river.

Xiong says parents gave some of the smallest children opium, "so they would make no noise during crossing."


When the family finally arrived on the other side, he said, "We felt a lot safer and happier."

They were taken to Nong Kai, a tiny, crowded, unsanitary refugee camp.


United Nations supply rations came, but were scarce, Xiong said.

The sole water source was a well that had been dug near sewage trenches.

Xiong's little sister, already weakened from the family's long and stressful journey, fell ill.


"They would play the drums when someone there would die," Xiong said of the camp. "We would hear the drums constantly — every day."

His sister died because of lack of nourishment, Xiong said, and was buried in a blanket beside a garbage dump, the only ground available. He later saw the same terrain excavated. He caught glimpses of dozens of blankets, like his sister's, being pulled up from below.


When the brand new 400-acre Ban Vinai refugee camp opened up nearby, Xiong's family had been in their miserable quarters for about two years.

Conditions were better in the new camp.

  • Nkaj Zeb Vaj (Hmong), Historical Migration of the Hmong, story telling cloth (pha pra vet), embroidery and appliqué, Thailand, Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, 1988, 5'3" x 7'11," From the Permanent Collection of Montana Museum of Art & Culture, Donated by Ms. Helen Cappadocia

In 1980, after more than three years at Ban Vinai, they were taken to Bangkok by bus and given two weeks of physical examinations and cultural indoctrination to prepare them for life in the United States. A Mormon church had sponsored them.


"Just being on that bus was so cool," said Xiong. He was about 11 or 12 years old at that time, and had never ridden in a vehicle.

At the airport, he saw an escalator for the first time, and accidentally ran into a glass window trying to catch up to his parents who had gone in search of a bathroom.

"I hadn't seen too many clean glass windows before," Xiong said.


The idea of traveling to America was frightening, because there were many myths about Americans told at Ban Vinai.

"We thought they were giants who would eat us," Xiong said.


It was December when they arrived in San Francisco.

After a brief stay in refugee housing, they were sent to Spokane, Washington— their first American hometown.


Xiong remembers being scared to death of starting school. His classmates were all white, his teacher was African-American, and he couldn’t speak English.

His new life was drastically different from his former life.


Xiong would struggle to learn English, but would eventually catch up to his classmates.

He now is an interpreter for Hmong students at a school in California and is attending college part time to become a probations officer.


Neng Xiong’s story is just one example of the struggles of the Hmong in their search for a better life.

We often take our American freedoms and lifestyle for granted.


With education and understanding, we can appreciate their contribution to American society.

works cited
Works cited

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