The Hmong are an indigenous group originally from the mountainous regions of southern China, Viet Nam, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. They distinguish themselves from the Laotian population because of their ethnicity, written and spoken language, culture and religion. According to government sources, the Hmong constitute the third largest ethnic group in the Lao’s People Democratic Republic (LPDR).

According to the 2009 national census, the majority of the Hmong population in Laos is situated in the mountainous northern area of Laos. 

As for the Hmong ChaoFa – namely those who are not Buddhist nor Christian but who believe in the Mother of Writing, Shonglue, who revealed the written scripts and Shonglueism to the Hmong in 1959 –, the provinces they inhabit include: Houaphanh, Xieng Khouang, Sayaboury and the city of Luang Prebang along the Mekong River. 

Some mountain peaks such as Phou Bia reach above 2,800 meters in the region. Dense forests also cover the Northern and Eastern areas. This Hmong territory borders Viet Nam in the East, China in the North, Myanmar in the Northwest and Thailand in the West.

Under the 1991 Constitution, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party was designated as the one and only legal political party in the country. Accordingly, the rule of law is undermined by political interference and endemic corruption. Moreover, widespread restrictions exist with the freedoms of expression and association, causing the imprisonment of political opponents, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, abject poverty, inequalities and a lack of access to health and education for part of the population. 

These restrictions are further accompanied by severe limits on cultural and religious freedoms, especially for ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples such as the Hmong. 

For the Hmong still living in Laos, and more specifically for those who have fled to the Laotian jungle, the consequences of backing the losing side in the Viet Nam War are still apparent, as persecution is a daily reality and many Hmong live in fear of arbitrary arrest and torture while experiencing abject poverty.  

In addition, areas of the Hmong territory and villages are facing environmental problems related to gold mining, illegal wood logging and dam building. These activities have reached record numbers, based on a rhetoric of economic independence and rural development to sustain the country’s poverty reduction propaganda. 

These developments continue to cause environmental hazards and erosion, the reduction of wildlife and fisheries, the disappearance of the historical wilderness and above all, the destruction of nature. Ironically, the Hmong are often accused of causing the country’s deforestation problem and thus forced to relocate.

Seeking refuge in other countries has become dangerous for the Hmong. Viet Nam and Thailand have standing collaboration efforts with the Laotian government to detain and cooperate in the forceful repatriation of Hmong refugees to LPDR. Such collaborations have also extended to military campaigns within Laos’ borders, violently targeting the Hmong communities hiding in the jungle. 

Because the government of Laos does not recognize the Hmong as an indigenous people and has no specific legislation in this regard, they are not eligible to a series of benefits they would otherwise attain. Explicit indigenous recognition would provide additional mechanisms to address uncompensated land confiscation, natural resource exploitation and abuses of their cultural and religious rights.  Report filed by the UNPO.

My goal was to bring even more of the LAO story to the present, unfortunately there is a problem.  They believe, that is the fighters against the NVA and Cong were hung out to dry at the end of the war by the CIA.  Partially true, Cambodia, Lao and Viet Nam were all falling apart.  Southeast Asia was totally engulfed, we observed borders, the enemy had none.

This is true and a proper exit plan was not in place.  The Viet Cong, the PRG, the North Vietnamese regulars, the Pathet Lao the Kampuchea supported by arms from Russia, Communist Bloc nations,  and China, The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia,  North Korea and others, even Cuba vastly overpowered the freedom fighters.  It was inevitable.

The refugees escaping with virtually nothing took refuge in internment camps in Thailand till the United States granted “ Refuge Status”.  Many in Cambodia, for which escape was difficult, almost 3,000,000 were simply slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge and little is ever said about the Vietnamese-Cambodian War.

To explain the “ Secret War”, we must deeply explore the ethnic group which carried the brunt of the war literally on their backs.             

The area of mountains from 1200 feet and above belonged to the Hmong and related tribes. These were tough mountain people, fighters and knew every square inch of their land and how to fight on it.  It was closer to the Ho Che Minh trail and that meant the Hmong tribes had the advantage and training began, then the Secret War.

As the war developed there was a definite separation between the Low-Landers and the Hmong.  Really two different personalities, exacerbated, by the terrain and the empirical dynastic governments, which effected the relationship. The Hmong were immigrants to the country and came from China, believed by some as far as India by some historians and archaeologists  in their migrations.

I best explain it, or try to is that they were on the same side, sometimes, not on the same page, almost fighting two wars side by side.  Dis-in-franchised, individualistic, stubborn at times, but with many differences in culture, depending on where, when, who,  and why. In a nutshell...

With some old experiences, some bad never seem’s to go away...  In some places today this attitude extends to different tribes as some tribal conflicts never either go away or die off.   It is not spoken of as courtesy, prevails in public, but I have heard it expressed by some old timers, still fighting wars in their minds after a few beers and usually some unwilling listeners.  And they can be stubborn.

There are different emotions running around in the room even between those who all came from Lao.  Surprisingly, even partially based on age and where you lived in the old country.  

•  The Elders who managed to survive the death camps and relocation granted American citizenship and privilege.  The elders want the old customs and food, clothing, and in some cases religion and try to press it on the children. 

This is called heritage and these people have centuries of it.    Some almost 50 plus years later are still fighting the war in their minds.  There are enough atrocities from that era which stretched from the late fifties to the mid seventies to keep it alive.

•  Those who immigrated and managed to get under the immigration umbrella and really prefer the lifestyle here, and do not really want to associate with the old country. They are Americans now.

•  The children of the newest 2nd and third generations who feel they are by birthright in the US Americans and adapted well to this style.

•  The Hmong who follow their traditions closely (they are a smaller but very unified group).  And those cultural differences reflect in their beliefs and a strong community.  There are still enough differences in attitude, beliefs,  and old memories that create small tensions.   For this reason the  “SECRET” part of the war effort was concentrated with the mountain-trained Hmong as it provided the better fighters in that particular environment, better suited to altitude, strength and resiliency.  But almost 30,000 of them were killed with the Chinese supplying the North Vietnamese Regulars and Viet Cong simply were too much as the LAO country collapsed even with the US and allies supplying the southern command. 



The Hmong people are a proud ethnic group currently native to several countries, believed to have come from the Yangtze River basin area in southern China.   The Hmong are known in China as the Miao, a designation that embraces several different ethnic groups. There is debate about usage of this term, especially amongst Hmong living in the West, as it is believed by some to be derogatory, although Hmong living in China still call themselves by this name. 

The Hmong people relocated throughout their history, maintaining a strong sense of cultural identity and independence. Evidence suggests the Hmong lived in Siberia as similarities are seen between the Hmong and Siberian shaman practices. Chinese text suggests the Hmong originated in 2300 B.C. E. in northern central Asia, the area of present day Mongolia. 

Over centuries, people migrated south into Tibet and China, in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Hunan. For several thousand years, the Hmong lived relatively independently while paying tribute to the Chinese government. However, under the oppression of the armies of the last dynasty in China, the Hmong rose in rebellion. In the 1800s, faced with political persecution, depleted soil fertility and increasing population pressure, some Hmong migrated into Southeast Asia. They settled in the mountains of northern Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. 

•  They strongly retain their individualism since they do not have a country of origin specifically, they are native to many countries in the Southeast Asia region.   

•  Many of their traits are conducive and similar to those peoples of China, Lao, Cambodia and Thailand but they maintain their separation in dress and some customs.

•  Chinese scholars have recorded contact with the Miao as early as the 3rd century BCE, and wrote of them that they were a proud and independent people. 

•  However, after the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty attempted to impose several new taxation systems and continued expansion of their empire, the Hmong are reported to have rebelled. 

•  Many wars were randomly fought, and eventually many Hmong were pushed from China into Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. 

NOTE: The history of the Hmong people is difficult to trace; they have an oral tradition, but there are no written records except where other people have encountered them.  

Hmong history has been passed down through legends and ritual ceremonies from one generation to another as well as through Hmong textile art or story cloths sewn by the women.  The population of Laos was 6, 987,260 (Jan, 2015 est.). Around 85% of the population are farmers and live in rural areas. There are 3 main ethnic categories: Lao Loum (low Landers), Lao Thueng (Lower Mountain dwellers), and Lao Soong (High Landers). 

About 60% of the population are Buddhist, and the remaining animist, or spirit believers.  This coincides with the population who are about 60% Lao Loum (Buddhist), and  40% Lao Thueng and Lao Soung, who are made up of over 49 ethnic groups with distinct languages and traditions.  It is a lop-sided melting pot challenged and attacked for centuries by it’s neighbors.

Population:  Estimated 4-15 million in the world 
595,028 in Laos (2015) and 2-4,000 in the Laotian jungle
Language: Hmong   
Religion: Shonglueism, Shamanism, Buddhism, Christianity

The Hmong clan remains a dominant organizing force in Hmong society. There are about eighteen Hmong clans that are known in Laos and Thailand.  Clan membership is inherited upon birth or occasionally through adoption. All children are members of the father’s clan, through which they will trace their ancestors. 

Women become members of their husband's family upon marriage but will retain their clan name of their father. Members of the same clan consider each other to be “ rothers", or "siblings," and they are expected to offer one another mutual support. The term kwv tij is regarded as one's father's family or in the case of women who are married it refers to her in laws. A related term neej tsa is the wife's family after marriage. However she regards her birth family to be her kwv tij until she is married. 

Respected clan leaders are expected to take responsibility for conflict negotiation and occasionally the maintenance of religious rituals. Members of a clan who share the same ritual practices may identify as a group on the sub-clan level.

Clan groups are exogamous: that is, Hmong may not marry within their own clan group; a marriage partner must be found from another clan.  For example, a Xiong may not marry another Xiong. However, they are allowed to marry blood relatives from their mother side.

For example the children of a brother and sister can marry because they would be from different clans. Traditionally, when a boy wants to marry a girl, he will make his intentions clear, and will "zij" ("snatch") her during day light or night at any opportunity that is appropriate. This is traditionally only a symbolic kidnapping. ( Doing that in the US might not be a smart move)

The bride price is compensation for the new family taking the other family's daughter, as the girl's parents are now short one person to help with chores (the price of the girl can vary based on her value or on the parents). The elders of both families negotiate the amount prior to the engagement and is usually paid in bars of silver or livestock. Today, it is also often settled in monetary terms. The usual price of a Hmong bride today in America would just depends on the parents or the value of the bride up to $10,000 USD but the maximum set by leading clan leaders is $5,000 USD.

In the 21st century, Hmong people who practice Christianity may follow traditional Hmong weddings; however, some rituals  are no longer practiced. Some of them follow both traditional Hmong weddings and westernized weddings.  When a husband dies, it is his clan’s responsibility to look after the widow and children. 

The widow is permitted to remarry, in which case she would have two choices: she may marry one of her husband’s younger brothers / younger cousins (never to the older brothers) or she can marry anyone from an outside clan (besides her own). If she chooses to marry an extended member from her deceased, husband's clan, her children will continue to be a part of that clan.

There are traditional gender roles in Hmong society. A man's duty involves family responsibility and the provision for the physical and spiritual welfare of his family. Hmong men have a system for making decisions that involves clan leaders. Husbands may consult their wives if they wish before making major decisions regarding family affairs, but the husband is seen as the head of the household who announces the decision.

Hmong women are responsible for nurturing the children, preparing meals, feeding animals, and sharing in agricultural labor. Traditionally, Hmong women eat meals only after the Hmong men have eaten first, especially if there are guests present in the house.

For followers of traditional Hmong spirituality, the shaman, a healing practitioner who acts as an intermediary between the spirit and material world, is the main communicator with the otherworld, able to see why and how someone got sick. 

In ancient times, it is said that humans and the spirits used to live with each other. However, due to conflict between the two very different beings, the deity Saub had blinded the two from being able to see each other. However, there is this good and evil in both worlds and thus whenever humans come into contact with the evilness of the otherworld, a Shaman is needed to perform rituals to go rescue or call back the sick person’s spirit and/or look at the reason for why the person is so sick. 

Extended family and friends are invited to partake in the ceremony and tie a white string around the wrist (khi tes) of the individual. The strings are blessed by the shaman and as each person ties it around the individual's wrist, they say a personalized blessing.

People that inherit the skills to become a shaman often experience symptoms of unexplained physical illness, bipolar personality, and multi-personality/ schizophrenia. According to traditional Hmong beliefs, these symptoms are the result of shamanic spirits (dab neeb) trying to get through to the Shaman-to-be. For those that still practice Shamanism, they’re able to recognize these symptoms and cure their loved ones by helping them develop into full fledged Shamans. 

For those that are blessed to become a Shaman and do not want to practice Shamanism, they often turn to Christian exorcism, western medicine, and psych wards. For the few that accept becoming Shamans, it is considered an honor to help their own. In the Hmong community, Shamans are highly respected.

Since the Hmong were mountain people, living in the mountains was easier to defend, and no floods, their unique communication and language skills came into play way before the internet.   The large drum shown below and culturally kept alive today served as the communication tool.   Their language has a lot of letters and accentuated to mean different things by tone and  strength. In a drum, or to a drummer, this would be by rhythm and beat adding tone, strike and continuity.             

These drums other than providing music were the mountain to mountain internet and messaging. The horizontal layout provided strong signals to the other mountain tops.  In LAO the Hmong had no written language.  Most of what is known about them is passed down, in story, artwork and generational input.

One Festive Holiday the Hmong culture celebrates is the Hmong New Year celebration is a cultural tradition that takes place annually in select areas where large Hmong communities exist and in a modified form where smaller communities come together. During the New Year’s celebration, Hmong dress in traditional clothing and enjoy Hmong traditional foods, dance, music, bull fights, and other forms of entertainment. 

Hmong New Year celebrations have Hmong ethnic traditions and culture, and may also serve to educate those who have interest in Hmong tradition. Hmong New Year celebrations frequently occur in November and December (traditionally at the end of the harvest season when all work is done), serving as a Thanksgiving holiday for the Hmong people.

Historically, the Hmong New Year celebration was created to give thanks to ancestors and spirits as well as to welcome in a new beginning. 

Traditionally, the celebration lasts for ten days, has been shortened in America due to the difference between the traditional Hmong farming schedule and that of the American 40-hr work week schedule. It has also served the double purpose of a convenient meeting place and time for the Hmong leadership, from the days of China even until now.

What is the instrument on the left side of the right photo?  It is a national treasure of the Hmong people.  it is called a Qeej.
Some people think the Qeej is the Hmong equivalent of the Scottish bagpipes, minus the bags.  Bagpipes were to replace the trumpet in the military and used as a form of communication.  
Like the pipes, the Qeej or Lusheng is a reed instrument, designed so the musician can make sounds sucking in or blowing out.  And...

Its music is like an extension of Hmong language. Each note represents a word. To Hmong people, the sounds of the Qeej are like speech. "People who are familiar with Qeej, or they know how to play it, they know what the music is saying because it says certain words. So that’s how we know what the Qeej is saying."  Qeej players are storytellers, performing centuries-old ceremonial songs. They often dance while they play. 

During the Hmong New Year celebration, the Hmong ball tossing game “pov pob”  is a common activity for adolescents. Boys and girls form two separate lines in pairs that are directly facing one another. Girls can ball toss with other girls or boys, but boys cannot ball toss with other boys. 

It is also taboo to toss the ball to someone of the same clan and date the same clan. The pairs toss a cloth ball back and forth, until one member drops the ball. If a player drops or misses the ball, an ornament or item is given to the opposite player in the pair. Ornaments are recovered by singing love songs  to the opposite player, but in recent times, in such areas as China, the young lovers have been seen to carry tape players to play their favorite love songs for one another.

The Hmong New Year celebration—specifically based on both religious and cultural beliefs—is an “in-house” ritual that takes place annually in every Hmong household. The celebration is to acknowledge the completion of the rice-harvesting season—thus, the beginning of a new year—so that a new life can begin as the cycle of life continues. 

During this celebration, every "wandering" soul of every family member is called back to unite with the family again and the young will honor the old or the in-laws—a ritual of asking for blessings from elders of the house and clan as well as the in-laws of other clans.

Also, during the Hmong New Year celebration, house spirits as well as the spirit of wealth  are honored. In addition, if a shaman is in the house, the healing spirits of She-Yee are also honored and released to wander the land until they are called back right after new year. Hmong New Year lasts only for 3 days—with 10 dishes of food each day, for a total of 30 dishes—thus the Hmong saying “Eat 30.” 

 All these things take place for only 3 days. After all these things are done, then the “outside” fun begins, which has nothing to do with Hmong New Year. In the United States, people refer to the “outside” event as “New year”—but, this is a misconception. Hmong New Year occurs in-house, and whatever occurs outside after the “new year” is called “Tsa Hauv Toj”—meaning “raising the mountain.” This is the tradition where Hmong toss balls and sing “kwv txhiaj.”

During the Tsa Hauv Toj celebration, Hmong dress in traditional clothing and enjoy Hmong traditional foods, dance, music, bull fights, and other forms of entertainment.  Hmong New Year celebrations preserve Hmong ethnic traditions and culture, and may also serve to educate those who are interested in Hmong tradition. 

Hmong New Year celebrations occurred anytime within or close to the end of the harvesting period give or take a few days. However, the Tsa Hauv Toj event is based on lunar calendar, typically in November and December.  Another Hmong Festival that this culture celebrates is, Independence Day. The Hmong celebrate Independence Day to celebrate the anniversary their freedom.

Many tribes are distinguished by the color and details of their clothing. Black Hmong wear deep indigo dyed hemp clothing that includes a jacket with embroidered sleeves, sash, apron and leg wraps. The Flower Hmong are known for very brightly colored embroidered traditional costume with beaded fringe.

The word Hmong or Hmoob do not appear in any Chinese historical texts.  To the Chinese, they were always known as Miao or Miao-tsu.  The Hmong considered the terms used by the Chinese to be offensive and derogatory, with good reason, read on.  Therefore, the Hmong called themselves Hmong.

It is debatable as to where this word came from or its original meaning or even when the Hmong began using this term.  There is a well known book entitled "Hmong Means Free."  While it is not certain that this is the correct definition of the word, it was certainly more acceptable than Miao which meant “ Savage or something less than human."  

Another unsubstantiated claim is that the Hmong were distantly related to the Mongolians.  Other than the phonetic similarities in the names, no historical evidence exists to prove a connection.  Since earlier groups may not have called themselves Hmong, scholars have had to rely on connecting similarities in culture, physical artifacts, and language to piece together our collective history.

A very old culture.   The earliest evidence of Hmong society appeared around 2700 AD.  Chinese history records a king named Chi You who ruled the Juili Kingdom, also known as the Nine Li Tribe.  Chi You is believed to be the father of the Hmong.  

To the Chinese Hmong, he was known as Txiv Yawg which means grandfather.  Chi You was beloved by his people.  However, he was reviled by the Chinese who sought to conquer him and his people.  During an epic ancient battle, Chi You defeated the Yan Emperor, Yan Di.  Desperate, Yan Di turned to the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di for assistance.  

In the small town of Zhuolu, Chi You and his forces were defeated.  Chi You died as a villain to the Han Chinese.  However, over the centuries, Chi You has become a revered mythical figure.  He has even been worshipped as a god.  Today, the town of Zhuolu still exists.  A statue of Chi You stands to memorialize him. 

After the Li Kingdom fell, the Hmong ancestors fled from their valleys for the mountains.  Lesser Hmong kingdoms rose and fell.  But the next great Hmong kingdom arose during the Warring States Era.  

Around 475 BC, there stood a great kingdom to the South known as the Chu Kingdom.  This was a period of great struggle for control of China.  Seven mighty kingdoms were at war with each other.  

Evidence strongly suggests that the Hmong were in the middle of the fight.  Scholars have said clearly that whatever the Chu Kingdom was, it was not Chinese.  Most Chinese scholars agree that the Chu Kingdom was indeed a Hmong kingdom.  Early on during the Warring States Era, the Chu Kingdom was the largest and most powerful.  However, after a several decades of war, the Chu along with all of the other kingdoms fell and the Qin Kingdom stood victorious.  Qin Shi Huang became the first emperor of the new country of Qin, China.

Over the millennia, the Hmong were pushed further and further south.  During the 18th century, the final Hmong kingdom stood in the mountains of China.  However, like so many times before, Chinese designs on Hmong land put the Hmong in jeopardy.  The last Hmong king named King Sonom sought peace.  In exchange for a full surrender by King Sonom and his court, the Chinese vowed peace.  Unfortunately, when Sonom and his court surrendered they were taken to Peking where they were betrayed and murdered.  

As part of a festival, Sonom and his court were tortured then cut into little pieces.  The military was dispatched to quell any Hmong uprising and to stomp out the Hmong culture altogether.  The Hmong were separated into different camps and forced to wear different color clothing.  

This is the reason for why today we have White Hmong, Green Hmong, Striped Hmong, Flowery Hmong, Black Hmong, and others.  This probably also explains the differences in the Hmong dialects.  After several generations in the concentration camps, the Hmong written language was lost.  The Chinese had forbidden the use of written language under penalty of death.  Hmong women cleverly hid the language in their daily tapestry (or paj ntaub).  Unfortunately though there are none left who can decipher it.


The Hmong had enough.  Around 1850, the Hmong began to immigrate out of China and into southeast Asia.  Millions settled into Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  Over the next 100 years, millions of Hmong would leave China.  Most of the Hmong in Laos settled into mountain villages in Xieng Khouang, Houa Phan, Luang Phrabang, and Sayaboury provinces in northern Laos.  

Despite centuries of war and ethnic persecution by the Chinese, the Hmong maintained their culture and their way of life.  In southeast Asia, the Hmong continued to live a simple but free life.  In Laos, the Hmong made a living as slash-and-burn farmers.  The primary crop for Hmong farmers was rice grown in watery rice paddies.  However, other crops like corn, cucumbers, bitter melon, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and opium were carefully grown and consumed or sold.  

By the end of the 19th century, western colonization reached Laos.  The French moved in and took control of the whole of IndoChina.  In 1918, a Hmong rebellion erupted.  This rebellion was known as "The Madman's War" or Rog Phim Npab and stemmed from Hmong opposition to French taxes.  A Hmong leader named Pa Chay  led the uprising which lasted for two years.  One benefit came of this failed rebellion.  The conflict made the French cognizant of the Hmong.  

Once peace had been restored, the French reached out to the Hmong and raised Lo Bliayao  to a position of leadership within the Lao government.  As a Kaitong, Lo was the first Hmong to hold such a position of prominence in the Royal Lao government.  

When Lo died, his son Lo Chongtou replaced his father in government.  Lo Chongtou proved ineffective as a leader and the French quickly threw their support behind Ly Foung (Lis Foom).  This turn of events led to deep seeded strife and conflict between the Lo ) and Ly  clans.  In 1938, Touby Lyfoung ascended to the position of Kaitong, inheriting his father's mantle of leadership.  

In 1943, the Japanese invaded mainland Asia.  Japanese occupation of Laos further split the Ly and Lo clans and much of the Hmong population.  The Ly clan remained loyal to the French while the Lo clan threw their support behind the Japanese invaders.  

After WWII, the Ly clan remained in Laos and supported the Royal family.  The Lo clan fled to Vietnam and joined with the communist Pathet Lao.

When WWII ended, Christian missionaries returned to the region.  In 1952, the  Catholic missionary Father Yves Bertrais, American linguists, Dr. Williams Smalley and Pastor Dr. Linwood Barney with the help of two Hmong, Yang Yeng  and Thao Hue , in Luang Prabang in Laos, invented the Romanized Popular Alphabet.  

In 1954, the French surrendered control of all its colonies in .  That same year, civil war broke out in Laos between the constitutional Lao Monarchy and the communist Pathet Lao.  The Cold War was raging all across the world and Laos was not immune.  

In 1961, before leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned incoming President John F. Kennedy that Laos was the first domino in Southeast Asia.  Eisenhower was articulating his Domino Theory.  He believed that if Laos fell into the hands of the communist, the rest of Southeast Asia would follow suite.

In 1961, President Kennedy began the secret CIA buildup in Laos.  In 1962, 14 countries including the United States, China, the Soviet Union and several other countries signed a treaty in Geneva recognizing Laos as a neutral country.  The treaty remained in effect on paper only.  


The first wave of Hmong immigrants arrived between 1975-1980.  A second wave of immigrants arrived between 1980-2003.  The Hmong settled into America with the largest communities in southern California, the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and Wisconsin with smaller pockets in Michigan and North Carolina.  Like all immigrant groups, the Hmong had their share of challenges as well as their victories assimilating into American life.  

Language was the greatest challenge.  The vast majority of Hmong could not speak English.  Learning English was difficult for most Hmong.  NOTE:  The reverse is true too,  a Berlitz Language teacher would jump off a cliff rather than try teaching LAO or the Hmong native language.   Education was a foreign concept.  In Laos, the opportunity to be educated was rare.  Most had never even held a pencil and a piece of paper much less been inside of a classroom.  

Fortunately, the Hmong had help.  Many of the NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), primarily Christian churches, that sponsored Hmong families over to the United States continued to provide assistance.  The Hmong were qualified for social welfare programs, job placement programs, and ESL classes.  

Hmong children were placed into schools to begin their education.  In 1977, under the leadership of General Vang Pao, the first Lao Family Community Based Organization was established in Santa Ana, California.  In subsequent years, Lao Family Community would be established all over the United States in various Hmong communities to assist with assimilation process.  Despite its recent issues, Lao Family had many great accomplishments, including assisting Hmong refugees and creating greater community awareness of the Hmong.  

Through community based organizations like Lao Family and others, Hmong New Years and annual summer festivals featuring soccer tournaments and other sports became established events.  Today, the calendar is peppered with Hmong summer festivals and New Years gatherings starting in October through December.  Large Hmong community events draw tens of thousands of people over the course of a weekend and fill huge venues like the Metro Dome in Minneapolis.


Assimilation did not come easy.  Many Hmong youth grew up feeling trapped between cultures.  They were not fully American.  Yet, they did not feel fully Hmong.  In the early years of re-settlement to America, many Hmong youth found it most difficult to be accepted into American society.  Regardless few wanted to return, it meant death and the camps.

In the 1980's in large Hmong communities, like so many immigrant groups before them, many young Hmong men and boys formed into Hmong Street gangs for protection.  It got out of hand, they dealt in small time racketeering, auto theft, drugs, human trafficking (often of young Hmong girls who were runaways), and armed robbery (often from elderly Hmong who lived in their neighborhoods).  

However, the gangs also proved to be extremely violent.  Often gang battles took place in public arenas like the July 4th Sports Tournament in St. Paul, MN, or the New Years Celebration in Fresno, CA.  The violence culminated in several deaths and injuries throughout the 1990s at various Hmong gatherings.  

Coordinated efforts by local law enforcement along with the FBI proved successful in quelling Hmong gang activity.  While Hmong gangs might still exist, the atmosphere within the Hmong community is not as it was during those days in the late 80’s and 90’s and substantial changes has taken place.

Other issues came with re-settlement to America.  Hmong parents wanted Hmong children.  They wanted children who could speak Hmong, understand Hmong culture, and show them proper respect at home.  However, the children were growing up Hmong at home but American at school.  The American culture was instilling independence, individuality, and the desire to have fun.  

Meanwhile the Hmong culture stressed family, discipline, and education.  The great culture clash led to much familial strife and discord in many Hmong homes.  Other issues such as the lack of education, the trap of social welfare programs, and teen marriages plagued Hmong communities and retarded the development of the Hmong as a whole.  Those who persevered were better for it. 

Over the past 35 years, the Hmong have made great strides.  Even though recent studies show the Hmong lag slightly behind other Asian sub-groups in education level and socio-economic status, tens of thousands of Hmong have become educated and it is an upward trend.

I have simple personal beliefs I try to instill.   America is a land of opportunity where most of the time you are judged by your deeds accompanied by intuition, wisdom, and knowledge.  And the elders have to understand that.  I use, quite frequently,  something told to me years ago, in our society there is religion and law.  Congress called it the separation of church and state.  There is room for both in the Hmong world.

The religion teaches the moralities, substance and personal conduct of the individual, the laws make it equal for all.  As the ethnicities become more and more assimilated into being Americans, there is still a need to relish, harbor and retain those good principles their religion and ethnic beliefs inspire.

Many have earned high school diplomas or GEDs and moved on to college level degrees.  Several hundred have even obtained Master's level and Doctorate level degrees.  The Hmong have put their education to use in a variety of fields from business to law to medicine to all of the technical fields.  The Hmong have even engaged the American political process.  

Engaging the political process within a generation is rare among immigrant groups.  However, the Hmong have had a measure of success at the state and local levels.  In 2001, Mee Moua became the first Hmong woman to be elected as a state senator in Minnesota.  In 2003, Cy Thao was elected as a state representative in Minnesota.  

Others rose to become city council members in various cities with large Hmong populations, including Blong Xiong.  In 2012, Xiong generated much interest within the Hmong community.  As a city councilman in Frenso, CA, Xiong ran for California's 21st Congressional District.  Although Xiong did not succeed, his attempt showed the Hmong community the vast possibilities in America.  They can be competitive, they just have to learn how to play the game right.

After American armed forces pulled out of Vietnam, a communist regime took over in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos, and ordered the prosecution and re-education of all those who had fought against its cause during the war.   While many Hmong are still left in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and China (which houses one of the biggest Hmong populations in the world, 5 million), since 1975 many Hmong have fled Laos in fear of persecution. 

Housed in Thai refugee camps during the 1980s, many have resettled in countries such as the United States, French Guiana, Australia, France, Germany, as well as some who have chosen to stay in Thailand in hope of returning to their own land. 

In the United States, new generations of Hmong are gradually assimilating into American society while being taught Hmong culture and history by their elders.  Again, many elders fear that as the older generations pass on, the knowledge of the Hmong among Hmong-Americans will die as well.  Education is the future for the Hmong and the Low-landers.

A dramatic event during the takeover of Laos by the communists was the evacuation of Vang Pao and other Hmong leaders by air from Long Tieng. The end came for Vang Pao on 5 May 1975 when he was called before Souvanna Phouma, the Prime Minister of Laos, and ordered to cooperate with the communist Pathet Lao. Vang Pao took the general's stars off his collar, threw them on the desk of Souvanna Phouma, and stalked out of the room. Four days later the official Pathet Lao newspaper warned that the Hmong people would be exterminated “to the last root."

Jerry Daniels, Vang Pao's CIA case officer, was the only American remaining in Long Tieng and he began to plan an evacuation of the Hmong. However, he had only one airplane to evacuate the 3,500 Hmong leaders and families he judged to be at risk of execution by the Pathet Lao then advancing on Long Tieng. 

Brigadier General Heinie Aderholt in Bangkok helped to find additional planes and sent three pilots flying two C-46 and one C-130 transport aircraft to Long Tieng. The planes were "sheep-dipped" to remove any US markings as the operation was carried out in secret. The pilots were American civilians: Les Strouse, Matt Hoff, and Al Rich.

With the three American planes, the evacuation began in earnest on 13 May with each transport aircraft making four flights each that day from Long Tieng to Udorn, Thailand and transporting more than 65 people per airplane on each trip – far more than the 35 maximum passengers dictated by safety conditions at mountain-ringed Long Tieng. Thousands of Hmong clustered around the airstrip at Long Tieng awaiting evacuation and the situation became increasingly ugly. On 14 May, Vang Pao and Jerry Daniels were evacuated secretly by helicopter to Thailand and the air evacuation came to an end. 

The next day the Pathet Lao marched into Long Tieng unopposed. Daniels accompanied Vang Pao to exile in Montana and then returned to Thailand to help the Hmong refugees there. What nobody had anticipated was the tens of thousands of Hmong left behind in Long Tieng and Laos would follow Vang Pao and other Hmong leaders to Thailand. 

By the end of 1975 about 40,000 Hmong had succeeded to reaching Thailand, traveling on foot through the mountains and floating across the Mekong River.   How many died or were killed in the attempt to escape Laos is not known, but the flight of Hmong and other Laotian highland peoples into Thailand would continue for many more years. They faced repression at home from the communist government as the price of their collaboration with the Americans. 

Most of the Hmong in Thailand would eventually be resettled in the United States and other countries. Between 1975 and 1982, 53,700 Hmong and other highland Laotian refugees were resettled in the United States and thousands more in other countries.