Kuv yog Hmoob.
I am Hmong.
I have considered to include a page about the Hmong’s history on my blog. It would do well for my readers to know what Hmong is and learn a little bit about our history. Reading my blog entries, you get an idea of how life is for an American Hmong woman, but you don’t know how or why my family came to the United States in the first place.
Early Hmong history can be subjective and misleading. The origin of the Hmong people is hard to uncover. Some scholars argue that the Hmong were in China before the Han Chinese. This we do not know for sure, but what we do know is that China is the earliest known record of Hmong history.
We have no written records of our early history. Hmong oral history states that Hmong history books were burnt and Hmong scholars were killed to prevent further education of the Hmong culture. In order to preserve our history and language, Hmong women embroidered them into our clothing. The symbols and designs on our traditional wear carries ancient history, however, they have lost their meaning over time.
The stories and legends that we hear from our parents and grandparents are passed down orally, generation to generation. Whether they are actual historical events, we do not know. The Internet is a great place to research history. However, there are numerous theories of the Hmong’s history, from qualified to unqualified scholars, thus it’s hard to know which of these are accurate and reliable.
I won’t go into details about early Hmong history because I don’t want to misinform anyone. I am not scholar and certainly do not have any credentials besides being Hmong myself.
The Hmong is a subgroup of the Miao ethnic group, one of the 55 recognized minorities, in China. (Some Hmong—specifically those in the western hemisphere—get offended by the the word “Miao.” They refuse to acknowledge their ties with the Miao because they believe the Miao in the east are different from the Hmong in the west. They also believe that “Miao” is a derogatory Chinese term given to the Hmong to mean “barbarian”). Whether the Western Hmong may deny it or accept it, we are a Chinese ethnic minority.
After thousands of years of Han Chinese persecution and political unrest, thousands of Hmong migrated to SE Asia, mainly Vietnam and Laos.
Many refer to us Hmong as hill tribes and state that our homeland is in Laos. This is incorrect. We are neither a tribe, nor are we from Laos. We are an ethnic group and our homeland is in China.
During the Vietnam War, the late and former Major General Vang Pao of the Royal Lao Army helped the Americans in what was called the “The Secret War.” Vang Pao recruited and trained Hmong men and boys in guerrilla warfare. The Hmong soldier’s main objectives were to block supplies coming through the Ho Chi Minh Trail and rescue fallen American pilots. The main reason why the Hmong decided to ally with the Americans during the Vietnam War was because a promise was made that the Americans would take care of the Hmong if the Americans lost the war.
The US officially left the Vietnam War in 1975. Vang Pao and his staff were flown to safety, leaving thousands of Hmong to fend for themselves against Laotian and Vietnamese retribution. The Hmong had lost everything; we are a group of people with a broken home and a broken promise.
This is an excerpt from The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, a book about the cultural clash of a Hmong family and American doctors in the 80’s:
On May 3, 1975, two weeks after the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh, three days after the North Vietnamese occupied Saigon, and seven months before the communist Lao People’s Democratic Republic supplanted the 600-year-old Lao monarchy, the Pathet Lao crossed the ceasefire line into territory held by Vang Pao. On May 9, the Khao Xane Pathe Lao, the Newspaper of the Lao People’s Party announced: “The Meo [Hmong] must be exterminated down to the root of the tribe.” On May 10, surrounded by Pathet Lao and N Vietnamese troops, with few surviving Hmong fighter pilots and no American combat support, Vang Pao reluctantly bowed to the counsel of his CIA case officers and conceded that he could no longer hold Long Tieng. During the next 4 days, between 1,000-3,000 Hmong—mostly high-ranking army officers and their families, including the family of my interpreter, May Ying Xiong—were airlifted by American planes to Thailand. (During the month before the fall of Saigon on April 30, American airlifts and sea lifts had evacuated more than 45,000 S. Vietnamese). Hmong fought to board the aircraft. Several times, the planes were so overloaded they could not take off, and dozens of people standing near the door had to be pushed out onto the airstrip. On May 14, Vang Pao, in tears, told the assembled crowd, “Farewell, my brothers, I can do nothing more for you. I would only be a torment for you,” and boarded an evacuation helicopter. After the last American transport disappeared, more than 10,000 Hmong were left on the airfield, fully expecting more aircraft to return. When it became apparent that there would be no more planes, a collective wail rose from the crowd and echoed against the mountains. The shelling of Long Tieng began that afternoon. A long line of Hmong, carrying their children and older people, started to move across the plateau, heading towards Thailand.
Those who were strong enough made the treacherous journey to Thailand to seek refuge. Many Hmong in America today were just little children when they made the journey with their family, including my parents. My grams used to speak of how she drugged my uncle (who was only an infant) with opium to silence his cries so Laotian soldiers would not find them hiding in the jungles.
In Thailand, UN and Thai officials put the Hmong into refugee camps along the Mekong River. My brother and I were born in Ban Vinai, one of the biggest refugee camps for the Hmong from 1975 to 1993. My family and I were fortunate enough to immigrate to the US in 1987. Others were repatriated to Laos where the Laotian government placed them into resettlement camps.
There are still a small number Hmong families living in the dense jungles of Laos. They refuse to surrender for fear of punishment. Just so there’s no confusion, there are Hmong people living peacefully in villages and urban areas in Laos. These families are present generations of Hmong military officers associated with the US during the Vietnam War.
Legend has it that the Hmong were a brave and strong group. Thousands of years ago, they fought against the Han Chinese to protect their land and culture. The Hmong won 9 out of 10 battles. On the 10th battle, Hmong officials betrayed their king, Chiyou (Txiv Yawg). It was because of this betrayal that the Chinese won the last battle and captured and executed Chiyou. They cut up his body into 7 pieces and scattered it all over China so the Hmong people will never be reunited again. Today, the Hmong are displaced all over the world, from China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand to Australia, France, Canada, the US.
If you want to learn more about the Hmong people, you can follow the links below.
HmonGuru also wrote an in-depth article about the Hmong history on his blog.
The Split Horn, by PBS.
Jeff Lindsay wrote an incredible article about the Hmong people called “The Hmong in America: A story of tragedy and hope.”
“The Ravens,” a documentary about the American pilots in the Secret War.
“Hunted Like Animals” is a documentary by Rebecca Sommer on the aftermath of the Vietnam War–the silent Hmong genocide in Laos.
Significance of the photo above:
Long Tieng (also spelled Long Chieng, Long Cheng, or Long Chen) is a Laotian military base located in Xiangkhouang Province. During the Laotian Civil War, it served as a town and airbase operated by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. During this time, it was also referred to as Lima Site 98 (LS 98) or Lima Site 20A (LS 20A).
At the height of its significance in the late 1960s, the “secret city” of Long Tieng maintained a population of 40,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest city in Laos at the time, although it never appeared on maps throughout this period. (Wikipedia).