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A little Hmong history in light of ‘Gran Torino’

27 January 2011

(Another link today.  I swear I’m going to do an actual post if I don’t die first.)

A handwoven Hmong hanging charm in red, black, and white
Image: A handwoven hanging charm, made for me (in my favorite colors!) by a friend’s mother in 2008.   Hmong textiles are generally amazing.   Ask Dr. Google if you don’t believe me.


So, I haven’t seen Gran Torino, and I’m probably not going to, but I did just see this article (via Racialicious).

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that most USians don’t know a single thing about the Hmong people (perhaps including their existence), unless they live near one of the major Hmong resettlement areas.  Honestly, I had never even heard of the Hmong until I met three (one refugee and two US-born) guys in college, and I was there working toward a fuh-reaking BA in Asian Studies.  I feel a combination of shame at my own ignorance and anger that in sixteen years of schooling, the history of the Hmong people, or even Hmong-US relations (being US-centric as the US is) were never considered important enough to bring up.

No more ignorance.  Jeff Lindsay’s site provides a pretty extensive overview of Hmong involvement during the Viet Nam ‘War,’ immigration, and some (possibly outdated) news.  Here’s a pretty long quote that will hopefully encourage clicking through:

Many people think that the Hmong came here to enjoy U.S. economic benefits, but in fact, most are here to escape the death and horror of a genocidal war against them. The long campaign of the Laotian and Vietnamese governments to destroy the Hmong is vengeance for Hmong support of the United States in the Vietnam war.
For many years, the Hmong people fought at our request with incredible bravery and tenacity, greatly slowing the advance of the North Vietnamese into Laos and South Vietnam. Their fighter pilots, some of the most dazzling aces ever, fought until they died in a desperate war with inadequate support. They sacrificed thousands of their lives in deadly missions that ultimately saved thousands of American lives. The U.S. got them into war against our enemies, trained, them, urged them to fight, depended on their bravery, then broke our promises to them as we pulled out without doing anything to protect them against the terrible revenge that was promised and has been delivered.
As overwhelming evidence came in of the chemical and biological warfare that was used against the Hmong, our State Department ignored the situation and for years refused to even list Laos in reports monitoring human rights problems of other nations. The press and the State Department ignored the victims, their chemical wounds, their chemical samples and the chemical analyses of deadly man-made toxins and biological agents, pointing instead to ludicrous theories of bee pollen as explanations for the “yellow rain” that was killing thousands. (The red and blue toxins that killed just as effectively were rarely even mentioned.)

In the United States, there is still significant prejudice against the Hmong people, though many people are reaching out to them. I feel that Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin has been helpful and concerned about the Hmong, and has publicly praised them for their heroic support of the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Sadly, many Vietnam vets have no idea that the Hmong were fighting for us. They saw no Hmong in Vietnam and heard no stories of Hmong assistance, for the Hmong were fighting a secret war in Laos that was not revealed until well after the war ended. It pains me to see a few (a minority, I believe) Vietnam vets angry at the Hmong now, suspicious of their reasons for being here. Hmong casualties in the war were even greater than U.S. casualties.

A thank-you shout-out to my old college friends (who shall remain anonymous out of respect for their privacy) for helping to educate me when they shouldn’t have had to.

Also, here is some Hmong pop with English translation:

And if you can’t listen to anything that isn’t autotuned:

Let’s go all teachable moment on this story, folks.

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