Hmong people

Hmong people
Hmong people
Hmong women at Coc Ly market, Sapa, Vietnam.jpg
Flower Hmong in traditional dress at the market in Bắc Hà, Vietnam
Total population
4 to 5 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 People's Republic of China 3 million
 Vietnam 787,604 (1999)
 Laos 460,000 (2005)
 United States 221,948 (2008)[2]
 Thailand 151,080 (2002)
 France 15,000
 Australia 2,190 [3]
 French Guiana 1,500
 Canada 600
 Germany 500

Hmong and Mong


Shamanism, Buddhism, Christianity, others

The Hmong (RPA: Hmoob/Moob, IPA: [m̥ɔ̃ŋ]), are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Hmong are also one of the sub-groups of the Miao ethnicity (苗族) in southern China. Hmong groups began a gradual southward migration in the 18th century due to political unrest and to find more arable land.

A number of Hmong people fought against the communist Pathet Lao during the Laotian Civil War. Hmong people were singled out for retribution when the Pathet Lao took over the Laotian government in 1975, and tens of thousands fled to Thailand seeking political asylum. Thousands of these refugees have resettled in Western countries since the late 1970s, mostly the United States but also in Australia, France, French Guiana, Canada, and South America. Others have been returned to Laos under United Nations-sponsored repatriation programs. Around 8,000 Hmong refugees remain in Thailand.[4]



Hmong people have their own terms for their subcultural divisions, "Hmong Der" (aka White Hmong) and "Mong Leng" (aka Mong Njua or 'Green Mong') being the terms for two of the largest groups in Asia. In the Romanized Popular Alphabet, developed in the 1950s in Laos, these terms are written Hmoob Dawb/Moob Dlawb (White Hmong) and Moob Leeg/Hmoob Ntsuab (Mong Leng). The doubled vowels indicate nasalization, and the final consonants indicate with which of the eight lexical tones the word is pronounced. White Hmong and Mong Leng people speak mutually intelligible dialects of the Hmong language with some differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. One of the most obvious differences is the use of the aspirated /m/ in White Hmong by the sound of "H", which is used when it is written in Romanized Popular Alphabet. In Mong Leng dialect the sound of "H" is not in used. Hmong groups are often named after the dominant colors, patterns of their traditional clothing, head-dress, and the provinces they came from. The Hmong groups in Laos, from the 18 century to the present day, are known as Black Hmong (Hmoog Dub/Moob Dlub), Striped Hmong (Hmoob Txaij/Moob Txaij), White Hmong (Hmoob Dawb/Moob Dlawb), and Green Hmong (Hmoob Ntsuab/Moob Leej). In other places in Asia groups are also known as Black Hmong (Hmoob Dub/Moob Dlub or Hmong Den), Striped Hmong (Hmoob Txaij or Hmoob Quas Npab), Hmong Shi, Hmong Pe, Hmong Pua, and Hmong Xau, Hmong Xanh (Green Hmong), Hmong Do (Red Hmong), Na Mieo and various other subgroups.[5] These include the Flower Hmong or the Variegated Hmong (Hmong Lenh or Hmong Hoa), so named because of the bright colorful embroidery (called pa ndau, literally "flower cloth").[6] Vietnamese Hmong women continuing to wear 'traditional' clothing tend to source much of their clothing as 'ready to wear' cotton (as against traditional hemp) from markets, though some add embroidery as a personal touch. In SaPa, now with a 'standardised' clothing look, Black Hmong sub-groups have differentiated themselves by adopting different headwear; those with a large comb embedded in their long hair (but without a hat) call themselves Tao, those with a pillbox hat name themselves Giay, and those with a checked headscarf are Yao. For many, such as Flower Hmong, the heavily beaded skirts and jackets are manufactured in China.

Since 1949, Miao has been an official term for one of the 55 official minority groups recognized by the government of the People's Republic of China. The Miao live mainly in southern China, in the provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Hainan, Guangdong, Hubei, and elsewhere in China. According to the 2000 censuses, the number of 'Miao' in China was estimated to be about 9.6 million. The Miao nationality includes Hmong people as well as other culturally and linguistically related ethnic groups who do not call themselves Hmong. These include the Hmu, Kho (Qho) Xiong, and A Hmao. The White Miao (Bai Miao) and Green Miao (Qing Miao) are Hmong group.

Usage of the term "Miao" in Chinese documents dates back to the Shi Ji (1st century BC) and the Zhan Guo Ce (late Western Han Dynasty). During this time, it was generally applied to people of the southern regions thought to be descendants of the San Miao kingdom (dated to around the 3rd millennium BC.) The term does not appear again until the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), by which time it had taken on the connotation of "barbarian." Interchangeable with "man" and "yi," it was used to refer to the indigenous people of the south-western frontier who refused to submit to imperial rule. During this time, references to Raw (Sheng) and Cooked (Shu) Miao appear, referring to level of assimilation and political cooperation of the two groups. Not until the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) do more finely grained distinctions appear in writing. Even then, discerning which ethnic groups are included in various classifications can be problematic.[7] This inconsistent usage of "Miao" makes it difficult to say for sure if Hmong and Mong people are always included in these historical writings. Linguistic evidence, however, places Hmong and Mong people in the same regions of southern China that they inhabit today for at least the past 2,000 years.[8] By the mid-18th century, classifications become specific enough that it is easier to identify references to Hmong and Mong people.

In Southeast Asia, Hmong people are referred to by other names, including: Vietnamese: Mèo or H'Mông; Lao: ແມ້ວ (Maew) or ມົ້ງ (Mong); Thai: แม้ว (Maew) or ม้ง (Mong); Burmese: mun lu-myo (မံုလူမ်ိဳး). "Mèo", or variants thereof, is considered highly derogatory by many Hmong people and is infrequently used today outside of Southeast Asia.[9]

Because the Hmong lived mainly in the highland areas of Southeast Asia and China, the French occupiers of Southeast Asia gave them the name Montagnards or "mountain people", but this should not be confused with the Degar people of Vietnam, who were also referred to as Montagnards.

A Flower Hmong woman in Vietnam
A typical rammed earth house building technique of flower Hmong in Vietnam

Controversy over nomenclature

Hmong and Mong

When Western authors came in contact with Hmong people, beginning in the 18th century, they referred to them in writing by ethnonyms assigned by the Chinese (i.e. Miao, or variants).[citation needed] This practice continued into the 20th century. Even ethnographers studying the Hmong people in Southeast Asia often referred to them as Meo, a corruption of Miao applied by Thai and Lao people to the Hmong. Although "Meo" was an official term, it was often used as an insult against Hmong people and it is considered to be highly derogatory.[10] In the middle of the 20th century, a concerted effort was made to refer to Hmong by their own ethnonyms in scholarly literature.[citation needed] By the 1970s, it became standard to refer to the entire ethnic group as "Hmong."[citation needed] This was reinforced during the influx of Hmong immigrants to the United States after 1975. Research proliferated, much of it being directed toward the American Hmong Der community.[citation needed] Several states with Hmong populations issued official translations only in the Hmong Der dialect. At the same time, some Mong Leng people voiced concerns that the supposed inclusive term "Hmong" only served to exclude them from the national discourse.

The issue came to a head during the passage of California State Assembly Bill (AB) 78, in the 2003–2004 season.[11] Introduced by Doua Vu and Assembly Member Sarah Reyes, District 31 (Fresno), the bill encouraged changes in secondary education curriculum to include information about the Secret War and the role of Hmong people in the war. Furthermore, the bill called for the use of oral histories and first hand accounts from Hmong people who had participated in the war and who were caught up in the aftermath. Originally, the language of the bill mentioned only "Hmong" people, intending to include the entire community. A number of Mong Leng activists, led by Dr. Paoze Thao (Professor of Linguistics and Education at California State University, Monterey Bay), drew attention to the problems associated with omitting "Mong" from the language of the bill. They noted that despite nearly equal numbers of Hmong Der and Mong Leng in the United States, resources are disproportionately directed toward the Hmong Der community. This includes not only scholarly research, but also the translation of materials, potentially including curriculum proposed by the bill.[12] Despite these arguments, "Mong" was not added to the bill. In the version that passed the assembly, "Hmong" was replaced by "Southeast Asians", a more broadly inclusive term.

Dr. Paoze Thao and some others feel strongly that "Hmong" can refer only to Hmong Der people and does not include Mong Leng people. He feels that the usage of "Hmong" in reference to both groups perpetuates the marginalization of Mong Leng language and culture. Thus, he advocates the usage of both "Hmong" and "Mong" when referring to the entire ethnic group.[13] Other scholars, including anthropologist Dr. Gary Yia Lee (a Hmong Der person), suggest that "Hmong" has been used for the past 30 years to refer to the entire community and that the inclusion of Mong Leng people is understood.[14] Some argue that such distinctions create unnecessary divisions within the global community and will only confuse non-Hmong and Mong people trying to learn more about Hmong and Mong history and culture.[15]

As a compromise alternative, the ethnologist Jacques Lemoine has begun to use the term (H)mong when referring to the entirety of the Hmong and Mong community.[1]

Hmong, Mong, and Miao

Some non-Chinese Hmong advocate that the term Hmong be used not only for designating their dialect group, but also for the other Miao groups living in China. They generally claim that the word "Miao" or "Meo" is a derogatory term, with connotations of barbarism, that probably should not be used at all. The term was later adapted by Tai-speaking groups in Southeast Asia where it took on especially insulting associations for Hmong people despite its official status.[16] In modern China, the term "Miao" does not carry these negative associations and people of the various sub-groups that constitute this officially recognized nationality freely identify themselves as Miao or Chinese, typically reserving more specific ethnonyms for intra-ethnic communication. During the struggle for political recognition after 1949, it was actually members of these ethnic minorities who campaigned for identification under the umbrella term "Miao"—taking advantage of its familiarity and associations of historical political oppression.[17]

Contemporary transnational interactions between Hmong in the West and Miao groups in China, following the 1975 Hmong diaspora, have led to the development of a global Hmong identity that includes linguistically and culturally related minorities in China that previously had no ethnic affiliation.[18] Scholarly and commercial exchanges, increasingly communicated via the Internet, have also resulted in an exchange of terminology, including Hmu and A Hmao people identifying as Hmong and, to a lesser extent, Hmong people accepting the designation "Miao," within the context of China. Such realignments of identity, while largely the concern of economically elite community leaders, reflect a trend towards the interchangeability of the terms "Hmong" and "Miao."[19]


The early history of the Hmong has proven difficult to trace. According to Ratliff, there is linguistic evidence to suggest that they have occupied the same areas of southern China for at least the past 2,000 years.[20] Evidence from mitochondrial DNA in Hmong–Mien / Miao–Yao–speaking populations supports the southern origins of maternal lineages even further back in time, although Hmong/Miao-speaking populations show more contact with northeast Asians (i.e. northern Han) than Mien/Yao populations.[21] Historical Chinese documents describe that area being inhabited by 'Miao' people, a group with whom Hmong people are often identified.

Yet, the history of the 'Miao' cannot be equated with the history of the Hmong. Although the term 'Miao' is used today by the Chinese government to denote a group of linguistically and culturally related people (including the Hmong, Hmu, Kho Xiong, and A Hmao), it has been used inconsistently in the past. Throughout the written history of China, it was applied to a variety of peoples considered to be marginal to Han society, including many who are unrelated to contemporary Hmong and Mong people. Christian Culas and Jean Michaud note: "In all these early accounts, then, until roughly the middle of the 19th century, there is perpetual confusion about the exact identity of the population groups designated by the term Miao. We should therefore be cautious with respect to the historical value of any early associations."[22]

Conflict between Miao groups and newly arrived settlers increased during the 18th century under repressive economic and cultural reforms imposed by the Qing Dynasty. This led to armed conflict and large-scale migrations continuing into the late 19th century, the period during which most Hmong people emigrated to Southeast Asia. The process began as early as the late-17th century, before the time of major social unrest, when small groups went in search of better agricultural opportunities.[23]

From July 1919 to March 1921 the Hmong of French Indochina revolted against the colonial authorities in what the French called the War of the Insane ("La Guerre du Fou") and what the Hmongs call Rog Paj Cai (named after the leader Paj Cai, but literally means The War of the flowering of the Law).


Roughly 95% of the Hmong live in Asia. Linguistic data show that the Hmong of the Peninsula stem from the Miao of southern China as one among a set of ethnic groups belonging to the Miao–Yao (also called Hmong–Mien) linguage family.[24] China does not recognise officially the ethnonym Hmong and instead, clusters that group with an official and wider group: the Miao (8,940,116 in 2000). This explains why there is no precise census data on the Hmong in China. Linguistically and culturally speaking, the Hmong and the other sub-groups of the Miao have little in common.[25]

A few centuries ago the lowland Chinese started moving into the mountain ranges of China's southwest. This migration combined with major social unrest in southern China in the 18th and 19th century to cause some minorities of Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan, where the majority of the Hmong in China (estimated at around 3 millions) still live today, to migrate south. A number of Hmong thus settled in the ranges of the Indochina Peninsula to practise subsistence agriculture.

Vietnam, where their presence is attested from the late 18th century onwards, is likely to be the first Indochinese country into which the Hmong migrated.[26] During the colonization of 'Tonkin' (north Vietnam) between 1883 and 1954, a number of Hmong decided to join the Vietnamese Nationalists and Communists, while many Christianized Hmong sided with the French. After the Viet Minh victory, numerous pro-French Hmong had to fall back to Laos and South Vietnam. The ones remaining in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam from 1954 to 1976) had to accept to live under Communist rule.[27]

At the 2009 national census, there were 1,068,189 Hmong living in Vietnam, the vast majority of them in the north of the country. The traditional trade in coffin wood with China and the cultivation of the opium poppy – both prohibited only in 1993 in Vietnam – long guaranteed a regular cash income. Today, converting to cash cropping is the main economic activity. As in China and Laos, there is a certain degree of participation of Hmong in the local and regional administration.[28] In the late 1990s, several thousands of Hmong have started moving to the Central Highlands and some have crossed the border into Cambodia, constituting the first attested presence of Hmong settlers in that country.

In 2005, the Hmong in Laos numbered 460,000. Hmong settlement there is nearly as ancient as in Vietnam. After decades of distant relations with the Lao kingdoms, closer relations between the French military and some Hmong on the Xieng Khouang plateau were set up after WWII. There, a particular rivalry between members of the Lo and Ly clans developed into open enmity, also affecting those connected with them by kinship. Clan leaders took opposite sides and as a consequence, several thousand Hmong participated in the fighting against the Pathet Lao Communists, while perhaps as many were enrolled in the People's Liberation Army. As in Vietnam, numerous Hmong in Laos also genuinely tried to avoid getting involved in the conflict in spite of the extremely difficult material conditions under which they lived during wartime.[29]

After the 1975 Communist victory, thousands of Hmong from Laos had to seek refuge abroad (see Laos below). Approximately 30 percent of the Hmong left, although the only concrete figure we have is that of 116,000 Hmong from Laos and Vietnam together seeking refuge in Thailand up to 1990.[30]

In 2002 the Hmong in Thailand numbered 151,080. The presence of Hmong settlements there is documented from the end of the 19th century. Initially, the Siamese paid little attention to them. But in the early 1950s, the state suddenly took a number of initiatives aimed at establishing links. Decolonization and nationalism were gaining momentum in the Peninsula and wars of independence were raging. Armed opposition to the state in northern Thailand, triggered by outside influence, started in 1967 while here again, many Hmong refused to take sides in the conflict. Communist guerrilla warfare stopped by 1982 as a result of an international concurrence of events that rendered it pointless. Priority is since given by the Thai state to sedentarizing the mountain population, introducing commercially viable agricultural techniques and national education, with the aim of integrating these non-Tai animists within the national identity.[31]

Burma most likely includes a modest number of Hmong (perhaps around 2,500) but no reliable census has been conducted there recently.[32]

As result of refugee movements in the wake of the Indochina Wars (1946–1975), in particular in Laos, the largest Hmong community to settle outside Asia went to the United States where approximately 100,000 individuals had already arrived by 1990. California became home to half this group, while the remainder went to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. By the same date, 10,000 Hmong had migrated to France, including 1,400 in French Guyana. Canada admitted 900 individuals, while another 360 went to Australia, 260 to China, and 250 to Argentina. Over the following years and until the definitive closure of the last refugee camps in Thailand in 1998, additional numbers of Hmong have left Asia, but the definitive figures are still to be produced.[33]

Outside of Asia, where about 5% of the world Hmong population now lives, the United States is home to the largest Hmong population. The 2008 Census counted 171,316 persons of Hmong Alone Population,and 221,948 persons of Hmong Alone Population or in Any Combination.[34] Other countries with significant populations include[35]:

Within the United States, the Hmong population is centred in the Upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota) and California.[36]


The "Secret War"

In the early 1960s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) Special Activities Division began to recruit, train and lead the indigenous Hmong people in Laos to fight against North Vietnamese Army intruders into Laos during the Vietnam War. It became a Special Guerrilla Unit led by General Vang Pao. About 60% of the Hmong men in Laos were assisted by the CIA to join fighting for the "Secret War" in Laos.[37][38] The CIA used the Special Guerrilla Unit as the counter attack unit to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main military supply route from the north to the south. Hmong soldiers served against the NVA and the Pathet Lao, helping block the Hanoi's Ho Chi Minh trail inside Laos and rescuing downed American pilots.As inhabitants of the more mountainous regions of Laos, the Hmong people earned a special place in the hearts of American combat soldiers because of their strong support for the United States in its fight against the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao communist forces. Though their role was generally kept secret in the early stages of the conflict, they made monumental sacrifices to help the U.S., with 18,000 of their soldiers killed in battle before 1969 alone, and more than 100,000 Hmong losing their lives by the time the U.S. made the decision to pull out of Vietnam.[39]

General Vang Pao led the Region II (MR2) defense against NVA incursion from his headquarters in Long Cheng, also known as Lima Site 20 Alternate (LS 20A).[40] At the height of its activity, Long Cheng became the second largest city in Laos. Long Cheng was a micro-nation operational site with its own bank, airport, school system, officials, and many other facilities and services in addition to its military units. Before the end of the Secret War, Long Cheng would fall in and out of General Vang Pao's control.

The Secret War began about the time the United States became actively involved in the Vietnam War. Two years after the U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam, the Kingdom of Laos was overthrown by communist troops supported by the North Vietnamese Army. The Hmong people immediately became targets of retaliation and persecution. While some Hmong returned to their villages and attempted to resume life under the new regime, thousands more made the trek across the Mekong River into Thailand, often under attack. This marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Hmong from Laos. Those who reached Thailand were kept in squalid United Nations refugee camps until they could be resettled. Nearly 20 years later, in the 1990s, a major international debate ensued over whether Hmong refugees remaining in Thailand should be forcibly repatriated to Laos, where they were still subject to persecution, or should be allowed to emigrate to the United States and other Western nations.

Hmong Lao resistance

Hmong girls meet possible suitors while playing a ball-throwing game in Laos.

Of those Hmong who did not flee Laos, somewhere between two and three thousand were sent to re-education camps where political prisoners served terms of 3–5 years. Many Hmong died in these camps, after being subjected to hard physical labor and harsh conditions.[41] Thousands more Hmong people, mainly former soldiers and their families, escaped to remote mountain regions—particularly Phou Bia, the highest (and thus least accessible) mountain peak in Laos. Initially, some Hmong groups staged attacks against Pathet Lao and Vietnamese troops while others remained in hiding to avoid military retaliation and persecution. Spiritual leader Zong Zoua Her rallied his followers in a guerrilla resistance movement called Chao Fa (RPA: Cauj Fab). Initial military successes by these small bands led to military counter-attacks by government forces, including aerial bombing and heavy artillery, as well as the use of defoliants and possibly chemical weapons.[42] These events led to the yellow rain controversy, when the United States accused the Soviet Union of supplying and using chemical weapons in this conflict.[43]

Small groups of Hmong people, many of them second or third generation descendants of former CIA soldiers, remain internally displaced in remote parts of Laos, in fear of government reprisals. Faced with continuing military operations against them by the government and a scarcity of food, some groups have begun coming out of hiding, while others have sought asylum in Thailand and other countries.[44]

Throughout the Vietnam War, and for two decades following it, the U.S. government stated that there was no "Secret War" in Laos and that the U.S. was not engaged in air or ground combat operations in Laos. In the late 1990s, however, several U.S. conservatives, alleging that the Clinton administration was using the denial of this covert war to justify a repatriation of Thailand-based Hmong war veterans to Laos, urged the U.S. government to acknowledge the existence of the Secret War and to honor the Hmong and U.S. veterans from the war. On May 15, 1997, in a total reversal of U.S. policy, the U.S. government acknowledged that it had supported a prolonged air and ground campaign against the NVA and VietCong. It simultaneously dedicated the Laos Memorial on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in honor of the Hmong and other combat veterans from the Secret War.

Controversy over repatriation

In 1989, the UNHCR, with the support of the United States government, instituted the Comprehensive Plan of Action, a program to stem the tide of Indochinese refugees from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Under the plan, the status of the refugees was to be evaluated through a screening process. Recognized asylum seekers were to be given resettlement opportunities, while the remaining refugees were to be repatriated under guarantee of safety.

After talks with the UNHCR and the Thai government, Laos agreed to repatriate the 60,000 Lao refugees living in Thailand, including several thousand Hmong people. Very few of the Lao refugees, however, were willing to return voluntarily.[45] Pressure to resettle the refugees grew as the Thai government worked to close its remaining refugee camps. While some Hmong people returned to Laos voluntarily, with development assistance from UNHCR, allegations of forced repatriation surfaced.[46] Of those Hmong who did return to Laos, some quickly escaped back to Thailand, describing discrimination and brutal treatment at the hands of Lao authorities.[47]

In 1993, Vue Mai, a former Hmong soldier who had been recruited by the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to return to Laos as proof of the repatriation program's success, disappeared in Vientiane. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees, he was arrested by Lao security forces and was never seen again.

Following the Vue Mai incident, debate over the Hmong's planned repatriation to Laos intensified greatly, especially in the U.S., where it drew strong opposition from many American conservatives and some human rights advocates. In an October 23, 1995 National Review article, Michael Johns, the former Heritage Foundation foreign policy expert and Republican White House aide, labeled the Hmong's repatriation a Clinton administration "betrayal," describing the Hmong as a people "who have spilled their blood in defense of American geopolitical interests."[48] Debate on the issue escalated quickly. In an effort to halt the planned repatriation, the Republican-led U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives both appropriated funds for the remaining Thailand-based Hmong to be immediately resettled in the U.S.; Clinton, however, responded by promising a veto of the legislation.

In the 1990s, many Flower Hmong switched from their traditional colourful dress to western clothing.

In their opposition of the repatriation plans, Republicans also challenged the Clinton administration's position that the Laotian government was not systematically violating Hmong human rights. U.S. Representative Steve Gunderson (R-WI), for instance, told a Hmong gathering: "I do not enjoy standing up and saying to my government that you are not telling the truth, but if that is necessary to defend truth and justice, I will do that."[48] Republicans also called several Congressional hearings on alleged persecution of the Hmong in Laos in an apparent attempt to generate further support for their opposition to the Hmong's repatriation to Laos.

Although some accusations of forced repatriation were denied,[49] thousands of Hmong people refused to return to Laos. In 1996, as the deadline for the closure of Thai refugee camps approached, and under mounting political pressure,[48] the U.S. agreed to resettle Hmong refugees who passed a new screening process.[50] Around 5,000 Hmong people who were not resettled at the time of the camp closures sought asylum at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist monastery in central Thailand where more than 10,000 Hmong refugees were already living. The Thai government attempted to repatriate these refugees, but the Wat Tham Krabok Hmong refused to leave and the Lao government refused to accept them, claiming they were involved in the illegal drug trade and were of non-Lao origin.[51]

In 2003, following threats of forcible removal by the Thai government, the U.S., in a significant victory for the Hmong, agreed to accept 15,000 of the refugees.[52] Several thousand Hmong people, fearing forced repatriation to Laos if they were not accepted for resettlement in the U.S., fled the camp to live elsewhere within Thailand where a sizable Hmong population has been present since the 19th-century.[53]

In 2004 and 2005, thousands of Hmong fled from the jungles of Laos to a temporary refugee camp in the Thai province of Phetchabun.[54] These Hmong refugees, many of whom are descendants of the former-CIA Secret Army and their relatives, claim that they have been attacked by both the Lao and Vietnamese military forces operating inside Laos as recently as June 2006. The refugees claim that attacks against them have continued almost unabated since the war officially ended in 1975, and have become more intense in recent years.

Lending further support to earlier claims that the government of Laos was persecuting the Hmong, filmmaker Rebecca Sommer documented first-hand accounts in her documentary, Hunted Like Animals,[55] and in a comprehensive report which includes summaries of claims made by the refugees and was submitted to the U.N. in May 2006.[56]

The European Union,[57] UNHCHR, UNHCR, and international groups have since spoken out about the forced repatriation.[58] [59][60][57] The Thai foreign ministry has said that it will halt deportation of Hmong refugees held in Detention Centers Nong Khai, while talks are underway to resettle them in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States.[61]

For the time being, countries willing to resettle the refugees are hindered to proceed with immigration and settlement procedures because the Thai administration does not grant them access to the refugees. Plans to resettle additional Hmong refugees in the U.S. have been complicated by provisions of President Bush's Patriot Act and Real ID Act, under which Hmong veterans of the Secret War, who fought on the side of the United States, are classified as terrorists because of their historical involvement in armed conflict.[62]

On December 27, 2009, the New York Times reported that the Thai military is preparing to forcibly return 4,000 Hmong asylum seekers to Laos by the end of the year:[63] the BBC later reported that repatriations had started.[64] Both United States and United Nations officials have protested this action. Outside government representatives have not been allowed to interview this group over the last three years. Médecins Sans Frontières has refused to assist the Hmong refugees because of what they have called "increasingly restrictive measures" taken by the Thai military.[65] The Thai military jammed all cellular phone reception and disallowed any foreign journalists from the Hmong camps.[64]

Alleged plot to overthrow government of Laos

On June 4, 2007, as part of a lengthy and still ongoing federal investigation labeled "Operation Tarnished Eagle," warrants were issued by U.S. federal courts ordering the arrest of Vang Pao and nine others for plotting to overthrow the government of Laos in violation of the federal Neutrality Acts and for multiple weapons charges.[66] The federal charges allege that members of the group inspected weapons, including AK-47s, smoke grenades, and Stinger missiles, with the intent of purchasing them and smuggling them into Thailand in June 2007 where they were intended to be used by Hmong resistance forces in Laos. The one non-Hmong person of the nine arrested, Harrison Jack, a 1968 West Point graduate and retired Army infantry officer, allegedly attempted to recruit Special Operations veterans to act as mercenaries.

In an effort to obtain the weapons, Jack allegedly met unknowingly with undercover U.S. federal agents posing as weapons dealers, which prompted the issuance of the warrants as part of a long-running investigation into the activities of the U.S.-based Hmong leadership and its supporters.

On June 15, the defendants were indicted by a grand jury and a warrant was also issued for the arrest of an 11th man, allegedly involved in the plot. Simultaneous raids of the defendants homes and work locations, involving over 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officials, were conducted in approximately 15 cities in central and southern California.

The defendants face possible life prison terms for violation of the Neutrality Acts and various weapons charges. They initially were denied bail, with a federal court ruling that they were likely flight risks, given their extensive connections, access to private aircraft, and resources.

Multiple protest rallies in support of the suspects, designed to raise awareness of the treatment of Hmong peoples in the jungles of Laos, have taken place in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Alaska, and several of Vang Pao's high-level supporters in the U.S. have criticized the California court that issued the arrest warrants, arguing that Vang is a historically important American ally and a currently valued leader of U.S. and foreign-based Hmong. However, calls for Californian Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former President George W. Bush to pardon the defendants have yet to be answered, presumably pending a conclusion of the large and still-ongoing federal investigation.[67]

On September 18, 2009, the federal government dropped all charges against Vang Pao, announcing in a release that the federal government was permitted to consider "the probable sentence or other consequences if the person is convicted."[68] On January 10, 2011, after Vang Pao's death, the federal government dropped all charges against the remaining defendants saying, "Based on the totality of the circumstances in the case, the government believes, as a discretionary matter, that continued prosecution of defendants is no longer warranted," according to court documents.[69]

The Americas

Many Hmong refugees resettled in the United States after the Vietnam War. Beginning in December 1975, the first Hmong refugees arrived in the U.S., mainly from refugee camps in Thailand; however, only 3,466 were granted asylum at that time under the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975. In May 1976, another 11,000 were allowed to enter the United States, and by 1978 some 30,000 Hmong people had immigrated. This first wave was made up predominantly of men directly associated with General Vang Pao's secret army. It was not until the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980 that families were able to enter the U.S., becoming the second wave of Hmong immigrants. Today, 209,866 Hmong people reside in the United States[70] the majority of whom live in California (65,831), Minnesota (45,930), and Wisconsin (31,578).[71]

In terms of cities and towns, the largest Hmong-American community is in Fresno, followed by Merced and Porterville. There are also significant Hmong communities in Chico, Oroville, Yuba City, Eureka, Long Beach, Banning, Santa Ana, Acton, Stockton, and Sacramento, California; Detroit, Michigan; MinneapolisSaint Paul, Minnesota; Lowell, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island and Madison, Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Wausau, and La Crosse, Wisconsin and Massachusetts/Rhode Island have especially high concentrations of Hmong and Mong people.

There are smaller Hmong populations scattered across the country, including Arlington, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Irving, Texas; Anchorage, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; northeastern Washington State (Spokane); western North Carolina (Charlotte, Hickory, and Morganton); northeastern Georgia (Auburn, Duluth, Monroe, Atlanta, and Winder); San Diego, California and Los Angeles area; Wisconsin (Eau Claire, Appleton, Green Bay, La Crosse, and Sheboygan); Winooski, Vermont; and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, centered around the towns of Ephrata and Denver; and Memphis, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee.

There is also a small community of several thousand Hmong who migrated to French Guiana in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[72]

Community leaders

See also


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  3. ^ ABS Census – ethnicity
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  43. ^ Jonathan Tucker (Spring 2001). "The Yellow Rain Controversy: Lessons for Arms Control Compliance". The Nonproliferation Review. 
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  47. ^ Hamilton-Merritt, Jane. Tragic Mountains. p. xix–xxi.
  48. ^ a b c Johns, Michael (1995-10-23). "Acts of betrayal—persecution of Hmong". National Review. Archived from the original on 2007-07-05. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  49. ^ Reports on results of investigations of allegations concerning the welfare of Hmong refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand and Laos Refugee and Migration Affairs Unit, United States Embassy (Thailand), 1992, Retrieved 2007-07-27
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  • Fadiman, Anne (1997). The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-26781-2. 
  • Hillmer, Paul. A People’s History of the Hmong (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010) 327 pp. isbn 978-0-87351-726-3
  • [TYPN 1992] The section on nomenclature draws heavily on Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletter, Number 17, June 1992, Department of Anthropology, Australian National University. Material from that newsletter may be freely reproduced with due acknowledgment.
  • W.R. Geddes. Migrants of the Mountains: The Cultural Ecology of the Blue Miao (Hmong Njua) of Thailand. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1976.
  • Tapp, N., J.Michaud, C.Culas, G.Y.Lee (Eds) 2004 Hmong/Miao in Asia. Chiang Mai (Thailand): Silkworm, 500p.
  • Vang, Chia Youyee. Hmong America: Reconstructing Community in Diaspora (University of Illinois Press; 2011) 200 pages; Combines scholarly and personal perspectives in an ethnographic history of the Hmong refugee experience in the United States.

Earlier books

  • Edkins, The Miau-tsi Tribes. Foochow: 1870.
  • Henry, Lingnam. London: 1886.
  • Bourne, Journey in Southwest China. London: 1888.
  • A. H. Keaw, Man: Past and Present. Cambridge: 1900.
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Miaotsze". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Merritt, Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942–1992. Indiana: 1999.

External links

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