Hmong Americans

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Hmong Americans
Total population
309,564 (2017)[1]
0.095% of the U.S. population (2017)
Regions with significant populations
California (91,224),[2] Minnesota (66,181),[2] Wisconsin (49,240),[2] North Carolina (10,864),[2] and elsewhere
Hmong, American English, some Mandarin, some Lao, some Thai, some Vietnamese
Miao folk religion, Buddhism, Shamanism, Christianity[3]

Hmong Americans are Americans of Hmong descent, most of whom emigrated to the United States as Laotian refugees—or are the children and grandchildren of refugees. They fled Laos because they had sided with the United States (working with Central Intelligence Agency operatives in northern Laos) during the Vietnam War,[4] or they were perceived as having cooperated with the U.S. Over half of the Laotian Hmong population left the country, or tried to leave, in 1975, at the culmination of the war. About 90% of those who made it to refugee camps in Thailand were ultimately resettled in the United States. The rest, about 8 to 10%, resettled in Canada, France, the Netherlands, Australia, and other Western nations.


1976 and 1980

A memorial in front of Fresno County Court House commemorating Hmong service.

Initially only 1,000 Hmong people were evacuated to the US. In May 1976, another 11,000 Hmong were allowed to enter the United States. By 1978 some 30,000 Hmong had immigrated to the US. This first wave was made up primarily of men directly associated with General Vang Pao's Secret Army, which had been aligned with US war efforts during the Vietnam War. Vang Pao's Secret Army, which was subsidized by the US Central Intelligence Agency, fought mostly along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, where his forces sought to disrupt North Vietnamese weapons supply efforts to the communist VietCong rebel forces in South Vietnam. Ethnic Laotian and Hmong veterans, and their families, led by Colonel Wangyee Vang formed the Lao Veterans of America in the aftermath of the war to help refugees in the camps in Thailand and to help former veterans and their families in the United States, especially with family reunification and resettlement issues.[5]

Four years later, with the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, families of the Secret Army were also permitted to immigrate to the US, representing the second-wave of Hmong immigration. The clans, from which the Hmong take their surnames, are: Chang (Tsaab) or Cha (Tsab), Chao (Tsom), Cheng (Tsheej), Chue (Tswb), Fang (Faaj) or Fa (Fag), Hang (Haam) or Ha (Ham), Her (Hawj), Khang (Khaab) or Kha (Khab), Kong (Koo) or Soung (Xoom), Kue (Kwm), Lee (Lis), Lor (Lauj), Moua (Muas), Pha (Phab), Thao (Thoj), Vang (Vaaj) or Va (Vaj), Vue or Vu (Vwj), Xiong (Xyooj) and Yang (Yaaj) or Ya (Yaj).

1990s and 2000s

Following the 1980 immigration wave, a heated global political debate developed over how to deal with the remaining Hmong refugees in Thailand. Many had been held in squalid Thailand-based refugee camps, and the United Nations and the Clinton administration sought to repatriate them to Laos.

Reports of human rights violations against the Hmong in Laos, including killings and imprisonments, led most Thailand-based Hmong to oppose returning there, even as the conditions worsened of the camps in Thailand, because of their lack of sufficient funding.

One of the more prominent examples of apparent Laotian abuse of the Hmong was the fate of Vue Mai, a former soldier. The US Embassy in Bangkok recruited him to return to Laos under the repatriation program, in their effort to reassure the Thai-based Hmong that their safety in Laos would be assured. But, Vue disappeared in Vientiane. The US Commission for Refugees later reported that he was arrested by Lao security forces and never seen again.[6]

Especially following the Vue Mai incident, the Clinton and UN policy of returning the Hmong to Laos began to meet with strong political opposition by US conservatives and some human rights advocates. Michael Johns, a former White House aide to President George H. W. Bush and a Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst, along with other influential conservatives, led a campaign to grant the Thai-based Hmong immediate US immigration rights. In an October 1995 National Review article, citing the Hmong's contributions to US war efforts during the Vietnam War, Johns described President Clinton's support for returning the Thai-based Hmong refugees to Laos as a "betrayal" and urged Congressional Republicans to step up opposition to the repatriation.[7] Opposition to the repatriation grew in Congress and among Hmong families in the US Congressional Republicans responded by introducing and passing legislation to appropriate sufficient funds to resettle all remaining Hmong in Thailand in the United States. Clinton vowed to veto the legislation.

In addition to internal US opposition to the repatriation, the government of Laos expressed reservations about the repatriation, stating that the Hmong remaining in Thailand were a threat to its one-party communist government and the Marxist government in Vientiane, Laos. In a significant and unforeseen political victory for the Hmong and their US Republican advocates, tens of thousands of Thai-based Hmong refugees were ultimately granted US immigration rights. The majority were resettled in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The defeat of the repatriation initiative resulted in the reunifications in the US of many long-separated Hmong families. In 2006, as a reflection of the growth of the minority in the state, the Wisconsin State Elections Board translated state voting documents into the Hmong language.[8]

Throughout the Vietnam War, and for two decades following it, the US government stated that there was no "Secret War" in Laos and that the US was not engaged in air or ground combat operations in Laos. In the late 1990s, however, several US conservatives, led by Johns and others, alleged that the Clinton administration was using the denial of this covert war to justify a repatriation of Thailand-based Hmong war veterans to Laos. It persuaded the US government to acknowledge the Secret War (conducted mostly under President Richard Nixon) and to honor the Hmong and American veterans from the war.

On May 15, 1997, in a total reversal of US policy, the federal government acknowledged that it had supported a prolonged air and ground campaign in Laos against the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong. That day it dedicated the Laos Memorial on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in honor of the Hmong and other combat veterans from the Secret War.[9] In 1999 there were about 250,000 Hmong people living in the United States, living in numerous medium and large cities.[10]

Some Hmong remained in refugee camps Thailand at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks. This resulted in the tightening of US immigration laws, especially under the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act, and the immigration of Hmong refugees to the US has significantly slowed. Most Hmong refugees in Thailand had been engaged in documented armed conflict (although under US sponsorship) during and after the Vietnam War. The anti-terrorism legislation created barriers to such people being accepted as immigrants.[11][12]


Hmong population in the US by areas of concentration

Hmong Americans at a community recycling event in Saint Paul

States with the largest Hmong population include: California (86,989; 0.2%), Minnesota (63,619; 1.2%), Wisconsin (47,127; 0.8%), and North Carolina (10,433; 0.1%), Michigan (5,924; 0.1%), Colorado (4,530; 0.1%), Georgia (3,623; 0.03%), Alaska (3,534; 0.5%), Oklahoma (3,369; 0.1%), and Oregon (2,920; 0.1%).[2][13] The metropolitan areas of Fresno and Minneapolis-St. Paul have especially large Hmong communities.[14] St. Paul, Minnesota has the largest Hmong population per capita in the United States (10.0%; 28,591 Hmong Americans), followed by Wausau in Wisconsin (3,569; 9.1% of its population).

Today, according to the 2010 US Census, 260,073 people of Hmong descent reside in the United States up from 186,310 in 2000.[15] The vast majority of the growth since 2000 was from natural increase, except for the admission of a final group of over 15,000 refugees in 2004 and 2005 from Wat Tham Krabok in Thailand. Of the 260,073 Hmong-Americans, 247,595 or 95.2% are Hmong alone, and the remaining 12,478 are mixed Hmong with some other ethnicity or race. The Hmong-American population is among the youngest of all groups in the United States, with the majority being under 30 years old, born after 1980, with most part-Hmong are under 10 years old.[16]

In terms of metropolitan area, the largest Hmong-American community is in Minneapolis-Saint Paul-Bloomington, MN Metro Area (74,422); followed by Fresno, CA Metro Area (31,771); Sacramento, CA Metro Area (26,996); Milwaukee, WI Metro Area (11,904); and Merced, CA Metro Area (7,254).[17]

There are smaller Hmong communities scattered across the country, including cities in California; Colorado (Denver, Colorado – 4,264); Michigan (Detroit, Michigan and Warren, Michigan – 4,190), Alaska (Anchorage, Alaska – 3,494); North Carolina (Hickory, North Carolina); Georgia (Auburn, Duluth, Lawrenceville, Monroe, Atlanta, and Winder); Wisconsin (Eau Claire, Appleton, Green Bay, La Crosse, and Stevens Point, Plover, and Sheboygan); Kansas (Kansas City – 1,754); Oklahoma (Tulsa – 2,483);[17] Missoula County, Montana (230);[18] Southwest Missouri; Northwest Arkansas (Benton County); Washington; Oregon (Portland), and throughout the United States.[16]

Hmong by location

As of the 2000 US Census, the largest Hmong population by metropolitan area resided in and around Minneapolis-St. Paul, with 40,707 people. The following areas were Greater Fresno with 22,456 people, Greater Sacramento (Sacramento-Yolo) with 16,261, Greater Milwaukee (Milwaukee-Racine) with 8,078, Greater Merced with 6,148, Greater Stockton (Stockton-Lodi) with 5,553, Appleton-Oshkosh-Neenah with 4,741, Greater Wausau with 4,453, Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (North Carolina) with 4,207, and Greater Detroit (Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint) with 3,926.[19]


California has the largest Hmong population in the United States by state.[10] As of 2010, there are 91,244 Hmong Americans in California, 0.3% of the state's population.

In 2002, the State of California counted about 35,000 students of Hmong descent in schools. According to Jay Schenirer, a member of the school board of the Sacramento City Unified School District, most of the students resided in the Central Valley, in an area ranging from Fresno to Marysville. Fresno County and Sacramento County combined have almost 12,000 Hmong students.[20]

As of 2002, of the Hmong students who took the California English Language Development Test, which measures English fluency in students who are learning English, 15% of Hmong scores at the "advanced" or "early advanced" classifications, while 30% of Vietnamese English learning students and 21% of all of California's over 1.5 million English learning students scored at those levels. Suanna Gilman-Ponce, the multilingual education department head of Sacramento City Unified, said that the Hmong students have lower rates due to having parents who speak little English; therefore they enter American schools with few English skills. In addition, their culture was not literate, so Hmong history was not written down and history books did not discuss Hmong history.[20]

In 2011, Susan B. Anthony Elementary School in Sacramento established a Hmong-language immersion program. It is the only Hmong immersion program in a California public school, and is one of two Hmong immersion school programs in the United States.[21]

General Vang Pao was the beloved leader of the Hmong community. Now his legacy has become a permanent part of a Southeast Fresno community. General Vang Pao led Hmong troops in support of the United States during the Vietnam war, and now he's revered by a new generation of Hmong. The Fresno Unified School District voted unanimously to name a new elementary school after the late leader.

It is the only school named after a Hmong leader in the entire state, and most likely, the entire country. The Hmong community collected more than 10,000 signatures in support.

"Fresno Unified is really setting a trend here in stepping out to include a different group," said Fresno City Councilmember Blong Xiong.

Many see it as a huge stride toward not only acceptance, but recognition.

General Vang Pao Elementary School is located near Cedar and Hamilton and opened in August for the 2012-13 school year.


Colorado is home to approximately 5,000 Hmong who first settled in the state in the late 1976 to early 1980s. Today, most of the Hmong live in the north metro Denver area including Arvada, Brighton, Broomfield, Federal Heights, Lafayatte, Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster.

In 1995, Golden, Colorado became the first city in the United States to designate a Lao-Hmong Recognition Day. Since then, other areas in the country followed suit, declaring July 22 “Lao-Hmong Recognition Day”. The establishment of this day recognizes the bravery, sacrifice, and loyalty to the United States exhibited by the Lao-Hmong. The Lao-Hmong Recognition Day was held in recognition and to honor of the Lao-Hmong Special Guerrilla Units (SGU) Veterans, "America’s Secret Army and Most Loyal Allies." The SGUs were composed of indigenous Laotians, especially the Hmong, Lao, Mien, Lue, Khmu and Thaidam tribes, and were known for their patriotism, valiant service, personal sacrifice and loyal support of the United States Armed Forces in Laos during the Vietnam War.

"Historically, the Lao-Hmong people were one of our country’s most loyal allies. During the Vietnam War, they fought bravely alongside U.S. soldiers. Many emigrated to the U.S. and now proudly call this country their home. We are grateful for their service and sacrifice to our nation," said U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO-07).

The Hmong Alliance and Missionary District headquarters is located in Thornton, CO. In 2018, the Hmong District celebrates its fortieth-year anniversary in St. Paul, MN with over 110 churches scattered throughout the United States with an inclusive membership of 30,000 plus people. The Hmong District is led by Rev. Dr. Lantzia Thao (Tswv Txos), who acts as the Hmong District Superintendent overseeing the entire movement and operations.


Kansas has a moderate Hmong population. Kansas City was one of the first cities to accept Hmong people after the war.[22] Its Hmong population declined in the early 80s due to migration from Kansas to California, and the Northern Midwest. The population has since stabilized and has more than double every decade since 1990. According to the 2010 Census, 1,732 Hmong people lived in Kansas of which 1,600 lived in the Kansas Side of Kansas City and an estimated more than 400 families and 2,000 Hmong living in the Greater Kansas City Area in 2013.[23] Lao Family was established in Kansas City in the 1980s but the Hmong separated from the organization to create the Hmong American Community, Inc. which today is still a functioning entity hosting Hmong New Year celebrations in Kansas City.[24] Kansas City has a vast majority Green Hmong population and is greater than 80% converted to Christianity though more and more Hmong people move in every year that still practices the traditional religion. Kansas City is home to five Hmong churches, multiple Hmong runs and owned manufacturing companies, nail salons, small business such as insurance and barber shops, vendors at the flea market, an organization such as Hmong Village Inc., Vang Organization, and Herr Organization just to name a few. Minnesota State Senator Foung Hawj lived in Kansas City during teen years. After graduating from The University of Kansas in 1990, he moved to Minnesota to start the first Hmong television show Kev Koom Siab. A majority of the Hmong in Kansas City are his kin. His father, retired Pastor Chay Heu, and mother still live there.


As of 2011, according to Judy Thao, the director of the United Hmong of Massachusetts, an organization based in Lowell, about 2,000 Hmong resided in the State of Massachusetts. Thao said that the largest community, with 60 to 70 families, is located in the Fitchburg/Leominster area. As of 2010, there are 412 people of Hmong descent living in Fitchburg (one percent of the city's population). Thao said that about 20 to 30 families each live in the second largest communities, in Springfield and Brockton.[25]


As of 1999, fewer than 4,000 Hmong people lived in Detroit.[26] As of 2005, Michigan had 5,400 Hmong people; reflecting an increase from 2,300 in the 1990s. As of 2005, most Hmong in Michigan lived in Metro Detroit in the cities of Detroit, Pontiac, and Warren.[27] As of 2002 the concentrations of Hmong and Laotian people in the WayneMacombOakland tri-county area were in northeast Detroit, southern Warren, and central Pontiac.[28] That year, Kurt Metzger and Jason Booza, authors of "Asians in the United States, Michigan and Metropolitan Detroit," wrote that "The 3,943 Hmong living in tri-county area is one of the most concentrated of the Asian groups."[28] As of 2007, almost 8,000 Hmong lived in Michigan, most in northeastern Detroit. As of 2007, Hmong were increasingly moving to Pontiac and Warren.[29]

The Greater Lansing Area is home to the second largest Hmong American population in Michigan. After 1970, Hmong Americans began to settle in Lansing, Michigan's capital city. Hmong Americans in the Greater Lansing Area, often, have strong ties to churches. Churches like St. Michael's, Our Savior Lutheran Church, and All Saints Episcopal Church sponsored Hmong Americans coming to Lansing, providing them resources to make the transition to America a smoother experience.[30] Lansing hosts a statewide Hmong New Year Festival.[27]


As of 1999, Minnesota has the second largest US Hmong population by state.[10] As of 2001, the largest Hmong population in the United States by the city is located in St. Paul.[31]

Pom Siab Hmoob (Gazing into the Heart of the Hmong) Theatre, which is reportedly the world's first Hmong theater group, was formed in 1990. It is based in the Twin Cities.[32] It is now known as the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT).[33]

Mee Moua was elected as the nation's first Hmong American State Senator. She was elected in 2002 and served until 2010. She represented District 67 in the Minnesota Senate, which includes portions of the city of Saint Paul in Ramsey County.

The film Gran Torino by Clint Eastwood, though set and filmed in Detroit, Michigan, stars five Minnesotan Hmong (Hmongesotan) Americans, and the original story was based on a neighborhood in St. Paul. It was the first mainstream US film to feature Hmong Americans.[34]

North Carolina

In the late 1980s, toward the end of President Bush's term in office, the elder Hmong who first came to the United States started to look for jobs where both parents could obtain employment. A group of Hmong came to North Carolina and resettled in the Morganton and Hickory area.


A group of Hmong refugees settled in Philadelphia after the end of the 1970s Laotian Civil War. They were attacked in discriminatory acts, and the city's Commission on Human Relations held hearings on the incidents. Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, said that lower-class residents resented the Hmong receiving a $100,000 federal grant for employment assistance when they were also out of work; they believed that American citizens should be getting assistance.[35] Between 1982 and 1984, three quarters of the Hmong people who had settled in Philadelphia left for other cities in the United States to join relatives who were already there.[36]

Rhode Island

Providence Hmong Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance

In 1976, Hmong members of the U.S. Secret Army Special Guerrilla Unit, recruited by the CIA during the Vietnam War, were resettled in Rhode Island as refugees.[37] In 1983 their population was estimated at 1,700–2,000.[38] 2010 census results put the number of Rhode Island Hmong at 1,015.[39][37] The Hmong United Association of Rhode Island puts on a Hmong New Year's festival annually.[37] About sixty families are members of the Providence Hmong Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance; they are known locally for their egg roll fundraiser, held in the spring.[40]


As of 2010, Wisconsin has over 49,000 Hmong people—the largest Asian ethnic group in the state.[41][42]

Other locations

In December 1999, according to the Hmong National Development Inc., Chicago had about 500 Hmong people.[26] There is a sizable Hmong population in Westminster, Colorado (0.8% of the city's population as of 2010).

Community and social issues

Lack of education and high dropout rates

The 2000 US Census reveals that 60% of all Hmong above 24 years of age have a highest educational attainment of high school or equivalent, as many of these immigrants came to America as adults or young adults. About 7% of Hmong have a bachelor's degree or higher. According to a government data collected in 2013, 40% of Hmong Americans drop out of school.[43] Among the Hmong population, 38% have not received a high school degree, and 14% have at least a bachelor's degree.[44] Educational attainment among Hmong women is significantly lower than among Hmong men, with about one in five Hmong women having a high school diploma.[45]

The lack of formal education among Hmong immigrants is due to the fact that many were once farmers in the hills of Laos or were refugees from war who fled into remote jungles, and had little or no access to schools.[46]

In St. Paul about 2,000 Hmong people have their bachelor's degree, 150 have their master's degree, and 68 have received their doctoral degree,[47][48][49] which is a very low percentage considering the population of Hmong Americans in St. Paul is less than 36,000.

In the topic of community issues and Hmong in education, factors to consider are family dynamic, parent engagement, accessibility to resources, and the various school climates. The lack of emotional support for Hmong LGBTQ+ youth in Minnesota and Wisconsin reveal mental and health concerns which affect their academic performance.[50]

Hmong girls and boys had also encountered difficulties in achieving success in the field of education as they adapted the Hmong culture, which is considered as rural, to contemporary American society (Ngo & Lor, 2013).[51] Cha suggested that the dropout rate of Hmong teenagers was the highest among those of Asian American groups (2013).[52] In the first few years after immigration, Hmong girls almost had no chance to be educated in school. Later, as they got the opportunities to go to school, around 90% of Hmong girls chose to quit school because parents preferred obedient and compliant daughters-in-law when looking for partners for their sons (Ngo & Lor, 2013).

On the other hand, Hmong young men are burdened more due to the high expectations on sons in Hmong culture, which led to their challenges in school, such as bad relationships with teachers and lack of participation in class. The word used to describe the work those Hmong boys were involved in for family was “helping out” (Ngo & Lor, 2013, p. 155),[51] referring to an accepted and natural habit including working outside, taking care of the siblings, completing daily household, being cultural brokers for parents and attending numerous traditional ceremonies. For example, Hmong boys were asked to write checks to pay for utility bills and to prepare food for their younger brothers. Also, they went to ceremonies not only to maintain the family relationship but also to keep the traditions from disappearing.

According to Yang (2013),[53] after three decades of struggle, Hmong Americans had achieved in economic, political and educational aspects. Starting from small business, the businesses of Hmong had become international, diverse and high-tech since 2000. For example, about 50 home health care agencies which were supported by federal or state medical assistance were run by Hmong in Minnesota. The Hmong were also more involved in political activities that 57 percent of the Hmong in Minnesota regarded themselves as Democrats, shown by a survey in 2008, and several Hmong people, including Madison P. Nguyen, former Hmong refugee women in Minnesota, had been elected political staffs in city offices.


The last data collected by the American government puts the percentage of Hmong Americans living below the poverty line at 37.8%, an increase from recent years.[43] This figure is over twice that of all Americans living below the poverty line, which is 16%.[54][55]

In a 2013, NPR discussion with a member of the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the book The Myth of the Model Minority Rosalind Chou who is also a professor of sociology. One of them stated that "When you break it down by specific ethnic groups, the Hmong, the Bangladeshi, they have poverty rates that rival the African-American poverty rate."[56]

Per capita income

As of 2014, factfinder census reveals that when American per capita income is divided by ethnic groups, Hmong Americans are the third lowest earning group, with an average per capita income of only $12,923, a figure that rests far below the American average of $25,825.[55]

Median household income

Hmong Americans have an average median household income of $48,000 which is lower than the American average of $53,600.[57]

Culture and politics

There are many cultural, political, and social issues that are being debated among Hmong American communities. Topics include political participation, poverty, gang violence, race relations, and education. The Hmong community also retains many ties with the Hmong still in Indochina and remains active in regional politics.

Politics and culture vary with the location of Hmong-American communities. The Twin Cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis, are more progressive as the queer/LGBTQ+ culture and politics surrounding sexuality and gender are projected and recognized at the local, regional, state, and national level.[58]


Identities go beyond the Hmong-American identity. Heterosexuality and heteronormativity is traditionally tied to the Hmong identity and its history. Studies show that homophobia in the Hmong communities prior to the immigration to the United States is near to nothing, Hmong traditional elders didn't recall homophobia because non-heterosexual identities were nearly non-existent.[59] Among the diverse identities of Hmong Americans, non-traditional gender and sexual identities have gained cultural, political, and social significance.[60]

In 2003, Shades of Yellow (SOY), an LGBTQ+ non-profit organization, was established in St. Paul, Minnesota, to support Hmong people who identify as LGBTQ+.[61] In March 2017, SOY announced the closing of their doors as leadership and funding levels changed.[62]

In December 2005, the Sacramento Hmong LGBTQIA group was founded and serves to provide socials such as movie nights, potlucks, and cultural shows.[63][64] The Sacramento Hmong LGBTQIA group collaborates with local organizations, for example, the Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sacramento Coalition (APIQSC), to build allyship and stronger political and social relationships within the LGBTQ+ Hmong and general API communities.[63]

Sexual health is critical to the LGBTQ+ Hmong community as it is for the general Southeast Asian (SEA) community throughout the country. Social media and Southeast Asian presence in it calls for a high risk of contracting STI's and HIV, as well other transmissible diseases and health concerns. Sexual education and awareness, as well as education regarding online sex culture, is heavily recommended for awareness and safety when considering sexual health.[65]

Mental health

Compared to other Southeast Asian refugees in America, Hmong refugees have the highest rates of mental health disorders,[66] with an overall mental illness incidence rate at around 33.5%.[67] This mental health problem has been attributed to traumatic past experiences and problems adjusting to life in the United States.[68]

Gender roles play an integral factor for the mental health of Hmong women. Gender construct of Hmong women, traditionally, socially and politically, have historically been oppressive and marginalizing. Even in traditional Hmong cloth (paj ntaub) and folklore (dab neej) Hmong gender roles are concretely sewn and told, and repeated. Misogyny and patriarchy in the Hmong community is present to this day which calls for Hmong women empowerment initiatives throughout the United States.[69]

In religious and traditional Hmong families the subject of mental health is taboo because of Shamanism, with the belief that remedy to health is through communication and exchanges with spirits. Through spiritual ceremonies, overall health is remedied, not through health facilities or specialists, not through science.[60] In addition, LGBTQ+ Hmong individuals struggle with mental health due to the lack of education and attention on mental health in Hmong communities, deals with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide.[60]


Hmong Americans have experienced violence after immigrating to the United States. Some specific instances of violence against Hmong Americans have been murders, which a few have occurred while they were engaging in the activity of hunting.[70] Hmong Americans have hunted because it is a common traditional practice in countries such as Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. These are common countries from which the Hmong ethnic group has immigrated, although they do not have a specific home country. Chong Moua Yang, a Hmong American hunter, was murdered in Bath Township, Michigan on November 16, 2018.[71] His murder, however, still remains unsolved.


The Hmong language is spoken by approximately 4 million with about 5% residing in the United States. There are two different dialects, Hmong Ntsuab and Hmong Dawb. In America, these are known as Green Hmong and White Hmong. Many of the vowel sounds are quite a bit different in these dialects compared to some of the Asian ones.

In the United States, about 60% speak White Hmong and 40% speak Green Hmong. The Centers for Disease Control states "Though some Hmong report difficulty understanding speakers of a dialect not their own, for the most part, White and Green Hmong speakers seem to understand one another."[72]

White Hmong and Green Hmong

White Hmong (Hmoob Dawb) and Green Hmong (Moob Leeg) are the two primary dialects spoken by Hmong Americans. The difference between the two dialects is analogous to the difference between American and British English; thus, both can understand each other easily. Green Hmong is named so because of the color used in Green Hmong women's traditional costume.[73]

It is seen that the majority of the Hmong American population is either White or Green Hmong, but with language, there can be some language barriers. For example, providing quality interpreter services can be difficult. Complicating communication issues is the fact that until the late 1960s no written form of the Hmong language existed, and many of the Hmong people were unable to read or write their own language. This makes the use of written materials for Hmong patients fairly useless.[74] This kind of complication in communicating was able to be seen in Anne Fadiman's book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, where the Lees cannot read or write their own language and have trouble when their daughter Lia has to go to the hospital. The Lees need to get interpreters to help them try to understand what is wrong with their child and what they need to do. When Lia was given medications, the Lees had a great struggle since they could not read or follow the doctor's instructions. Such a language barrier can make it very difficult to follow simple instructions. Being unable to communicate leads to great struggles.[75][page needed]

Culture and US organizations

Even though most Hmong families speak a language other than English at home, many Hmong Americans are rapidly blending into mainstream American society. This is causing some of the younger generation to lose aspects of their cultural identity at a faster pace. To help combat this, the Lao Hmong community has set up associations and media that encourage Hmong people to maintain their language, historical identity, and culture. These include the Lao Veterans of America, Lao Veterans of America Institute, Lao Human Rights Council, Hmong Advancement, Inc., Hmong Advance, Inc., United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc., Lao Family, Hmong National Development (HND) association and the Hmong Today and Hmong Times newspapers.[76] The Lao Veterans of America Institute is also a national 501(c) 3 organization. There are a number of other Hmong non-profit organizations, including those previously mentioned, and HND which is also one of a number of national, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organizations serving the community.

Hmong Today, a publishes communications products for the Hmong community. These products are designed to provide important information to the Hmong community and to promote unity in the Hmong community. Hmong Today also informs the community at large about the Hmong community. Having a newspaper like Hmong Today creates a way for businesses, organizations, and schools to connect with the Hmong community. Likewise, the Hmong Times is a national newspaper serving the Lao and Hmong-American community in Minnesota and the United States.[77]

As of 2012, Hmong in California are developing a Hmong-English online translator, in collaboration with Microsoft.[78]

Kinship of the Hmong people

In regards to kinship, the Hmong maintain theirs uniquely when observed by one from outside of their culture. Of course, the tradition of kinship is kept in a unique way in various cultures. As shown through the context of Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, the kinship between mothers and their newborn babies is almost inseparable. The mother would always carry the newborn baby with her all day long even when she is working so that the baby would not be left around on the dirty ground floor and as the protection to the baby from bad spirits. In the case of kinship among other relatives in the United States, the Hmong people tend to stay in groups where there are much other Hmong residing. This allows them to share their cultural values and practices together. The cohesiveness of their residence close to one another makes them feel more comfortable in the foreign land of the United States.[79]

As happened with other immigrant groups, some cultural conflicts arose when the Hmong arrived in the US after the Vietnam War. One of the better-documented conflicts occurred in medicine. Anne Fadiman's 1997 nonfiction book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down documents one such conflict regarding a young Hmong girl's health care. The girl's parents saw her epileptic seizures as a divine gift, whereas Western medicine viewed them as a serious medical condition. The conflict was exacerbated by communication issues and cultural over-reliance on alternative medicine. A language barrier and what the parents interpreted as condescension and racism on the part of the doctors led the parents to believe the Californian doctors did not have their daughter's best interests at heart, and on several occasions believed the medicines being administered were making their daughter's epilepsy worse. Meanwhile, the American doctors remarked that the Hmong were being obstinate and were unable or unwilling to follow instructions in medicating their daughter. There is controversy over whether there was truly informed consent from the illiterate parents, who often signed consent forms without an interpreter. Although there are issues about its contents, Fadiman's book is often used when studying cross-cultural medicine.[80]

Hmong American rituals

Hmong rituals and ceremonies have been an important part of the Hmong cultural and spiritual experience. From funerals to soul calling, these rituals have been passed down from generations to generations. As Hmong spread around the United States, these rituals adapt to the location changes.

Hmong American funerals

Since arriving in the United States in the late 1970s, many Hmong families still practice their rituals, but the number of traditional funerals preferred had dwindled due to a large number of Hmong, mostly the younger generations, converting to Christianity, lacking finances, and other reasons. Living in the United States also with jobs and school, there is not that much time to take a week off, which is how long most of these funeral rituals take (Lee, Kirk 2009).

There are several differences between traditional funeral rituals in Laos and Thailand than in the United States. Usually in Laos and Thailand funerals occur immediately in the home after a person dies. The person is dressed and then held within the hours at the home (Lee, 1009). Usually, they take place at the house because the guardians and spirits are present for protection. Now they start in a funeral home and then go to the deceased home. In the United States, a body must be transported for autopsy, paperwork is done, and before the body is released for the ritual the proper documentation had to be signed. In Laos, there are no funeral homes, but in the United States, this is where they are usually serviced. When someone dies the family now has to call a funeral director and carefully plan the funeral ritual. Another main difference is because they have more access to material products (Yang 2011).

At these ceremonies, there is usually an offering of oxen, but there are no oxen in the United States, there are just cows and buffaloes (Yang, 2011). Nowadays it is still common from Hmong Americans to sacrifice animals as offerings to a deceased, especially if it is a parent. Also now that the animal has to be transported to the funeral home, only the head of the animal and other significant parts could be used during the sacrifice and not the whole body. Because of the new lives of the Hmong in the United States, people are usually working so the funeral is held only on weekends, usually 2–3 days as opposed to the 3–12 days the traditional funeral would normally take.[81]

2007 coup conspiracy accusations and arrests

On June 4, 2007, following a lengthy federal investigation labeled "Operation Flawed Eagle," warrants were issued by a California-based US federal court for the arrest of General Vang Pao, eight other Hmong people, and one non-Hmong person for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government of Laos in violation of the federal Neutrality Acts and various US weapons laws.[82]

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 for use in Hmong guerrilla war efforts against the Laotian government. 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.

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. The defendants faced possible life prison terms for violation.

Vang Pao and other defendants were ultimately granted bail, following the posting of $1.5 million in the property. Following the arrests, many Vang Pao supporters had called on President George W. Bush and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon the defendants.

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.”[83] On January 10, 2011, charges against all of the remaining defendants were dropped as well.[84]

In popular culture

The 2008 film Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood, was the first mainstream US film to feature Hmong Americans.[34] Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, an elderly, racist Korean War veteran living in Detroit, Michigan who befriends a Hmong teenager named Thao, played by Bee Vang, who previously tries to steal his Gran Torino as an initiation into a local Hmong gang run by his own cousins.

In the episode Body & Soul of the TV series House, the team treats a Hmong child that is believed to be possessed by a dab, which the doctors, as well the child's mother attempt to disprove. His grandfather, however, believes the same dab that is possessing his grandson possessed his son, the child's father. After seeing her son levitate without a logical explanation, she starts to believe he is possessed by a dab. Following an exorcism in order to free the dab from the child, his symptoms go away, which his mother and grandfather attribute to the exorcism, while the doctors believe it was the long shot treatment of Ibuprofen to treat his Patent ductus arteriosus that cured him.

Notable people

At least two Hmong have been elected to high public office. In 2002, Mee Moua became the first Hmong American legislator when she was elected to fill the Minnesota State Senate seat vacated by Randy Kelly when he was elected mayor of St. Paul. She later became the Senate majority whip. Cy Thao is a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

At age 14, Joe Bee Xiong fought alongside American soldiers like his father had done. When their village fell to the Communists, Xiong and his family fled to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually ended up in Wisconsin in 1980. In 1996, Xiong was elected to the Eau Claire, Wisconsin city council. Xiong was the first Hmong to be elected to a city council in Wisconsin. He ran for the state Assembly in 2004. Xiong was traveling with family in his native country, Laos, when he died, possibly of heart-related complications.[85] Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind worked with Xiong to investigate reports of human rights abuses against Hmong still in Laos and Southeast Asia and says Xiong was a great community leader and an inspiration to many. Another Hmong, Thomas T. Vue, presently serves on the Eau Claire city council. Furthermore, Chue Neng Xiong was elected to the Eau Claire, WI school board and sworn into service on April 22, 2013.

Community leaders and organizations, including Dr. Wangyee Vang, Dr. Cherzong Vang, the Lao Veterans of America, the Lao Veterans of America Institute, the Center for Public Policy Analysis, the Lao Human Rights Council, and others, have sought to educate the public and policymakers about the important contribution of the Hmong people, and Lao Hmong veterans, during the Vietnam War in support of US national security interests. In 1997, the Lao Veterans of America dedicated a monument in Arlington National Cemetery, the Laos Memorial, to help honor the Hmong veterans and community for their service to the United States during the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Each year, in May, they continue to host annual ceremonies with members of the US Congress and other officials, to honor the service of the Hmong. Many Hmong elders and young people attend the ceremonies and events in Washington, D.C.[citation needed]


See also


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Further reading

  • Bankston, Carl L. "Hmong Americans." in Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, (3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014), pp. 331-344. [Bankston, Carl L. "Hmong Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, 3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014, pp. 331-344. Gale eBooks, onlione]
  • Chan, Sucheng, ed. Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and America (Temple University Press, 1994). online
  • Hein, Jeremy. Ethnic Origins: The Adaptation of Cambodian and Hmong Refugees in Four American Cities (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006).
  • Her, Vincent K., and Mary Louise Buley-Messner, eds. Hmong and American: From Refugees to Citizens (Minnesota Historical Society, 2012).
  • Lo, Aline, and Kong Pheng Pha. "Hmong American Literature and Culture." in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature (2018).
  • Vang, Chia Youvee. Hmong America: Reconstructing Community in Diaspora (U of Illinois Press, 2010).
  • Yang, Kou. The Making of Hmong America: Forty Years after the Secret War (Lexington Books, 2017).
  • Yang Dao – Growing up Hmong at the Crossroads
  • Gonzalo, Pa Xiong. Growing Up Hmong in Laos and America: Two Generations of Women Amerasia should Journal (2010) 36#1 pp 56–103
  • Lee, Marjorie. "Through Hmong America: A Bibliographic Journey." Amerasia Journal 36.1 (2010): 105–114.
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
  • The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
  • Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story by Pegi Deitz Shea
  • Hmong and American: Stories of Transition to a Strange Land by Sue Murphy Mote
  • Hmong America: Reconstructing Community in Diaspora (Asian American Experience) by Chia Youyee Vang
  • Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang
  • Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story by Shea, Pegi Deitz
  • Harvesting Pa Chay's Wheat: The Hmong & America's Secret War in Laos by Keith Quincy
  • The Promised Land: The Socioeconomic Reality of the Hmong People in Urban America (1976–2000) by Fungchatau T. Lo
  • Hmong in America: Journey from a Secret War by Tim Pfaff
  • Moua, Mai Neng (editor). Bamboo Among the Oaks: Contemporary Writing by Hmong Americans. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002. ISBN 0873514378, 9780873514378.
  • The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story by Pegi Deitz Shea
  • Hmong in Minnesota by Chia Vang
  • "The violence of Hmong gangs and the crime of rape." The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. February 1, 2003.
  • "THE EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE OF HMONG STUDENTS IN WISCONSIN."(Archive) Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. December 1997. Volume 10, Issue 8.
  • "Wisconsin Hmong Population and Hmong Mutual Assistance Associations." (Archive) US Department of Agriculture
  • "2010 U.S. Census Hmong Populations." (Archive) Hmong National Development, Inc.

External links

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