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Southeast Asian refugees
March 29, 2005 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Southeast Asian refugees, like other immigrant populations, have had a mix of experiences and successes since they began arriving in the U.S. in the 1970s. Among the refugees, two groups, the Mien and the Hmong, tribes who populate the mountains of Laos and Thailand, fled when the Communists took over. Today, some Mien, also known to some Asians as the Yao, continue to live in China, where they are a recognized minority group and elsewhere. Large numbers of the Mien people have settled in Portland, Ore., and California, and appear to be doing pretty well. The Hmong settled primarily in Minneapolis and St. Paul because their military leader, Gen. Vang Pao settled there. You may have read about the Hmong man who killed six white hunters, claiming racial animosity, but before that occurred, the Hmong themselves have experienced one tragedy after another.
posted by etaoin (17 comments total)

 
We have many Hmong immigrants living in my primarily white-bread conservative area and I've never seen this town's acceptance of diversity as high as it is today. Although, the residents here did throw an uproar when a few of the immigrants were found to be carrying tuberculosis.

There was a letter in the local newspaper around Halloween that sparked quite an argument; the writer was an elderly woman who in her letter justified turning away Hmong children from her door during trick-or-treat. Surprisingly, a lot of people supported her picking and choosing. So although the acceptance of diversity here is high, some of the... well... rednecks in this area can't understand why there are some people here who aren't white!
posted by sian at 7:26 AM on March 29, 2005


Two Vietnamese refugees joined my class in 2nd grade in 1974 in California and lived with local foster families. I was too young to understand what was going on, what they had been through, but since then I've often wondered what became of Phu and Truong.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:29 AM on March 29, 2005


So although the acceptance of diversity here is high, some of the... well... rednecks in this area can't understand why there are some people here who aren't white!

It's not only white folks who seem to have issues with Asian folk.
posted by jonmc at 7:35 AM on March 29, 2005


You may have read about the Hmong man who killed six white hunters,

Wow, I'd forgotten all about that story. It was big in the national media for about two days, and then, nothing. Had no idea St. Paul had such an significant Hmong populace either.

It's not only white folks who seem to have issues with Asian folk.

Funny you say that, jon. The only Hmong I've ever met were at a job in Atlanta where it was me, five of them, and about fifty local black folks. The Hmong were called "sped" (Special Ed), "FOB" and "Japs" by everyone, but the Hmong were too intimidated to speak back, though they were great at the job. For awhile there was discussion of racial profiling of non-Americans at Hartsfield Airport, something black citizens wholeheartedly supported, not to mention the desire for towelhead-killing overheard after 9/11. Living in Atlanta, Tallahassee & Charleston taught me that our most outspoken racists are just as likely to not be white rednecks. The animosity in Black-Korean neighborhoods is no secret, either.
posted by dhoyt at 8:02 AM on March 29, 2005


There's a big dropoff after CA, MN and WI, but North Carolina has the 4th largest Hmong population, mostly in the western part of the state. They seem to be doing well:

About 7 percent of North Carolina Hmong receive public assistance, compared with 50 percent of Hmong in California, and 28 percent in Minnesota, according to the Hmong Resource Center of St. Paul, Minn...

But there are signs the Hmong in North Carolina are at a crossroads. Textile and furniture jobs have been leaving for China, while Hickory's share of the dot-com bubble, the manufacture of coaxial cable, burst, too. Throughout the 1990s, the jobless rate in the Catawba Valley hovered around 2 percent; since 2001, it has floated between 7 and 9 percent, and many, including Hmong, have been laid off. An influx of Hispanics, the South's largest new immigrant group, has added to the competition.

How well the Hmong handle this slump will go a long way toward validating the true success of their North Carolina settlement. With factory jobs much more precious, they also may find themselves less welcome.

posted by mediareport at 8:04 AM on March 29, 2005


[er, *U.S.* population]
posted by mediareport at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2005


well, dhoyt, I'm not trying to lay the blame for anti-Asian bigotry at black people's feet, far from it. I'm just trying to note that racial animosity in this country is a far more complex proposition than most people think and that pretty much nobody is blame-free. There's a myth held by many well-meaning whites that all "minority" type people are sitting in a circle singing "Kumbaya," and evil white folk are being party-poopers by refusing to join in, when even a cursory glance or listen to the world around you reveals more complications.
posted by jonmc at 8:12 AM on March 29, 2005


In a nutshell: one doesn't have to be white to be racist.
posted by clevershark at 8:34 AM on March 29, 2005


well, dhoyt, I'm not trying to lay the blame for anti-Asian bigotry at black people's feet,

Ditto.

I'm just trying to note that racial animosity in this country is a far more complex proposition than most people think and that pretty much nobody is blame-free.

Pretty much what I was getting at. Just using the Black-Asian tension as one example.
posted by dhoyt at 8:35 AM on March 29, 2005


I thought as much, dhoyt, but I figured clarification was in order. It was mainly a response to the reductive, simplistic statement at the end of sian's comment.
posted by jonmc at 8:38 AM on March 29, 2005


Apologies. I was only using my locality as an example.
posted by sian at 9:37 AM on March 29, 2005


Don't worry. I didn't figure it was deliberate.
posted by jonmc at 9:39 AM on March 29, 2005


Some of the most blatant racism I've ever seen was within the Asian community, aimed at some of these hill tribes, who were considered bumpkins and worse by other Asians of a variety of backgrounds. Not to say all Asians were terrible to them but a lot, some of whom came from nearly identical refugee status, were just awful to them. Others seem to have gone back to their grandparents' imperial/colonial attitudes when these folks were involved.
posted by etaoin at 10:47 AM on March 29, 2005


Anyone wanting to know more about the Hmong -- and the U.S.'s "secret war" in Laos -- I recommend picking up "Tragic Mountains" by Jane Hamilton-Merritt or "The politics of heroin in southeast Asia" by Alfred McCoy.
posted by docgonzo at 1:36 PM on March 29, 2005


The Hmong settled primarily in Minneapolis and St. Paul because their military leader, Gen. Vang Pao settled there.

Perhaps. The main refugee entry port was San Francisco, which accounts for the large numbers remaining in California (as well as its thriving Asian-American community). The Upper Midwest, rather, deliberately courted Hmong refugees through a network of churches and other agencies, though it was a long time before some of the wider communities welcomed them.
posted by dhartung at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2005


There is a surprising population of Hmong in Western Montana.

Their presence is due, apparently, to the location of the smokejumper training center located just outside of Missoula. During the Vietnam War, the smokejumpers were recruited by the CIA to work in Laos. There, some of them befriended General Vang Pao who moved his family to Missoula after the war; many others followed.
posted by event at 7:52 PM on March 29, 2005


By the way, etaoin, nice post. Thanks.
posted by mediareport at 9:46 PM on March 29, 2005


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