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7/25/2017 Hmong History - The Vang Clan

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Keebkwm Hmoob
We are Hmong. Our history stretches back at
least 5,000 years to the fertile Yellow River
valleys of ancient China. Sadly, much of that
history was lost to the ravages of time,
internal conflicts, and war. Much of what we
know is through oral history and the
fragments we learn from Chinese scholars.
This is a condensed synopsis of what I know.


Keebkwm Nyob Suav Teb



A scene of the Chinese Campaign against the Miao (Hunan) 1795.

History in China

The word hmong or hmoob do not appear in any Chinese historical texts. To the Chinese, we were always known as miao or miao-tsu.
The Hmong considered the terms used by the Chinese to be offensive and derogatory. Therefore, the Hmong called themselves Hmong It is .
debateable as to where this word came from or its original meaning or even when the Hmong began using this term. There is a well known book
entitled "Hmong Means Free." While it is not certain that this is the correct definition of the word, it was certainly more acceptable than which
meant "savage or something less than human ." Another unsubstantiated claim is that the Hmong were distantly related to the Mongolians. Other than
the phonetic similaries in the names, no historical evidence exists to prove a connection. Since earlier groups may not have called themselves Hmong,
scholars have had to rely on connecting similarities in culture, physical artifacts, and language to piece together our collective history.

The earliest evidence of Hmong society appeared around 2700 AD. Chinese history records a king named Chi You who ruled the Juili Kingdom, also
known as the Nine Li Tribe. Chi You is believed to be the father of the Hmong. To the Chinese Hmong, he was known as Txiv Yawg
which means
grandfather . Chi You was beloved by his people. However, he was reviled by the Chinese who sought to conquer he and his people. During an epic
ancient battle, Chi You defeated the Yan Emperor, Yan Di. Desperate, Yan Di turned to the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di for assistance. In the small
town of Zhuolu, Chi You and his forces were defeated. Chi You died as a villain to the Han Chinese. However, over the centuries, Chi You has become
a revered mythical figure. He has even been worshipped as a god. Today, the town of Zhuolu still exists. A statue of Chi You stands to memoralize

After the Li Kingdom fell, the Hmong ancestors fled from their valleys for the mountains. Lesser Hmong kingdoms rose and fell. But the next great
Hmong kingdom arose during the Warring States Era. Around 475 BC, there stood a great kingdom to the south known as the Chu Kingdom. This
was a period of great struggle for control of China. Seven mighty kingdoms were at war with each other. Evidence strongly suggests that the Hmong
were in the middle of the fight. Scholars have said clearly that whatever the Chu Kingdom was, it was not Chinese. Most Chinese scholars agree that
the Chu Kingdom was indeed a Hmong kingdom. Early on during the Warring States Era, the Chu Kingdom was the largest and most powerful.
However, after a several decades of war, the Chu along with all of the other kingdoms fell and the Qin Kingdom stood victorious. Qin Shi Huang

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became the first emperor of the new country of Qin, China.

Over the milenia, the Hmong were pushed further and further south. During the 18th century, the final Hmong kingdom stood in the mountains of
China. However, like so many times before, Chinese designs on Hmong land put the Hmong in jeopardy. The last Hmong king named King Sonom
sought peace. In exchange for a full surrender by King Sonom and his court, the Chinese vowed peace. Unfortunately, when Sonom and his court
surrendered they were taken to Peking where they were betrayed and murdered. As part of a festival, Sonom and his court were tortured then cut into
little pieces. The military was dispatched to quell any Hmong uprising and to stomp out the Hmong culture altogether. The Hmong were separated
into different camps and forced to wear different color clothing. This is the reason for why today we have White Hmong, Green Hmong, Striped
Hmong, Flowery Hmong, Black Hmong, and others. This probably also explains the differences in the Hmong dialects. After several generations in the
concentration camps, the Hmong written language was lost. The Chinese had forbidden the use of written language under penalty of death. Hmong
women cleverly hid the language in their daily tapestry (or paj ntaub
). Unfortunately though there are none left who can decipher it.

Artist rendition of the Hmong being placed into Chinese
concentration camps. Each camp was forced to wear specific

Iconic photo of Hmong leader Major General Vang Pao during the height of the Secret War.

Keebkwm Nyob Nplog Teb

Our History in

Hmong had
(/uploads/1/3/7/2/13720243/6247731_orig.jpg?1347725097)enough. Around
1850, the Hmong
began to immigrate
out of China and into
southeast Asia.
Millions settled into
Vietnam, Thailand,
Cambodia, and
Long Tieng was the base of CIA operations in Laos during the Secret War.
Laos. Over the next
100 years, millions
of Hmong would leave China. Our family settled into Laos. Most of the Hmong in Laos settled into mountain villages in Xieng Khouang, Houa Phan,
Luang Phrabang, and Sayaboury provinces in northern Laos.

Despite centuries of war and ethnic persecution by the Chinese, the Hmong maintained their culture and their way of life. In southeast Asia, the
Hmong continued to live a simple but free life. In Laos, the Hmong made a living as slash-and-burn farmers. The primary crop for Hmong farmers was
rice grown in watery rice paddies. However, other crops like corn, cucumbers, bitter melon, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and opium were carefully
grown and consumed or sold.

By the end of the 19th century, western colonization reached Laos. The French moved in and took control of the whole of Indo-China. In 1918, a
Hmong rebellion erupted. This rebellion was known as "The Madman's War" or Rog Phim Npab
and stemmed from Hmong opposition to French
taxes. A Hmong leader named Pa Chay (Paj Cai)
led the uprising which lasted for two years. One benefit came of this failed rebellion. The conflict
made the French cognizant of the Hmong. Once peace had been restored, the French reached out to the Hmong and raised Lo Bliayao (Lauj Npliaj
Yob) to a position of leadership within the Lao government. As a Kaitong (Kiab Toom), Lo was the first Hmong to hold such a position of prominence
in the Royal Lao government. When Lo died, his son Lo Chongtou (Lauj Txoov Tub)
replaced his father in government. Lo Chongtou proved
ineffective as a leader and the French quickly threw their support behind Ly Foung (Lis Foom).
This turn of events led to deep seeded strife and
conflict between the Lo (Lor) and Ly (Lee) clans. In 1938, Touby Lyfoung (Tub Npis Lis Foom)
ascended to the position of Kaitong, inheriting his
father's mantle of leadership. In 1943, the Japanese invaded mainland Asia. Japanese occupation of Laos further split the Ly and Lo clans and much of
the Hmong population. The Ly clan remained loyal to the French while the Lo clan threw their support behind the Japanese invaders. After WWII, the
Ly clan remained in Laos and supported the Royal family. The Lo clan fled to Vietnam and joined with the communist Pathet Lao.

When WWII ended, Christian missionaries returned to the region. In 1952, Catholic missionary Father Yves Bertrais, American linguists, Dr.
Williams Smalley and Pastor Dr. Linwood Barney with the help of two Hmong, Yang Yeng (Yaj Yeeb)
and Thao Hue (Thoj Hwj),
in Luang
Prabang in Laos, invented the Romanized Popular Alphabet.

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In 1954, the French surrendered control of all its colonies in Indo-China. That same year, civil war broke out in Laos between the constitutional Lao
Monarchy and the communist Pathet Lao. The Cold War was raging all accross the world and Laos was not immune. In 1961, before leaving office,
President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned incoming President John F. Kennedy that Laos was the first domino in Southeast Asia. Eisenhower was
articulating his Domino Theory. He believed that if Laos fell into the hands of the communist, the rest of Southeast Asia would follow suite.

In 1961, President Kennedy began the secret CIA buildup in Laos. In 1962, 14 countries including the United States, China, the Soviet Union and
several other countries signed a treaty in Geneva recognizing Laos as a neutral country. The treaty remained in effect on paper only. By 1962, the CIA
had recruited a young, charasmatic Hmong officer named Vang Pao (Vaj Pov) to raise an army of his fellow Hmong. The CIA offered weapons,
supplies and training to roughly 40,000 plus Hmong irregular soldiers to fight the communist Pathet Lao and the communist North Vietnamese army.
Hmong forces were often made up of a ragtag combination of men and boys who were barely taller than their rifles. The Hmong had three primary
objectives: 1) fight the communists in the north and prevent them from engaging American troops in South Vietnam; 2) cut Viet Cong supply lines
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail so the North Vietnames could not provide supplies to its troops in the South; and 3) rescue American pilots shot down in
Laos. The Hmong fought bravely and faithfully. It is impossible to accurately account for the loss of Hmong life during this Secret War. Some
estimate that at least 100,000 Hmong soldiers died during the war, nearly two times more than American casualties in the Vietnam War.

By 1973, America began to pullout of Southeast Asia altogether. A treaty was signed by all parties in Paris, France. By 1975, the Hmong were left to
fight the communist without American support. On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell. Simultaneously, the communist Pathet Lao pressed forward in Laos. In
August 1975, the Pathet Lao entered the nearly deserted capitol of Vientiane. The king of Laos, Savang Vatthana abdicated his throne and was
promptly arrested. Hmong leader Touby Lyfoung was also arrested. It is believed that Touby Lyfoung died in a "re-education camp."

On May 5, 1975, General Vang Pao was summoned by the Prime Minister of Laos, Souvanna Phouma. Phouma ordered Vang Pao to cooperate with
the invading Pathet Lao. Vang Pao angrily ripped the general's stars off his collar and threw them onto Phouma's desk. A Pathet Lao newspaper
announced that the Hmong would be exterminated. Evacuation plans began in earnest in Long Tieng. Vang Pao and Jerry Daniels, the CIA case
officer assigned to Vang Pao, made arrangements with American pilots in Udorn, Thailand. On May 13, 1975, three large transport aircraft flown by
civilian American pilots covertly flew into Long Tieng to evacuate Vang Pao, his officers and their families. Each pilot made four runs. Each time, their
cargo more than doubled the maximum allowed 35 individual capacity. On May 14th, Vang Pao and Jerry Daniels were secretly evacuated to Thailand
by helicoptor. Daniels escorted his friend to Montana in the United States. Daniels then returned to Thailand to help with the evacuation efforts. Jerry
Daniels was a friend to the Hmong. He was loved and respected by all those who served with him. Many Hmong named their sons Jerry in honor of
Daniels. In April 1982, Jerry Daniels died mysteriously in Bangkok, Thailand. His body was sealed in a casket and returned to Missoula, Montana to be
buried. Jerry Daniels was given a formal three day Hmong funeral with traditional Hmong burial rites.

In the following months over 40,000 Hmong made their way to Thailand. Thousands died making the journey. Men, women, and even children were
either shot, attacked with chemical weapons, or drowned while trying to cross the waters of the Mekong River. Those who survived the trek ended up
in Thai refugee camps. From those camps, the Hmong immigrated to countries like the United States, France, Australia, Canada and even places like
Argentina. By 1990, over 100,000 Hmong had entered the United States. Today (as of 2012), there are about 350,000 Hmong living in the United

Lo Bliayao (Lauj Npliaj Yob).

Touby Lyfoung (Tub Npis Lis Foom).

A statue of Chi You or Huab Tais Txiv Yawg.

Keebkwm Nyob Asmiskas Teb

Our History in America

The first wave of Hmong immigrants arrived between 1975-1980. A second wave of immigrants arrived between 1980-2003. The Hmong
settled into America with the largest communities in southern California, the Twiin Cities in Minnesota, and Wisconsin with smaller pockets in Michigan
and North Carolina. Like all immigrant groups, the Hmong had their share of challenges as well as their victories assimilating into American life.

Language was the greatest challenge. The vast majority of Hmong could not speak English. Learning English was difficult for most Hmong. Education
was a foreign concept. In Laos, the opportunity to be educated was rare. Most had never even held a pencil and a piece of paper much less been
inside of a classroom.

Fortunately, the Hmong had help. Many of the NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), primarily Christian churches, that sponsored Hmong families
over to the United States continued to provide assistance. The Hmong were qualified for social welfare programs, job placement programs, and ESL

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classes. Hmong children were placed into schools to begin
their education. In 1977, under the leadership of General
Vang Pao, the first Lao Family Community Based
Organization was established in Santa Ana, California. In
subsequent years, Lao Family Community would
be established all over the United States in various Hmong
communities to assist with assimilation process. Despite its
(/uploads/1/3/7/2/13720243/3231771_orig.jpg)recent issues, Lao Family had many great accomplishments,
including assisting Hmong refugees and creating greater
community awareness of the Hmong. Through community
based organizations like Lao Family and others, Hmong New
Years and annual summer festivals featuring soccer
tournaments and other sports became established events.
Today, the calander is peppered with Hmong summer
festivals and New Years gatherings starting in October
General Vang Pao.
through December. Large Hmong community events draw
tens of thousands of people over the course of a weekend and fill huge venues like the Metro Dome in Minneapolis.

Assimilation did not come easy. Many Hmong youth grew up feeling trapped between cultures. They were not fully American. Yet, they did not feel
fully Hmong. In the early years of re-settlement to America, many Hmong youth found it most difficult to be accepted into American society. In
the 1980's in large Hmong communities, like so many immigrant groups before them, many young Hmong men and boys formed into Hmong street
gangs. They dealt in small time racketeering, auto theft, drugs, human trafficking (often of young Hmong girls who were runaways), and armed
robbery (often from elderly Hmong who lived in their neighborhoods). However, the gangs also proved to be extremely violent. Often gang battles
took place in public arenas like the July 4th Sports Tournament in St. Paul, MN, or the New Years Celebration in Fresno, CA. The violence culminated in
several deaths and injuries throughout the 1990's at various Hmong gatherings. Coordinated efforts by local law enforcement along with the FBI
proved successful in quelling Hmong gang activity. While Hmong gangs still exist, the atmosphere within the Hmong community is not as it was during
those days in the late 80's and 90's.

Other issues came with re-settlement to America. Hmong parents wanted Hmong children. They wanted children who could speak Hmong, understand
Hmong culture, and show them proper respect at home. However, the children were growing up Hmong at home but American at school. The
American culture was instilling independence, individuality, and the desire to have fun. Meanwhile the Hmong culture stressed family, discipline, and
education. The great culture clash led to much familial strife and discord in many Hmong homes. Other issues such as the lack of education, the trap
of social welfare programs, and teen marriages plagued Hmong communities and retarded the development of the Hmong as a whole. Those who
perservered were better for it.

Over the past 35 years, the Hmong have made great strides. Even though recent studies show the Hmong lag behind other Asian sub-groups in
education level and socio-economic status, tens of thousands of Hmong have become educated. Many have earned high school diplomas or GEDs and
moved on to college level degrees. Several hundred have even obtained Master's level and Doctorate level degrees. The Hmong have put their
education to use in a variety of fields from business to law to medicine to all of the technical fields. The Hmong have even engaged the American
political process. Engaging the political process within a generation is rare among immigrant groups. However, the Hmong have had a measure of
success at the state and local levels. In 2001, Mee Moua (Mim Muas) became the first Hmong woman to be elected as a state senator in
Minnesota. In 2003, Cy Thao (Xais Thoj) was elected as a state representative in Minnesota. Others rose to become city council members in various
cities with large Hmong populations, including Blong Xiong (Nplooj Xyooj). In 2012, Xiong generated much interest within the Hmong community.
As a city councilman in Frenso, CA, Xiong ran for California's 21st Congressional District. Although Xiong did not succeed, his attempt showed the
Hmong community the vast possibilities in America.

A Hmong New Years celebration in the United States.

The Fallout

In Laos
and Thailand, the
conflicts continued.
Hmong resistance
fighters known as
Chao Fa (Cob Fab)
continued the fight (/uploads/1/3/7/2/13720243/695752_orig.jpg?1347725071)
against the
communist. Lead
first by Sayshoua
Yang (Xaiv Suav
Yaj) then by Pakao
Her (Paj Kaub
Hawj) in the Heartbreaking picture of Chao Fa in the heart of Laos.

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1980′s, the fighters lived in the jungles of Laos and received support from the Hmong in Thailand and overseas. Refusing to acknowledge defeat, these
men and their families fought, suffered, and died for a dream that would never be realized. On May 27, 2004, the British television channel BBC
released "A Day of War" which was a front line report that chronicled the plight of the Chao Fa.

Since 1975, hundreds of thousands have chosen to leave Laos. More chose to stay. Those who were suspected of having helped the Americans paid
dearly. We cannot calculate with complete accuracy all of the deaths. But over the decades, hundreds of thousands of Hmong men, women, and
children were brutally killed by the communist Laotian government. The communist used various methods such as starvation, torture, bullets, and even
chemical and biological weapons to exterminate the Hmong.

In 1997, over the objection of General Vang Pao, along with younger Hmong leaders like Dr. Pobzeb Vang and Stephen Vang, the United States
granted MFN (Most Favored Nation) trade status to Laos. Nevertheless those leaders worked tirelessly to make known the atrocities being committed
in Laos. They sacrificed of themselves to attended countless meetings and hearings from California, to Washington D.C., and even to clandestine
locations in Southeast Asia. Dr. Pobzeb and Stephen were even called to testify before the United Nations regarding the genocide in Laos. In the
spring of 2000, I was honored to be called to Washington D.C. by Stephen. Together, we met with the chiefs of staff for several U.S. Senators,
including Sen. Dick Lugar, Sen. Chuck Hagel, and Sen. Jesse Helms. Helms was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time.
Lugar was the ranking Republican member of that Committee. I like to believe that this effort along with the tireless efforts previously put forth by
Stephen and Dr. Pobzeb made a difference. In May 2000, the Hmong Veterans' Naturalization Act became law. This Act waived the English language
requirement of the naturalization exam and provided special consideration for a Hmong veteran of America's Secret War.

Meanwhile in Thailand, Hmong refugees remained. In 1989, the United Nations, with support from the US, put into place a plan to re-settle or
repatriate the remaining 60,000 refugees living in Thailand. Laos agreed to repatriate all 60,000. No Hmong wanted to return to Laos voluntarily.
However, in 1993, Vue Mai (Vwj Mais) was asked by the US Embassy in Bangkok to lead a contingency back to Laos to prove that repatriation was
safe. Vue Mai was a Hmong leader and a former Hmong soldier. He agreed to the dangerous request. Upon arriving in the capitol of Vientiane, Vue
Mai was promptly arrested and never seen again. Despite this incident, the Clinton administration expressly denied that the Lao government had an
agenda against the Hmong. Efforts were underway to normalize trade with Laos and genocide would have complicated trade talks. In 1996, as the
deadline to close the refugee camps in the Thailand loomed, the US agreed to accept refugees. Complications delayed matters until 2003 when the
Bush administration authorized 15,000 Hmong refugees to be brought to America. In 2004, the third and final wave of Hmong refugees re-settled to
America closing the final chapter on America's Secret War in Laos. That very same year, despite vehement protests from Hmong leaders, the US
normalized trade relations with the communist Lao government. Today the Chao Fa are all but wiped out, decimated by overwhelming odds, a lack of
supplies and outside support, and starvation.

As for the Hmong's greatest modern day leader, on June 4, 2007, US federal courts ordered the arrest of General Vang Pao along with nine other co-
conspirators, including Harrison Jack a former West Point graduate and Army infantry officer, for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Laotian
government in violation of federal Neutrality Acts. Federal charges alleged that the conspirators inspected weapons with intent to purchase and
smuggle the weapons into Thailand. From Thailand, the weapons were to be provided to anti-communist forces in Laos. The sudden arrest of Vang
Pao lead to large protests in heavily Hmong populated states like California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and North Caroliina. Additionally, many of
Vang Pao's non-Hmong friends and allies rose to his defense. On July 12, 2007, under significant pressure from powerful allies, the California federal
courts released Vang Pao on a $1.5 million security bond. On September 18, 2009, considering "the probable sentence or other consequences if the
person is convicted," the federal government dropped all charges against General Vang Pao. On December 26, 2010, Vang Pao was admitted to Clovis
Community Medical Center in Clovis, CA, after attending a New Years celebration in Fresno. On January 6, 2011, Vang Pao died. The cause of death
was pneumonia. Starting on February 4, 2011, Vang Pao was given a six day traditional Hmong funeral. Tens of thousands of Hmong journeyed to
California to pay their final respects to the man who had lead them for over a half a century from the mountains of Laos to the modern cities of the
United States and other western countries. Requests to bury Vang Pao in Arlington National Cemetery were denied. Ultimately, General Vang Pao was
laid to rest in the Forest Lawn Cemetary in Glendale, CA.

Maps of Indo-China

The map on the left shows the proximity of Laos to Vietnam, Thailand, and the
original country of origin for the Hmong, China. The long blue line depicts the
(/uploads/1/3/7/2/13720243/6947852_orig.jpg) mighty Mekong River. Many Hmong lost their lives attempting to cross this
great river to enter Thai refugee camps.

To the right we see a map showing the length of the infamous Ho Chi Minh
Trail. One of the chief duties for Hmong soldiers during the Secret War was to
cut supplies lines that flowed along this trail. American pilots were often shot
down in the proximity of this trail while conducting bombing missions.

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