Hmong American readers share their stories of immigrating to and living in the United States. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your own experience as a member of, or neighbor to, the Hmong community.
A Hmong American reader Kong Pheng Pha tells his story, weaving in some quotes from his Hmong friends:
I migrated to the U.S. from Ban Vinai refugee camp in 1993 and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, but I relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota in 2001. I would not have used the word “queer” to describe myself growing up, but I knew early on that I was “different” from other boys. Growing up queer was extremely difficult for a Hmong refugee such as myself, especially living in poverty while trying to succeed in school and learning about my identity.
As some may say, it was hard to envision the Midwest as a destination spot for Hmong refugees or even queer Asian Americans. It was only until college did I realize how being Hmong, queer, and living in the Midwest would mean for me. Historically, the Midwest was not seen as a “gay friendly” region, and many have migrated away to seek more acceptance in, say, the Bay Area. But how does this picture of moving away in order to achieve liberation work for Hmong LGBTQ?
Linda Her, who identifies as a Hmong American lesbian, came out in the early 2000s and left St. Paul for San Francisco because she believed she was the only Hmong queer person. Speaking at the Minnesota capitol in 2012, she recalled, “The Hmong community and the LGBTQ community was not ready for me.” However, she eventually returned to St. Paul because she felt she was missing a part of herself being away from her family and the Hmong community.
Kevin Koob Meej Xiong, a gay Hmong man from Charlotte, North Carolina, moved to St. Paul in 2006 after coming out to his parents because he heard about Shades of Yellow, a Hmong LGBTQ support organization, started by Hmong youth. He reflects, “I came to Minnesota because of the resources available to Hmong LGBTQ at that time here. I found out about SOY in 2002 and after meeting a couple of the members at that time, I decided that I needed to come here to find myself.”
Indeed, the Midwest has operated as a sort of “Hmong queer San Francisco,” in the sense that the burgeoning Hmong population in the Twin Cities has allowed community building among Hmong LGBTQ.
I was among the activists in a collective of Hmong and Southeast Asian LGBTQ called Midwest Solidarity Movement who worked to defeat the marriage amendment in Minnesota in 2012 that would have defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Chong Vang, a queer Hmong Thai American refugee activist-organizer, spoke at the state capitol after the defeat of the amendment: “With the tool of community organizing, I was able to work in my Hmong community, to mobilize them to take action against this hurtful amendment.” Minnesota subsequently passed marriage equality in 2013.
We want to challenge white mainstream and Hmong heteropatriarchy, racisms, and homophobia. The U.S. continues to blatantly deny LGBTQ people their humanity through employment discrimination and the passing of “bathroom laws” that discriminate against trans individuals. Conservative Hmong ethnic identity does not make room for the healthy flourishing of various sexualities.
I have personally lived through instances where race and sexuality are intimately and violently intertwined. For example, one summer evening I was looking out for my drunk friend at the Saloon gay club in Minneapolis. Two white men approached us and told us to “go home and eat fried rice” to sober up. This instance shows that the Midwest is a place where Hmong racial and sexual discrimination is taking place alongside our struggles for self-expression.
Still, Hmong LGBTQ come here to create community and participate in activism that impacts, even remakes, the state, by challenging the so-called homophobia of the Midwest. As far as I’m concerned, I’m staying.
Doualy Xaykaothao, a journalist based on Minnesota, recently gave us a look at what it’s like to be Hmong American in the Midwest, and her piece got a good amount of response from Atlantic readers. If you’re unfamiliar with the Hmong, they’re an ethic group native to the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia and China. About 260,000 of them are living in the U.S., and a huge influx of Hmong came to America following the Vietnam War. (The video above is the first part of a documentary about that refugee experience.) My father, a Vietnam vet and Wisconsin native, talked about the Hmong with great admiration while I was growing up. Here’s a poignant passage on Nou Vang Thao, a Hmong American who risked his life to help the CIA in his native country but faced bigotry after relocating to Wisconsin:
Despite being a war veteran, many people confused him with the enemy—assuming he was Vietnamese or, worse, Viet Cong. Thao says he sometimes had to remind people he fought for freedom, not communism. “Even today,” he said. “People don’t know why the Hmong are in Wisconsin, and coworkers, they don’t care to know why we are here. We couldn’t stay in our country because of our involvement with the white man. We’ve given Americans 100 percent of our heart, but they’ve only given us 20 percent.”
A reader is struck by stories such as Thao’s:
It sucks that these heroes who saved so many American lives could be treated poorly. Hmong are good people. I have known many, and they are great Americans. What is so terrible is that the leftist propaganda against the Vietnam War clouded too many people’s minds. The Communists in Southeast Asia were genocidal maniacs. They committed ethnic cleansing everywhere they went. (Note that all the refugee camps were in safe, capitalist countries like the Kingdom of Thailand, Philippines, and British Hong Kong.) The U.S. should have brought more of our allies back to safety in the U.S.
Xaykaothao’s piece features two other stories from Hmong Americans. Nou Vang was out fishing on a lake with his two young sons near their home in Wisconsin when a speedboat full of men intentionally tipped Vang’s boat over. Later, on shore, the men intimated the family with clubs. The other story is about a Hmong American teenager named Dylan Yang, whose friends got into an altercation with another group of adolescents resulting in Yang stabbing and killing a boy who had fired a BB gun. A reader challenges Xaykaothao’s narrative of that fatal incident:
A brief amount of research into the Dylan Yang verdict suggested to me that the gang-versus-gang context of the fight was, in fact, a significant reason for the conviction: “The two groups of boys called themselves gangs, something Yang admitted to being a part of during questioning.”
In my opinion, that took the killing out of the realms of justifiable self-defense against an unprovoked surprise attack. Had Yang not belonged to (what he described as) a gang, he would not have had a role in the escalating series of skirmishes that led to the other boy’s death. I’m very sympathetic with Yang, and hope he receives a light sentence, but the basic facts of the matter are not really on his side here.
At any rate, where I live the heroism of the Hmong is well-known. We have a large number of Indochinese immigrant families and wish we had more. On a recent trip to the other side of the USA, I stumbled across a huge Hmong New Year's Celebration while touring the Space Needle. The Hmong community truly is vibrantly alive in Seattle.
The Atlantic’s Next America team actually had a short dispatch from Seattle last year featuring the flower businesses run by Hmong American families at the city’s iconic Pike Place Market. Here’s a short video they produced:
Back to the more tragic side of Hmong American history, this next reader highlights what is probably the most high-profile case of violence that involved a Hmong American (and it’s a story I heard about a lot from my family members living near Green Bay):
I live in northern Wisconsin, in the county where the Chai Vang incident happened. To those who don’t know, it was a deer hunting dispute where Vang was trespassing and shot eight people, killing six. Two of the victims were women and the youngest victim was only 20 years old.
The reader then points to what might be a cultural disconnect that causes tension between Hmong new arrivals and long-time locals:
As someone who has lived here my whole life and my family has had a resort since the ‘60s, I can say that the majority of the problems between white and Hmong people are usually related to the latter not understanding game laws. The lake our resort is on has a limit of two fish a day (walleye), and there have been several arrests of Hmong fisherman with hundreds of fish when they were caught.
The biggest I remember was in 2007: The Department of Natural Resources raided a cabin across the lake and caught the Hmong fisherman with over 500 walleye they had netted while they were spawning. This can decimate a fish population, and when your living depends on fish like us with the resort, or when you disrespect the traditions of the Native Americans by overfishing the lakes and making their spearing harvests reach all-time lows, it breeds contempt and misunderstandings between cultures. There is no excuse for racism of any kind, but I think it’s more of a cultural difference than out and out racism.
Speaking of misunderstanding between cultures, this AP photo really popped out at me:
We’ve already gotten a few emails from Hmong American readers sharing their experiences living in the Midwest—in one case as a gay man—and we’ll be airing them shortly, but feel free to drop us a note if you have your own story to share. Update from a reader who touches on the second largest community of Hmong Americans outside the Twin Cities—Fresno, California—and questions the U.S. government’s resettlement approach when it came to Hmong refugees:
If Wisconsin feels like home and is home to the Hmong in America, then we should be happy for them. But while Xaykaothao’s story about the Midwest has edifying moments, there are far less edifying accounts from California, where Hmong-related violence, including domestic violence and murder and gang wars, were a common occurrence in Fresno. (And San Francisco would have stories of Hmong snaring squirrels in Golden Gate Park.)
[Speaking of squirrels, here’s a tragic story from Wisconsin I stumbled upon: “A white hunter convicted of killing a Hmong immigrant while both stalked squirrels in the woods was sentenced Wednesday to the maximum 69 years in prison.”]
An error by our government was scattering Hmong refugees into various parts of the country rather than putting them more closely together. This was a misunderstanding of the importance of cohesion in deference to local communities welcoming refugees from all over.
Donald Trump likes to pit elite and non-elite white people against each other. Why do white liberals play into his trap?
“I want them to talk about racism every day,” Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former strategist, told The American Prospectlast year. “If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Bannon was tapping into an old American tradition. As early as the 1680s, powerful white people were serving up racism to assuage the injuries of class, elevating the status of white indentured servants over that of enslaved black people. Some two centuries later, W. E. B. Du Bois observed that poor white people were compensated partly by a “public and psychological wage”—the “wages of whiteness,” as the historian David Roediger memorably put it. These wages pit people of different races against one another, averting a coalition based on shared economic interests.
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
At an international conference, allies grieved the loss of the United States they had believed in.
The Halifax Security Forum is designed to be a gathering of the world’s democratic countries, which are allied to protect each other. Hosted by the Canadian defense minister, the Forum’s signature is the brief videos that introduce the annual gathering. This year’s intro showed relay runners, mostly American, at the Olympics from Berlin in 1932 forward, ending in an uncertain baton handoff—a powerful metaphor for the Free World’s worries about American leadership in the age of Trump.
The Halifax Forum, occurring just after President Trump unleashed yet another petulant tirade against Germany and France that culminated in the unseemly taunt that Parisians were speaking German until the U.S. intervened in World Wars I and II, had a funereal feel this year. Allies are grieving the loss of an America they believed in, as it sinks in that they cannot rely on us any longer.
The institution is driven to protect legacy and wealth, but also to create a more diverse and egalitarian student body.
The Harvard College admissions office: more sinned against than sinning, and currently serving two masters. One is the god of rich things, who demands a reactionary embrace of wealth and privilege, including the czarist notion that you can inherit Harvard the way you can inherit hemophilia or a winter palace. This is the logic of “legacy admissions”—a rare instance of a morally unpalatable fact retaining its precise name. The Harvard god of rich things also favors the children of tremendous wealth, and of people who are so important that even mighty Harvard wants to have them in its sphere of influence. All of these students—born reaching for silver teething rings, likely educated at rigorous private schools and thus “able to do the work”—will be treated with special care in the admissions office, and many will get in, some despite being below profile.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrives in Congress with a bigger megaphone than any other House freshman. How's she going to use it?
QUEENS, N.Y.—“Choosing not to speak,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was telling me one day last month, “is taken and read just as deliberately as choosing to speak.”
Fresh off her upset primary victory over Representative Joe Crowley here, the nation’s most famous congressional candidate was speaking pretty much everywhere this summer—stumping for fellow progressives all over the country, hitting the late-night talk shows, and jousting with her many conservative critics on Twitter.
Last week, Ocasio-Cortez made her Washington debut in similar fashion.
In town for the biannual weeklong orientation session for newly elected members of Congress, the 29-year-old progressive star from the Bronx narrated the experience in Instagram stories to her 642,000 followers, complained about being mistaken for a congressional spouse or intern on Twitter, and called out a conservative journalist who suggested she was dressed too fancily for “a girl who struggles.”
Journalists have become complicit in spreading the president’s falsehoods and conspiracy theories. Here’s how they can do better.
The news media today face an epistemic crisis: how to publish the president’s commentary without amplifying his fabrications and conspiracy theories.
One flashpoint came several weeks ago, when President Donald Trump told Axios reporters that he planned to use an executive order to end birthright citizenship because, as he put it, “we’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen.” On Twitter, Axios CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei wrote, “Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship.”
As many journalists quickly pointed out, this was multilayered malarkey. The president was proposing an unconstitutional means of obliterating the Fourteenth Amendment on the basis of a falsehood; more than two dozen countries in the Western Hemisphere have unrestricted jus soli laws, like the U.S. Axios was treating as fact a haphazard plan, in search of an impossible outcome, justified by a false assertion.
In an interview on Fox News, the president dismissed William McRaven as a Hillary Clinton ‘fan’ and asked why it took so long to get the al-Qaeda leader.
President Donald Trump fends off criticism with a simple tactic: He dismisses anyone who disagrees with him, often linking the person to prominent Democrats. During an interview on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked the president about his portrayal of “the fake-news media” as “the enemy of the American people.” Wallace tried to bring up a quote on that subject from retired Admiral William McRaven, the Navy SEAL and special-operations commander who led the operation that captured Osama bin Laden.
Trump interrupted. “Hillary Clinton fan,” he said, as if that should end the conversation. Wallace tried to continue. “Excuse me,” Trump interrupted again, bouncing his head to emphasize each word: “Hillary. Clinton. Fan.”
I’m tired of feeling like I’m putting more effort into our relationship than he is.
I'm in a loving, long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. We've been together three years, and long-distance for one. We’re both graduate students, and, for the most part, I think we have a healthy, caring, and respectful relationship. But over the three years we've been together, the same issue has come up consistently: I am an expressive and emotional person who loves affection and attention, and while he will tell me he loves me freely, he is a reserved person who is just not wired to be very demonstrative.
I do my best to be understanding of this and I pay attention to the little things—he’s the most reliable person I know, and takes care of me in many quiet ways. But sometimes it doesn't feel like enough, and I become resentful because it feels like I am putting more effort into our relationship than he is, even though I appreciate that he is trying.
The backlash against the incoming congresswoman’s “very nice” outfit is both tedious and predictable.
Earlier this week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a tweet: At congressional events, she shared (the representative-elect of New York’s 14th Congressional District is currently in Washington for a series of orientations on the workings of the House), she keeps being mistaken for an intern. Or sometimes for the spouse of the person who must be the true new member of Congress. Ocasio-Cortez, a young woman who is also a woman of color who is also a democratic socialist—a politician who won her election, earlier this month, with 78 percent of her district’s vote—keeps getting told that she doesn’t quite belong in Congress. Her tweet sharing that experience was punctuated by a face-palm emoji. It went viral.
Despite vast increases in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong?
The writer Stewart Brand once wrote that “science is the only news.” While news headlines are dominated by politics, the economy, and gossip, it’s science and technology that underpin much of the advance of human welfare and the long-term progress of our civilization. This is reflected in an extraordinary growth in public investment in science. Today, there are more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before:
On the surface, this is encouraging. But for all this increase in effort, are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding? Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress?