Hmong American readers share their stories of immigrating to and living in the United States. Drop us a note at email@example.com 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.
The representative’s claims about stories reporting on the Trump administration are part of a universe of untruth.
Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, opened today with a statement attacking media reporting on the Trump administration. He singled out six stories for attack.
One of them was retracted by its publisher, CNN—a form of corporate responsibility never seen from a White House notorious for emitting six false statements in a single morning. Another was an opinion piece in New York magazine by Jonathan Chait that did not claim to report news, but instead built known facts into a damning narrative of Donald Trump’s Russia connection. The other four range from the exaggerated to the unverified to the apparently mistaken.
But let’s take a closer look at those errors and what they mean. One of the stories singled out by Nunes was published by BuzzFeed News. That story asserted that Trump had explicitly directed his then–personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. Cohen would ultimately testify to Congress that Trump’s direction was implicit, not explicit.
A company once driven by engineers became driven by finance.
The flight that put the Boeing Company on course for disaster lifted off a few hours after sunrise. It was good flying weather—temperatures in the mid-40s with a slight breeze out of the southeast—but oddly, no one knew where the 737 jetliner was headed. The crew had prepared three flight plans: one to Denver. One to Dallas. And one to Chicago.
In the plane’s trailing vortices was greater Seattle, where the company’s famed engineering culture had taken root; where the bulk of its 40,000-plus engineers lived and worked; indeed, where the jet itself had been assembled. But it was May 2001. And Boeing’s leaders, CEO Phil Condit and President Harry Stonecipher, had decided it was time to put some distance between themselves and the people actually making the company’s planes. How much distance? This flight—a PR stunt to end the two-month contest for Boeing’s new headquarters—would reveal the answer. Once the plane was airborne, Boeing announced it would be landing at Chicago’s Midway International Airport.
This is a good day, Samantha tells me: 10 on a scale of 10. We’re sitting in a conference room at the San Marcos Treatment Center, just south of Austin, Texas, a space that has witnessed countless difficult conversations between troubled children, their worried parents, and clinical therapists. But today promises unalloyed joy. Samantha’s mother is visiting from Idaho, as she does every six weeks, which means lunch off campus and an excursion to Target. The girl needs supplies: new jeans, yoga pants, nail polish.
At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze. She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject (history), and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite (math). She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2,000 miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands. “I wanted the whole world to myself,” she says. “So I made a whole entire book about how to hurt people.”
The secretary of state has been trying to distance himself from the impeachment hearings, but today’s explosive testimony put him at center stage.
This article was updated at 2 p.m.
Mike Pompeo tried to stay out of it. He tried to block certain State Department officials from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry. He didn’t admit for days that he had listened in on the phone call at the heart of that inquiry, in which President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a domestic political rival. He’s referred to the hearings as “noise” and been out of town a lot—both abroad and in Kansas.
Today that effort fully collapsed.
In explosive public testimony on Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, Pompeo’s own ambassador to the European Union, put the secretary of state right in the middle of the scandal. Sondland confirmed not only that the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani insisted on a quid pro quo with the Ukrainians—a White House visit by Zelensky in exchange for announcing investigations into Burisma, a company where Joe Biden’s son served on the board, and into the 2016 election—but that Pompeo himself was fully in the loop the whole time.
Many Americans are fascinated by the child-rearing practices of other countries, but those practices might be harder to import than they seem.
Pity the American children: No one is writing books about how great they are. Instead, praise has lately been reserved for kids overseas, who—according to a profusion of books and articles in the past decade—possess deep stores of resourcefulness and resilience, those sought-after traits that allegedly set kids up for a lifetime of contentment, or at least success.
These thriving children develop under the guidance of parents who are in some cases carefree and in others completely overbearing. In 2011, the author and law professor Amy Chua detailed the strictures—and the payoffs—of a hard-driving “Chinese” (as opposed to “Western”) approach to parenting in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The following year, Pamela Druckerman, an American writer living in Paris, walked American parents through the seemingly effortless child-rearing techniques of the French in Bringing Up Bébé, telling of “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents.”
The tidying guru helped America clean out its closets. Now she wants to fill them back up.
Marie Kondo has had a few bouts of American fame. Around 2015, the Japanese cleaning guru’s best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up inspired untold closet clean-outs and garage declutterings. In 2019, her Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, performed a similar trick, emptying overstuffed American homes by teaching their harried owners her joy-prioritizing “KonMari” method.
Now Kondo is back for her third act. Instead of imparting further organizational wisdom or deepening her theories of domestic joy, though, she’s trying something new: selling $275 distressed-brass vases and other housewares and wellness products to fill up all that newly empty space.
Earlier this week, Kondo announced a new online shop on her KonMari website. She has been selling a line of storage boxes for her tidying methods since 2018, but this new venture is different. Much of its inventory is mundanely minimalist, such as dove-gray bath linens and food-storage containers in neutral shades. (Even KonMari obsessives have leftovers.) The store ships only to the United States, but sells many high-end Japanese tools, such as handmade matcha whisks and hand-whittled shiatsu sticks.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland delivered a bombshell this morning.
“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
Those are the two most important sentences in today’s opening statement by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Sondland’s public testimony was the most hotly anticipated of the impeachment inquiry, and even before Sondland uttered a word this morning, he’d lived up to his billing.
In a blistering statement, Sondland testified that the president had personally directed American efforts to extort Ukraine’s president into announcing two investigations that would aid Donald Trump in his 2020 reelection effort.
“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland said. “The answer is yes.”
Palliative-care doctors explain the “existential slap” that many people face at the end.
Nessa Coyle calls it “the existential slap”—that moment when a dying person first comprehends, on a gut level, that death is close. For many, the realization comes suddenly: “The usual habit of allowing thoughts of death to remain in the background is now impossible,” Coyle, a nurse and palliative-care pioneer, has written. “Death can no longer be denied.”
I don’t know exactly when my mother, who eventually died of metastatic breast cancer, encountered her existential crisis. But I have a guess: My parents waited a day after her initial diagnosis before calling my brother, my sister, and me. They reached me first. My father is not a terribly calm man, but he said, very calmly, something to this effect: “Your mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Cory Booker and Kamala Harris had the same grave message for their fellow candidates.
The Democratic Party knows it needs the energetic support of black voters to win the 2020 presidential election. Near the end of last night’s debate in Atlanta, the question that arose—indirectly but unmistakably—was whether it needs a black candidate to turn them out.
The candidate who has surged into the lead in recent polls of Iowa and New Hampshire, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, has registered virtually zero support among African American voters. The candidates he overtook, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, don’t have a whole lot more. And the candidate who does have the most support among black Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden, has a decades-long record on criminal-justice policies and school busing that is out of step with the views of many black voters, especially younger ones.
For months, demonstrators in the city have told one another to "be like water," but a recent siege contradicted that advice. What happened?
In a darkened classroom at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a half-dozen people peeked through the blinds to watch the sight of true desperation: People dressed in black raced up a highway ramp in a frantic chase for freedom.
“Like ants,” remarked one young man who watched with me as we sat in the room. He asked that he be identified only by his last name, Tsang, for fear of arrest. Some others had escaped via ropes dropped from a highway overpass to motorcycles humming below; still more people tried to scramble through sewer pipes. But to run in the open, where most anyone, including photojournalists and police, could see you?
Then again, escape routes were few. For months, pro-democracy demonstrators have marched and rallied across this city to win greater freedoms and end police abuse. Now a few hundred people were hunkered on an urban university campus, armed with bricks and Molotov cocktails, isolated and encircled by police.