Hmong Wrong For America. America Wrong For Hmong.
In 1990, I taught an adult English as a
Second Language class at the Clairmont School in
Stockton, CA. My students were
Hmong, members of the mountain tribe in Laos
recruited by the CIA in the 1960s to fight a
guerilla war against the Communists, now
refugees here in the U.S.
Hmong culture, men are considered superior to women.
Accordingly, the class divided itself into two groups:
the women sat in the first three rows followed by two
empty rows. The men sat in the back. To try to rearrange
the students would have been folly.
One afternoon, just before break time, I walked up and
down the aisles reviewing the student`s notebooks. When I
took a pencil out of My`s hand to correct her work, our
hands inadvertently touched.
After my review, I gave my students ten minutes. When
I returned, the women were crying and hugging each other
while the men screamed at them and waved their fingers.
With the assistance of Jennifer, my Hmong high-school
translator, the story slowly unfolded. Since another man
had now touched My, her husband Vang felt he had no
alternative but to take her home to kill her.
“Why doesn`t he want to kill me?” I asked
“He likes you and knows that you know nothing of
Hmong customs. But he will never forgive her,”
According to My, animosity had been building inside
Vang for years. My was slowly
assimilating—she drove, made quick trips to the store
alone, spoke a little English and talked about becoming
an American citizen.
Vang, who pointed out that he had paid a handsome
dowry for My, resented her successes.
I never saw them again. But I did learn through the
rumor mill that My survived. She and Vang were consulting
shaman to cure his depression.
But Vang could not bear to have My in the same room
with the only other man to ever touch her.
What brought this story back to me is the recent (July
21) report by Reuters:
“U.S. to Accept 8,000 Hmongs.”
Currently living in Thailand since the communist
takeover of Laos in 1975, 8,000 of this group of 15,400
Hmong will be reunified with their U.S. relatives.
Not surprisingly, the U.S-based Hmong exiles are
pressing for more refugees to be sent.
It was my teaching experience with the Hmong provided
me with my first insight into what really goes on in the
messed-up world of immigration. My practice with new
students is to ask all of them how long they have been in
the U.S. By judging how they answer that simple question,
I can determine what level of English speaking skill they
Most of the Hmong came to the U.S. in the early 1980s
with two or three children. But by the time they became
my students, they had six or eight children. And
some of their oldest children had become parents
“Hmm,” I said to myself, “In the late 1970s, there
were few Hmong in America. Now barely two decades later,
the US has three generations of Hmong. That spells
And of course, the Hmong have floundered ever since
they arrived. Because the Hmong only developed a
written language during the last few decades,
learning English has been practically impossible for
adults. I`ve had students who attended class for several
years but never got beyond the stage of crudely copying
block letters into their binders.
Not surprisingly, the Hmong have ranked at the bottom
of Asian refugee and immigrant groups in family income,
averaging about $15,000.
Dependence on welfare has remained stunningly high.
And Hmong teenage children have had a terrible go of
it. The kids have no interest in sitting around the house
to listen to tales about the good old days in the
mountains of Laos. In fact, the ones I know cannot point
to Laos on a globe. So some of the girls –
often as young as 13 – elope. They marry in a
cultural ceremony – something involving a chicken, I
believe – until they can legally marry at 18. But they
don`t wait to have children of their own.
The young rebellious boys join
To measure what the impact will be on communities
asked to absorb the 8,000 Hmongs en route to America,
read Roy Beck`s classic article
“The Ordeal of Immigration in Wausau”
which first appeared in The Atlantic
Monthly in 1994. Beck`s piece was the foundation for
a 1995 “60 Minutes” segment by Morley Safer titled
(Aside: Note that in Beck`s last paragraph, he wrote
about pending Congressional legislation to reduce legal
immigration. That`s the Smith-Simpson bill, enacting the
recommendations of the Jordan Commission, that was
sabotaged in 1996 by Republican turncoats like then-Senator
Spencer Abraham, cheered on by neoconservative
ideological commissars like the
Wall Street Journal Edit
I have always been deeply torn about the Hmong in
America. During slow times in the class, I would listen
to their stories through the translator.
How could you not feel for them? The Hmong were
I was pleased when the Hmong were given the option to
take the U.S. citizenship test in their native language.
But when so few
took advantage of the opportunity, I was deeply
I have two unavoidable questions:
- Is America really the right place for the
Hmong? The evidence now in demonstrates that it is not.
- In light of our new commitment to the
Somali Bantus and the
North Koreans, should we be assuming even greater
I asked Roy Beck, now head of
NumbersUSA, what he thought about pending Hmong
“The good news is that it
does not appear that there is an endless supply of Hmong
refugees who will attempt to move to the U.S. The
remaining numbers on foot appears pretty low.
“Since these refugees are
reported to be rejoining relatives in the U.S. that means
they will predominantly add to some rough social
conditions in a number of cities because the earlier
Hmong overwhelmed the social service systems of their new
“Refugees in general, and
the Hmong in particular, are far more likely than other
foreign settlers to take welfare and to be net economic
drains on local communities. That is why it is important
that only small numbers of refugees be re-settled in any
appears to be little way to make that happen as each new
nationality of refugees tends to overwhelm a number of
communities. These pressures on local communities might
be easier to handle from refugees if many of these
communities were not already reeling from three decades
of mass regular immigration and illegal immigration
[now around 1.75 million a year].”
“The appropriate thing to
do with the Hmong is to resettle them in their part of
the world, at the very least. The problem is that no one
else wants them.”
But just because no one else wants the Hmong – at
least, not without compensation – doesn`t mean that we
should take them.
The time is overdue to put American interests first.
And 8,000 additional refugees isn`t the best for us in
Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English at the Lodi
Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column
since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.