I came across a clip of Gia Vang, a breaking boundary Hmong female news anchor, on my facebook newsfeed this morning. First, I would like to congratulate her like many others did. I thought it was amazing that another Hmong female broke boundaries for females like me. In addition to that, other people commented that other Hmong females that already reached such heights.
I clicked on the play button to get to know her story...
Everything was good and she sounds like a cool person.
However, one thing I didn't stand with her was her word choice to describe her family's journey here. She said they (her Hmong parents/family) "immigrated" here. (A little fun fact about me, word choices matter; I can be a word Nazi sometimes).
For 16+ years of my life, I used that word to describe mine, my parents', and the Hmong's history. All because my teacher told me I was one. Life made sense until I ran into the word, refugee. I got confuse all over again of what my identity was. It was the middle of my college years that I decided who I was/am and how to tell the story of mine and my people's history. Clearly, my teacher didn't tell me the right one, and I don't blame her; the Hmong history is still in the making.
I refuse to let anyone describe the Hmong struggle to the US as immigration. For most of my parents' generation, it was not a sunny day, with the wind blowing in their hair that it crossed their mind, "Life is wonderful! But it could be even greener if we 'immigrate' to America, the land of dreams and opportunity."
No dude. It was not like that at all. The decision to seek refuge outside of Thailand, where they initially escaped to from Laos, was the biggest decision of their life. The Hmong were forced out of Laos for their involvement and commitment with the US to fight and prevent communism. As a result, the country they had settled in saw them as traitors. Their only option was to flee and maybe have a chance at life or get killed in Laos. The fortunate ones made it to Thailand, where they lived in crowded refugee camps in Thailand, with limited food source, and most importantly, education. Once the camps were crowded, people were sent back to Laos. However, reports and rumors at that time said it was a dead land for the Hmong; you die on the way or you die once you get back in. Finally, this lead the United Nations and Thailand to request other nations to open their borders to the Hmong. The top three are US, France, and Australia.
Next time someone ask you "Why did the Hmong immigrate?" You must correct them that the right question to ask is, "Why are the Hmong refugees [in whatever country]?" By describing the Hmong's relocation experience as an immigration movement/decision, people will misunderstand that they came to where they are by choice. That is not true. My mother often stressed to me that she would rather be working her garden in Thailand or Laos and know she's in control to provide for her family than work at a job that would fire her any day. Of course, only due to a "business decision that's best for the business."
I'm not a historian, but I don't want anyone to tell my parents' history that it was an easy choice to make. They were happy. They were free. Then their lives were destroyed. People need to know that.