US - Laos Policy, Memorial Events, Held in Congress

Friday, May 25, 2012

National veterans' memorial ceremonies and policy events are being held in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Congress, to highlight the service, and ongoing plight, of Lao and Hmong veterans who served in Laos during the Vietnam War. Thousands of Laotian and Hmong-American veterans, and their refugee families from across America, are participating along with U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War. Laotian and Hmong-Americans from across the United States are attending with delegations traveling from California, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgie, Alabama, Louisiana, and other states. “We have come from across the United States to pay tribute and remember our fallen soldiers who have died to secure the freedom that we all enjoy today,” said Colonel Wangyee Vang, President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI). The LVAI and the Lao Veterans of America are the nation's largest Lao and Hmong veterans organization with chapters across the United States. “It is also important to remember that our people, who were left behind in the jungles of Laos, are still suffering from the causes of the Vietnam War,” Colonel Wangyee Vang stated further. Meetings and special events are continuing in the U.S. Congress this week, regarding domestic and international policy matters of concern, including veterans, human rights, refugee, religious persecution, trade and economic issues. On May 11, a wreath-laying and memorial service, was conducted at the Lao Veterans of America (LVA) monument in Arlington National Cemetery to honor the Lao and Hmong veterans, their families, as well as the American clandestine advisors, who served in defense of the Kingdom of Laos, and U.S. national security interests, during the Vietnam War. “I am very honored and pleased that we are once again gathered here today at Arlington,” said Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Ph. D., a Southeast Asia scholar, former Vietnam War-era journalist and author. At events in Arlington, Dr. Hamilton-Merritt read excerpts from her book "Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, The Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos" (Indiana University Press) and served as a keynote speaker at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial events. “A U.S. Department of Defense Joint Armed Forces Honor Guard, U.S. Army wreath-bearer, and bugler, participated in the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to assist in honoring the Lao and Hmong veterans and their families,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C. “Following the official wreath-laying ceremony at the Lao Veterans of America memorial in Arlington, the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) honor guard also posted colors, and the bugler played ‘Taps’, in memory of the Lao and Hmong veterans and their American military and clandestine advisors…,” Smith observed. “With covert American assistance, Lao and Hmong special forces operated in defense of the Kingdom of Laos and U.S. national security interests,” Smith commented. Flowers were laid at a veterans' memorial ceremony held at the Vietnam War Memorial on May 12. Event speakers are highlighting the importance of legislation (H.R. 3192), introduced by U.S. Congressmen Jim Costa (D-CA), and Frank Wolf (R-VA), to grant burial benefits to Lao and Hmong-American veterans at U.S. national cemeteries. Event cosponsors include the LVAI, CPPA, LVA, the U.S. DOD, Army, Air Force, Arlington National Cemetery, Counterparts, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., and Members of the U.S. Congress. Speakers at the veterans’ memorial events include: Wangyee Vang, LVAI; Philip Smith, CPPA; Jane Hamilton-Merritt; Mike Benge, former POW; Hugh Tovar, Former CIA Station Chief, Laos; Toua Kue, LVA.; D. L. Hicks, U.S. Special Forces Association, Texas; Christy Lee, Hmong Advance, Inc.; U.S. Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA); U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and, Members of the U.S. Congress. The events also commemorate National Lao and Hmong Recognition Day ceremonies held annually in May in Washington, D.C. and across the United States. Contact: Ms. Maria Gomez, Mr. Phil Marieo or Mr. Philip Smith CPPA - Center for Public Policy Analysis Tele. (202) 543-1444 Source


Record earns first ever Hmong Association Fellowship Award

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - From 6 to 8 a.m. every Sunday morning you will hear a different language being spoken on the WIZM-1410 radio station. That's because the 2-hour program is entirely in Hmong. Midwest Family Broadcasting Vice President Dick Record received the first ever Hmong Association Fellowship Award May 17. Record advocated the creation of Hmong radio programming back in 1983, to help the Hmong community stay updated on current music, news, and events. "Every radio station and television station has a responsibility to operate in the public interest...and these are the kinds of things that I think the audiences and the people and the government are looking for," Record said. Record hopes the program will continue to encourage diversity and understanding in the La Crosse area. Source


Solana Beach art exhibit sheds light on stories of Hmong tribal life

From left, Nancy Harmon, Roger Harmon, Irving Himelblau and Bob Montgomery stand in front of a Hmong story cloth. Photo: Claire Harlin In the 1960s, the United States employed the tribal Hmong people to fight what’s now known as “The Secret War” in the highlands of Laos. And as the Southeast Asia conflict, which coincided with the Vietnam War, wound down in defeat for the native mountain people, they fled refugee camps in Thailand, where many stayed for decades. Much of what we know of the Hmong people’s experiences comes from detailed story cloths they embroidered while in the Thai camps, and one local couple — Roger and Nancy Harmon — has managed to collect and preserve a variety of them, which will be presented on May 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito (UUFSD). The event will also feature a detailed explanation of the cloths by the Harmons, a photo exhibition and a presentation by Bob Montgomery, who has worked for more than 35 years with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and serves as the executive director of the San Diego Resettlement Office. Proceeds from the event will be donated to “My Library,” an education project for underserved Hmong and other youth in Laos. Roger Harmon’s love affair with Laos and its people dates back to the late 1960s, when he orchestrated a language program there that focused on teaching English to Hmong people who were being brought as refugees to the United States. In exchange for their mountain know-how and fighting on the side of the U.S., Roger said, the U.S. government gave them rice. “Eventually they had to flee into neighboring Thaliand because they became targets themselves,” said Roger. “We put them in harm’s way and we had a responsibility to help them rebuild their lives here in the United States.” While in Thailand, Roger noticed the colorful, intricately-designed story cloths hanging from bamboo poles in front of many houses. “The knocked me out,” said Roger. “I had never seen anything like them. They were beautiful.” Nancy added that the Hmong people had always been well-versed in embroidery work and handicrafts, but they didn’t make story cloths until they were pent up for 25 years or more as refugees surviving a deadly war. “It wasn’t until they were in the camps that they had a story to tell,” she said. The Harmons are members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito, and were thrilled when the Solana Beach church’s publicity chair, Irving Himelblau, approached them about doing an art exhibit there. Every few months, the church puts on a new exhibit and every month proceeds from church collections benefit a different cause. The church is also very involved in service work such as Habitat for Humanity, via the church’s social action committee. “If there’s any strong pillar of justice here, it’s with the social action committee,” said Himelblau, adding that the Hmong story cloth exhibit and associated “My Library” cause was a perfect addition to the church event schedule. “This exhibit just felt really good, especially given the cause and the historical aspect,” Himelblau said. Refreshments at the two-hour event will be served and Montgomery will be speaking about the contemporary refugee situation here in San Diego. His IRC office is located in City Heights, which, along with Chula Vista, has a large refugee population. For more information, visit or call (858) 755-9225. Source


Creating a Hmong Community Foundation

Lue Her As part of his Archibald Bush Leadership fellowship, Lue Her has had an opportunity to visit with and learn from fellow Hmong-Americans around the country. Not surprisingly, he has found that complex issues continue to plague Hmong-American communities. But he has been surprised to see that few in the community realize that many of the challenges facing its members could be addressed if Hmong-Americans had their own philanthropic vehicle to leverage financial, intellectual and cultural assets — assets that Her believes exist within the Hmong-American community now. Hmong-Americans have long participated in a variety of traditions and practices that presume donations of time, effort and money, but for many the concept of giving back through philanthropic channels remains foreign — possibly because they have not been invited to contribute. To remedy this, he is embarking on an endeavor to create a new Hmong Community Foundation. Read more about what he envisions for the new foundation in the “Voices in Philanthropy” section in the spring issue of Giving Forum on community philanthropy. - Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate Source


Traditional Hmong Healers Learning to Partner With Valley Doctors

A Hmong shaman blesses a young pregnant woman in rural Merced. Thousands of Hmong refugees settled in the Central Valley in the 1970s and like most immigrants, they brought their own traditions with them. Back home, the Hmong were more likely to see a shaman than a doctor when they got sick and that has presented something of a challenge for health care professionals here in California. A hospital in Merced is addressing that with a program called "Partners in Healing." Reporter: Shuka Kalantari Source


Comedy show gives Hmong culture lesson

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tou Ger Xiong expresses the struggles of being an immigrant. Xiong said one of his biggest struggles was having parents who didn’t speak English Mixing the immigrant experience with Hmong culture, Tou Ger Xiong presented an entertaining and eye-opening comedy show to the UW Oshkosh community April 19. “I, like many Hmong children, did not know the story of Hmong people, so one day I asked my mother, ‘What is Hmong?’” Xiong said. Xiong’s story started with the Vietnam War. After China became communist, the CIA sent Green Berets to train Hmong guerrillas in order to oppose the Vietnamese and the Lao communist forces. Xiong’s father was one of these people. He went to war at the age of 15 along with some friends. After the war Pathet Lao, a communist group in Laos, tried to wipe out the Hmong. As a result, thousands of Hmong fled to refugee camps in Thailand. Many were killed along the way, especially when crossing the Mekong River. An estimated 30,000 Hmong were killed by Communist forces while trying to reach Thailand. More than 100,000 Hmong people died as a result of the war. Today approximately 250,000 Hmong are in the U.S., most living in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Xiong was born in Laos and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand until he was four. One night, at 1 a.m., they escaped by bribing some fishermen. It took three trips to get everyone out, but on the last trip the fishermen robbed and killed Xiong’s neighbors. Xiong later returned to Laos in 1997 and 2007 to visit relatives, some of who have lived in refugee camps for more than 20 years. “My dad worked for the CIA, and just being associated with that could get you killed,” Xiong said. “Our whole family was in danger.” From there Xiong’s sister sponsored them through the Catholic church to come to America. They ended up in a public housing project in Minneapolis. His father went from a captain in the army to cleaning toilets. Xiong had to quickly adjust to living in America, sharing his experiences through a series of entertaining stories about his first time seeing snow and learning English. Xiong was also bullied at school for being an Asian immigrant. “It really comes down to the issue of bullying, embracing diversity and the need to experience the world,” Xiong said. Now he’s turned that experience into a way to educate Hmong and non-Hmong through comedy. In 1996, Xiong created Project Respectism, an educational service project that uses comedy, storytelling and rap music to bridge cultures and generations. “A comedian isn’t what most people think when they hear Hmong, and people in big and small towns needed to hear the message of how our ancestors came here and how our stories are the same,” Xiong said. One of his first jobs was entertaining a group of Hmongs in prison for gang related activity. He found that getting people to laugh made them listen to what he had to say. From that experience he wrote a rap song called “I am the Mac,” about transforming negative situations into a positive one and not giving up on one’s dreams. “I really like how he related his past life with where he is now, how he came from Laos to America and using those differences as a motivation tool to teach others,” Oshkosh student Lee Vang said. Xiong has taken his message about respect to 44 states in the past nine years. He has given more than 1,500 presentations nationwide to audiences of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. A documentary of Xiong’s project “Hmong Means Free,” aired on public television in Minnesota. Xiong also starred in “Portraits from the Cloth,” the first television movie about a Hmong family’s journey from war. “I loved this event and I wish there were more of them on campus,” Oshkosh admissions staff member Melanie Cross. “Explaining the Hmong story and traditions allow me to be more understanding of the culture.”