The International Writers Magazine:
An interview with a Hmong representative who has made it his life’s mission to save 300 Hmong families, who have been hiding in the jungle of Lao, fighting for their very survival, for more than thirty-five years.
Hmong Searching for Home (Part 3)
“I think it will soon end, because no one will come to help them.”
Ten years ago we were sometimes able to send money or medicine to them. We would send it to a family living in Laos. Then when they went out to the rice fields to work, they would put the money under a stone. Then they went back home. The Hmong soldiers would come and circle the area for a day or three days, checking to see if it was a trap, if anyone was waiting for them. When they were sure it was safe, they went in and took the money.”
Today, in every village, there are three officers, one Lao, one Vietnamese and one Hmong. They check the people when they go out to work in the rice fields. If the officers find anything unusual, weapons, radios, medicine, the Hmong people will be killed. The authorities don’t want them bringing supplies to the Hmong rebels. Now, it is difficult to send any support. It is more probable that the support will be discovered than five or ten years ago. They have had little food and no medical. A few times I sent something, but it was so hard.
Before General Vang Pao died, I told my people to “Get out of the jungle!” But Vang Pao countermanded. He said, “No, you stay there and keep fighting.” It was like the people thought they were still in the 1960s and were fighting the communists.
But after the reporters came out with the video a few years ago, even the Hmong in the jungle realized the war was over.
We went to Amnesty International and to the UN for help, but the Lao government said “there are no Hmong in the jungle.”
We have documented many of the Hmong who are still in the jungle and submitted the identities to the UN. So, for example, a family just arrived a few days ago and already they are being sent to America because the UN already had their information.
I hope something better for the Hmong. And if they all get out of the jungle, it will be better. But they don’t want to go to the Unites States. They want to stay in Thailand but the Thai government doesn’t want them.
The Hmong refugee experience in Europe
Polish or Romanian immigrants come to France and they are so fast to assimilate. They are white. They are Christian. And they are independent. But for the Asians, we have to be in the family. For the Hmong, we have to be in the clan. But I see some of my cousins marry French guys and the children are assimilated.
Antonio: The Hmong have not done well in America. How about in France?
The same, most are poor. But the in USA and France luckily there are support networks for them. And if the children go to school, they can move up. There are a lot of Asian doctors and such in both countries.
Antonio: As far as I know, the Hmong did not have a written language in 1975.
They couldn’t read in Hmong. They had no educating, no reading. During the French period, they just went to learn French. During the American period, they went to Lao school, but it was late. I am sure that in the future, it will improve.
There are around 300,000 Hmong in the USA. From a community of 1,000 Hmong in Minnesota you have 5 doctors, 5 engineers and 70% maybe no high school. In USA they have a great program. If you fail one subject, you retake only 6hat subject. In France, you must pass all subjects in one exam.
My parents were very poor and had never attended school. I was four years old when we went to France. I started school at five or six like any other French child.
You know general Vang Pao never went to school. When he was being promoted to lieutenant he had to pass an exam. The French officer told him the answers and he just copied them verbatim. He had no idea what he was writing. Then they sent the exam to French military command in Saigon and Vang Pao passed. Touby Ly Fong, the other Hmong leader, was different. He went to the elite French academy in Hanoi.
Antonio: What do you hope for your people’s future?
I want to move my people because, if they surrender in Laos we won’t know what happened to them. A few years ago, a few leaders surrendered, and now we don’t know what happened to them, If they were killed. We went to the UN, but they couldn’t help. The Lao government won’t let them look in the jungle.
I have a small contact with Hmong families in the jungle they said “Yes, if you find someplace safe we will go. But if it is Thailand we won’t go.” They are afraid of being sent back.
Year after year, it gets harder and harder, because the Vietnamese and Lao soldiers are fighting them every day. Now they want out. But they don’t know where to go. A few years ago, some families were hiding. They slipped into Mae Sai then to Tachilek, Burma. They walked at night and slept in the day. It took them three months to get there.
If we have a place to put them, outside of Lao, then I can go back to the UN for help.
I think it will soon end, because no one will come to help them. We would like it to end to get them out and have them stay in a nice place.
Antonio: What did you think of the Clint Eastwood movie, “Gran Torino” and its depiction of the Hmong in the US?
It was very important for Hmong community. Thank you to Clint Eastwood, because he knew the situation in Lao and he made this movie to support the Hmong. This movie was very important for Hmong, like “Rambo IV” for Burma.
Antonio: Do you have a final thought?
I want to save as many as I can. If I can save 300 families that is great. If we save one, I will still feel happy.
Support the “Keep Antonio Writing and Filming fund” donate through the paypal link on his website, www.speakingadventure.com
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army.
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© A Graceffo April 2011