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It is the late 1960’s in Southeast Asia. A conflict known as the “Viet Nam War” has America mired in an unwinnable war against the North Vietnamese Communist Viet Cong, who are determined to conquer the people of South Viet Nam and add to their area of Communist control.

The adjacent countries of Laos and Cambodia are similarly threatened by the Viet Cong. Within the country of Laos, there exists a tribe of people called Hmong.  They live in the mountains and farm the land. They are proud, peaceful and hard-working people, but their land is also being targeted, and their way of life threatened by the Viet Cong.

The U.S, forces have enlisted the help of the Hmong in fighting this guerilla war in a place that is unfamiliar and dangerous. A teenage boy from a large Hmong family enlists in the South Vietnamese Army, and fights alongside American troops.

Years of futility ensue as Viet Nam becomes a political firestorm. Over 50,000 American troops are killed along with countless South Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asians at the hands of the ruthless Viet Cong forces.
This soldier fought many battles, and now a young man, has somehow survived this conflict while many of his tribe were killed at ten times the rate of American casualties. His homeland, Laos had fallen under the vicious Communist regime. He is among many Hmong soldiers and their families who were relocated from Laos across the Mekong River to refugee camps in Thailand.

He and his wife and family chose to emigrate to America in the mid-1970s along with many other Hmong people. They initially lived in Pennsylvania, learning English and working long hours at jobs not requiring a formal education. They saved their money and began to start a family, then deciding to move to Wisconsin where many Hmong had settled.

This couple became American citizens and learned enough English to be gainfully employed for decades. They own a home in a typical American suburb. They raised seven children, all of whom have college degrees and some even have post-graduate degrees. These parents insisted all their children be educated and prepared to obtain well-paying jobs. And they are now all productive citizens who are proud to be Americans and equally proud of their parents’ struggle and their own ethnicity. This couple is now in their 60’s and still working in the manufacturing sector!

This family is my son Jeff’s in-laws. I will not mention their names because they would not want to be singled out for praise or publicity. They are humble people who simply want to be hard-working Americans and are grateful for their freedom.

This is the 'real’ story of America! Not the BS we hear from politicians who pander for votes, claiming they are fighting for the working class. This family is an example of real freedom and the right to pursue liberty and happiness, and actually succeed at it. We are a welcoming country. You can come here and prosper but you must do it the right way. We are a land of immigrants and if you enter legally and abide by the laws of the land, anything is possible for you. This story is a testament to that premise.

To learn more about the Hmong journey to America, read the story below. You will surely be surprised at what you will learn.

Happy Independence Day to all Americans, birthday #240!

Straight Ahead,

The Vietnam War
For thousands of years, the Hmong have maintained a distinctive culture, including dress, oral literature and religion, valuing their autonomy and close-knit community above all. In pre-war Laos, the ethnic identity of the Hmong remained intact, because they lived high in the mountains and had little contact with other people. They farmed in the highlands and harvested enough crops for their own needs. Opium was their only cash crop.

In the late 1960s, when the Vietnam War spread into Laos, the United States recruited the Hmong to fight against communism. Wanting to hold on to their land and the independence they had maintained for thousands of years, the Hmong saw communism as a threat to their autonomy. Hmong soldiers, totaling over 30,000 men, fought the ground war, flew combat missions, directed air strikes, rescued downed American flyers, fought behind enemy lines, gathered intelligence on the movements of North Vietnamese troops and more. They suffered heavy casualties for their brave involvement in the war: Hmong soldiers died at a rate ten times as high as that of American soldiers in Vietnam

Before the war, between 300,000 and 400,000 Hmong lived in Laos. Although there is disagreement over how many died during the war, estimates range from one tenth to half of the Hmong population was killed. Some were soldiers, but most of the dead were civilians felled by mortar fire, land mines, grenades, postwar massacres, hunger and disease. One hundred and fifty thousand Hmong have fled Laos since their country fell to communist forces in 1975.

After the War

Displaced from their villages, which were either bombed out or burned by the North Vietnamese and the new Lao communist regime, many Hmong became refugees in their own country. U.S.-sponsored food drops - fifty tons of rice a day - fed more than 100,000 Hmong, whose land and livestock had been destroyed by the war.

In February 1973, the Vientiane Agreement was signed, calling for a cease-fire in Laos, a coalition government and the end of U.S. air support. American relief programs ceased, and the Lao's People Party declared the Hmong enemies of the state. Between 1,000 and 3,000 Hmong, mostly high ranking army officers and their families, were airlifted to Thailand, while thousands more who had fought for the CIA or remained neutral in the war were left behind. In a ravaged country strictly controlled by the North Vietnamese, many Hmong were forcibly relocated to lowland areas and assigned to state-owned collective farms. More than 10,000 Lao intellectuals, civil servants, teachers, police officers and other suspected royalist sympathizers were interned in "seminar camps" for forced labor and political indoctrination. Fearing retribution and famine, most chose to migrate to Thailand on foot, journeys on which many Hmong died from disease, starvation, exposure and drowning while crossing the Mekong River which borders Laos and Thailand.

Refugee Camps
Once in Thailand, most Hmong were placed in Ban Vinai camp on the Thai/Lao border in the northeast part of the country near the Mekong. The camp had no electricity, running water or sewage disposal, and was severely overcrowded. At its peak in 1986, Ban Vinai had 42,858 residents, 90 percent of whom were Hmong. The Thai government closed Ban Vinai in 1992.

Immigration to the United States

Because of their American military ties, many Hmong who left the refugee camps chose to come to the United States. The best educated Hmong and Lao were allowed entry into America first. The U.S. government gradually allowed more refugees as years passed. Around 200,000 Hmong currently live in the United States, most of whom reside in Minnesota, central California and Wisconsin.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 4th, 2016 05:26 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful story. You must be proud to know such a hard working family, now a part of your family.

Hope you all have a wonderful independence day. Mary SVF
Jul. 4th, 2016 05:52 pm (UTC)
Yes Mary, they are wonderful people. I am in awe of the whole family's accomplishments.
Happy 4th to you and your family.
Jul. 4th, 2016 05:58 pm (UTC)
Beautifully Stated
Thank You, John. This is the essence of America .

Steve Ray
Jul. 4th, 2016 07:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Beautifully Stated
Thanks Steve, you are correct!

Jul. 4th, 2016 07:25 pm (UTC)
Nicely said John. It goes to prove when you work hard toward a goal there is nothing you can't accomplish.

Jul. 4th, 2016 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Immigration
Living proof of that!
Jul. 4th, 2016 10:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you for a very thoughtful and heartwarming reflection for Independence Day. May God bless your son's inlaws , their saga is the very essence of the American Dream and the values of freedom and independence that we honor and hold dearest.
It's good to see you blogging again your post last month was very thought provoking and as always well written and respectful of your readers comments.
All the best,
Bobby A.
Jul. 6th, 2016 02:30 am (UTC)
Thanks Bobby. This story underscores the obstacles this family has overcome and how they prospered through hard work and never complaining. You're right, the American Dream realized and achieved.

Keep reading and responding and I'll keep writing!

Jul. 5th, 2016 12:20 am (UTC)
Hmong Immigration
Love a true story of America. People who come from elsewhere and become citizens usually become good Americans because they are so grateful. As Americans by birth we have no idea what the life in our family's home country or the struggles other than stories told by our Grandparents, which has carried our family to where we all are today.
Your story made me tear up a bit and when that happens you have touched my heart!
They have made a difference in America and America has made a difference in their lives.
Excellent story John on our country's birthday!
Brother Steve
Jul. 5th, 2016 12:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Hmong Immigration
Thanks Steve, it's a story that needs to be told to remind all of us that immigration when done correctly, is a great thing for America. People from other countries envy our way of life because of the freedom we enjoy. Jeff's in-laws have enriched our country by being model citizens and raising exceptional children. It's a win-win!
Thanks for your comments.
Jul. 5th, 2016 12:52 am (UTC)
via email from Cindy Ray
As usual, John, an excellent, well written blog. Again, brought a tear to my eye. You are really a gifted writer! Keep on, keeping on😃

Jul. 6th, 2016 01:51 am (UTC)
Re: via email from Cindy Ray
Thanks Cindy for always reading and responding. I'll keep writing!

Jul. 5th, 2016 12:50 pm (UTC)
from John Higgins via email

Another great one, might be your best yet. Thanks!

Jul. 6th, 2016 02:31 am (UTC)
Re: from John Higgins via email
Thanks John. I'm getting back into it.

Jul. 6th, 2016 12:18 am (UTC)
Nice Post...

Nice post, pointing out the Yang clan. While my parents-in-law were immigrants, their children, as you know, are 100% American, so they have had it a bit easier than their parents. To be real, you did not mention the times of racism they have had to endure...something which, to their credit, they did not complain about and they did not use as an excuse to become embittered. Maybe we all can take a lesson from this example (not being bitter about racial issues, Dad). Despite NOT having a level playing field, they overcame the odds. When you guys say everyone has a fair shot, an equal playing field to succeed, we all know that is just not the case. Imagine being sent to Laos at age 18 with no knowledge of the language, culture, job skills...and their country expects you to succeed and stop taking handouts within six months. Good luck...Do an interview of my father-in-law, Dad, for your next blog. God bless. Love, Jeff
Jul. 6th, 2016 01:46 am (UTC)
Re: Nice Post...
I have talked to you about interviewing him but he has to be willing to do it. I'm not sure he's looking for the accolades I would give him. We can explore this.
My central point in this blog was never to portray an easy transition to America. It's a huge challenge for every immigrant, particularly those who do not speak the language. Virtually EVERY immigrant has endured undeserved discrimination. The Yang's chose to take the high road and succeed in spite of racism and not to allow themselves to be called victims.
Instead, they found their own pathway to success in a foreign land against great odds. Clearly they knew America offered a better life than a Communist regime in Laos and worked tirelessly to overcome social, educational, and economic barriers.
As a final point, "handouts" (your word) should be called handouts only if they are undeserved. Safety nets are necessary to help those who need help. Our government (for many years) has allowed abuse and corruption in many forms of welfare and social programs, resulting in a culture of dependence, and a disincentive to find work.
Your in-laws are the polar opposite of those who would rely on government assistance for an extended period of time. They are too proud and they passed on their work ethic to their children. As I said in the blog, their entire family is a model to copy and they are exemplary Americans...All of them, regardless of where they were born.
Thanks for your comments and points of view.
Stephen K. Trynosky
Jul. 6th, 2016 03:44 pm (UTC)
My man, TR
Everybody, that is everybody should take the time to read the entire Theodore Roosevelt speech on "Americanism". Given 101 years ago, while the War raged in Europe but before the US was involved, TR walked into the Lions Den and gave this speech before the Knights of Columbus. A main line Protestant lecturing men of Irish, Italian, German, Austrian Catholic descent about where their loyalties lay. He took no prisoners in the speech, the term "Politically Correct" not yet being in vogue and lambasted any ethnic group which divided its loyalties including his own.

I would venture to say the speech is as relevant today as it was then, perhaps more so because we have lost the cohesion our forebears sought. Successful immigrants to the US do not wander around at rally's toting their former nations flag as a sign of protest.

I certainly am proud of my mixed Russian/Slavic heritage but am even more proud of those two grandfathers who made the walk half way across Europe to Hamburg and got on that boat not to find streets of gold for themselves but to give their children, not yet born, an opportunity to live free, put the bad customs and traditions and hates of the old country behind them and have the opportunity to thrive.

One family note, When I first saw "Fiddler on the Roof" I told my Dad, 1st generation American born that he just had to see it. Jewish or not, the life of the peasant in Russia was not significantly different. He watched it and hated it. "Just as bad as my father said it was" was his comment with particular emphasis on how the authorities treated the Jews. Andrei, Father of Nicholas, Grandfather of me was a very wise man!


Jul. 25th, 2016 04:04 am (UTC)
Re: My man, TR
Sorry Ken, your response was filed as spam and I just discovered it. All our ancestors have their own unique story. You are fortunate to have heard yours, which has shaped your own persona.
Thanks for your input.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )



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