April 27, 2004


Melting pot stirred in land of Betty Crocker: As a wave of Hmong refugees heads for St. Paul, their predecessors prepare to help them adjust. (Amanda Paulson, 4/28/04, CS Monitor)

Outside states with significant Hmong populations - California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, along with Minnesota - few Americans know of the group. But in the annals of refugee stories, theirs is particularly compelling.

Originally from China, most Hmong migrated to Laos nearly 300 years ago. During the Vietnam War, many worked for the CIA to fight the communists who had taken control of Laos. After the war, they fled, often hiding for years in the jungles. Talk to any Hmong over age 40, and you are likely to hear stories of jungle battles, desperate trips across the Mekong, and relatives who died along the way. Since the first wave of refugees arrived in 1976, perhaps 150,000 have come here. Those left behind were often afraid to come, or hoped they'd return to their home.

Today, St. Paul's University Avenue is lined with Hmong restaurants, grocery stores, and gift shops. There are Hmong representatives on the school board and in the state legislature. But the assimilation hasn't been easy. Many are illiterate; their language didn't exist in written form until a few decades ago. Even Xiong, who owns several businesses and four buildings, has never learned to read or write. Polygamy, common among Hmong, was a challenge, and authorities decided to break up some families. And the Hmong have higher poverty and unemployment rates than other Southeast Asian minorities.

Some experts worry that next wave of immigrants will face still more challenges. Years in a camp with no UN presence has meant little or no healthcare. More than half the camp's population is 14 or younger, and many have never been to school. Without formal residency status, few have been able to work, beyond making crafts to sell to relatives in America.

There's no doubt that their arrival will put a strain on city services, acknowledges St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly. "It really couldn't come at a worse time for local government, because of the downturn in the economy. With state budget deficits and the cutback in local government aid, local governments are stretched pretty thin."

Mayor Kelly has heard from a lot of unhappy residents, but he's also accepted what is ultimately a federal decision - while actively lobbying for federal assistance. Housing will be especially tough, he says, but he hopes the fact that nearly half of established Hmong own homes - more than any other minority - will provide some relief.

Having betrayed them we hardly deserve to have them come here, but we're lucky they do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2004 8:23 PM

The other day I read a quote from an African seeking to come to the US:

"I want to go to America, where the poor people are fat!"

Posted by: mike earl at April 27, 2004 9:10 PM

Thanks for this one Orrin.

I am, as you know, quite biased indeed.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at April 27, 2004 9:15 PM

Anytime OJ posts something about immigration, I feel obligated to pop-off, so here I would say that this type immigration is to the good.
1. America is helping its friends, or allies, by fulfilling an implied contract. Repaying its debt as it were.
2. There should never have been a delay, or any doubt that we would help the Hmong.
3. If this is the type repayment that the Hmong desire, they have it, but now they will have to be productive, independent Americans and not a demanding, whining drag on other Americans.

Posted by: h-man at April 28, 2004 8:34 AM


Why don't the native born have an obligation to not be a whiny drag, since they're the ones who actually get government benefits.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:48 AM

I would hope some Federal assistance will be forthcoming for their transition to productive citizenship. We owe them.

Posted by: genecis at April 28, 2004 9:57 AM


They should feel some obligation, but it quite different than that which obtains for immigrants. The difference is suggested by the word Citizen.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 28, 2004 12:18 PM


Yes, that's what nativism reduces to--I have no obligations to society because I was born here, whereas you, ya dirty wog...

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 12:26 PM


How "they should feel some obligation," which is what I wrote, can be transformed into "I have no obligations to society because I was born here," which is how you interpreted it, is a difficult thing to understand.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 28, 2004 1:35 PM

should, some, feel

How about a simple: They are obligated.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 1:45 PM

Okay. But the obligation is different. Think about it this way: A son is obligated to obey his parents wishes in their home, but not in the same way which a guest is obligated to obey.

Every decent man feels a more pressing burden to show courtesy and respect when he has been extended the hospitality of others.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 28, 2004 2:03 PM

You beat your son if he disobeys, not a guest. The obligation is higher rather than lower.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 2:07 PM

You are correct I would require the same obligations of all citizens (I'm assuming the Hmong are on track to become citizens) whether those citizens are newly arrived or native born.
My added remark, probably was a knee jerk reaction to the posted article's reference to some government "program". OK give these particular immigrants a few dollars and a pep talk, but let's not make a lifetime commitment to it.

The only exception I make to equal rights and/or obligations is to certain East Coast College Graduates who should be required to show commonsense at all times.

Posted by: h-man at April 28, 2004 3:13 PM

Quite right: if the guest disobeys, you kick him out.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 28, 2004 3:18 PM

Don't look at me--my family tried to keep yours out for all the same reasons you want to keep the new folks out.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 5:23 PM

I'm assuming the Hmong are on track to become citizens

Hmong people are eligible to apply for a green card immediately, just as (I think) Cubans are. Almost all of them do these days. Years ago, a lot of them didn't quite understand what "citizenship" meant.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at April 28, 2004 11:25 PM

While I oppose wide open borders on 'Consent of the Governed' grounds, I do support a healthy level of legal immigration. You're right--we owe them and I'm glad they are here. They'll make great citizens. However, they should not be hobbled with Vietnamese-language ballots by multi-culturalist hate-Hmongers.

Posted by: Noel at April 29, 2004 12:13 PM

ps; pun pilfered from Steyn.

Posted by: Noel at April 29, 2004 12:14 PM