Written by John Murphy
Have you heard of the Hmong people? The Hmong are one of the ethnic groups referred to as the Miao in China- the name is sometimes interchangeable. Did you know that there are actually a large group of Hmong people living in America? Many of the Hmong in America were initially resettled after the Vietnam War, fleeing as refugees from a homeland that had been rendered unsafe. Initially, in 1975, only around 3500 Hmong people were granted asylum in the United States, but by 1980 there were 30,000 Hmong people living in the United States. The number of Hmong refugees in America slowed for a bit during the early 1980s but increased again between 1987 and 1994– at this time 56,000 Hmong refugees were accepted into the United States. As of 2018, the Hmong population in the United States is around 281,000. In comparison, there are around 9.4 million Hmong people living in China (China is the country with the largest Hmong population in the world). Needless to say, the Hmong population in America is small, but they are still a very significant ethnic minority in the United States, and they represent a unique and fascinating culture.
Initially, Hmong refugees in the United States were dispersed throughout the country by various organizations and often placed in poorer neighborhoods, which at the time consisted of primarily African American residents. Over time, however, the Hmong people generally moved together and consolidated so they could be around other Hmong people. Nowadays, the highest concentration of Hmong people in America is in the states of California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. St. Paul, Minnesota is interesting in that it has the most Hmong people per capita in the United States (roughly 10% of St. Paul is made up of Hmong people). Why is this? The cost of living in St. Paul is much lower than some other parts of the country, and jobs (such as factory jobs) were more readily available. So, living in St. Paul allowed Hmong families, who were disadvantaged in a capitalist society, to afford the necessities for a successful life.
Hmong Americans at the University of Wisconsin
Hmong Americans have historically faced many challenges. However, the new generation of Hmong Americans is educated and displaying a large amount of social mobility. One struggle for Hmong Americans is the question keeping in touch with their traditional culture. Many young Hmong Americans feel like they need to identify with American culture in order to fit in, and that a lot of traditional ideas are incompatible with modern society. However, while many young Hmong Americans feel it is necessary to reform some of their traditional ideals (e.g. more rights for women and no teenage brides,) they still keep in touch with their old culture by celebrating holidays and dressing up in traditional garb. While there is still a lot of work to be done to eliminate poverty Hmong American communities, ultimately, the story of the Hmong in America is an uplifting and inspiring one and truly representative of the famous ideal of the ‘American Dream’!
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