My mother decided that we must move out.: Becoming Minnesotan

Kim Yang, c. 2000.
  • Name - Kim Yang
  • Age at interview - 31
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 12.01.1999
  • Thai refugee camp, Nam Yao, 1970s.  Photo courtesy MayKao Hang.
    Women in Ban Napho refugee camp, Thailand, July 1999.

    Escape, Hmong, Politics, War

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    Essential Question

    Coming to America: What did coming to America symbolize for this person?

    Push & Pull Factors: Why did this person come to the U.S.?

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    Background Information

    During the Vietnam War, General Vang Pao was a respected Hmong military leader who formed an alliance with the Americans.  He recruited Hmong soldiers in Laos to fight off the Communists and to keep them from moving from Vietnam farther into Laos.  During the war no one was safe, and so entire families had to hide in the jungles for several weeks at a time.  When the Americans pulled out of southeast Asia, General Vang Pao and other military leaders were airlifted out of the country to safety, but civilians were left to fend for themselves.  Many Hmong people fled by foot to Thailand. However, the border between Thailand and Laos is the Mekong River, so the Hmong people either had to swim across the river or pay someone with a boat to take them across. Once in Thailand, there were refugee camps, but the camps were crowded and the Thai people were not always very friendly towards all of these newcomers who meant competition for few jobs and resources. 

    To learn more about Hmong history and culture, visit our Hmong Community page.

    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2

    Download Kim Yang 5
    1:37 Minutes | 1.55Mb


    Note: Original interview was conducted in Hmong.  Excerpt is read in English by MayKao Hang.

    Narrator: Kim Yang (KY)

    Interviewer: Mai Neng Moua (MNM)

    MNM:  Do you remember why your family decided to escape from Laos and moved into Thailand?

    KY:  When we were still living in Laos, during the war, my father was at the battlefield because he was a soldier. But as the Communists came closer to our town, my father came home from the battlefield and decided that we were going to stay in Laos regardless of whether everyone had moved. He wanted to stay in Laos because he felt that if everyone had moved then those that stood behind would be promoted to become leaders. It was very tough to get my father to move out of Laos.

    But on the other hand my mother said we must go. The reason my mother wanted to move was because we had heard that after the Vietnamese took over they were going to kill all the boys. I was the only girl and I have four brothers so my mother decided that we must move out. Still my father still hesitated to move, but my mother told my father that if you wanted to stay, you can stay, but I will take my children out of here. My mother called the taxi, but there was no taxi available so the next morning my mother got up very early to prepare food, supplies and all of us and we decided to move out. My father saw that we were very serious so he followed us.

    MNM:  Your father believed that we were going to win the war so whoever stood behind would become leaders. Was this his belief?

    KY:  Yes, my father believed that if everyone had left then those who stood behind after the war would become leaders. This is because he believed that General Vang Pao would be back to help them out so whoever was still there would be crowned as leaders. This is why my father did not want to move out.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Kim Yang 6
    2:49 Minutes | 2.71Mb


    Note: Original interview was conducted in Hmong.  Excerpt is read in English by MayKao Hang.

    Narrator: Kim Yang (KY)

    KY:  When we were in the process of moving out, my mother refused to use the helicopter because there were too many of us and my mother was afraid that the helicopter might crash. So my mother rented a taxi to take us to a city called Na Xou (Nas Xus) then we went on to a city called Pha Khet (Phav Kheb). Back then we lived in Long Cheng so we rented a taxi to take us to Pha Khet. The taxi that we took broke down on the way to Pha Khet so we had to walk for about two hours before we reached Pha Khet.

    When we arrived at Pha Khet, we spent a night in that town. The next morning we heard that the helicopters would be coming back to Long Cheng to pick up some more people so we took the taxi back to Long Cheng. By the time we got there, the last helicopter had just left. There were no helicopters or cars so we went back to spent two nights in our old home. After that we went back to Pha Khet, but I don’t remember if we were traveling by foot or car.

    From Pha Khet we went to Na Xou and there was where my parents paid a Hmong man to help us with the paperwork to get to Thailand. This guy knew all the rules because he used to live with the Vietnamese. At this time the Vietnamese had taken over Na Xou already. My parents and the man lied that my mother was going to take the children to school in Vientiane, I don’t remember exactly because I was very young, but that was what I heard. So my mother took all the kids and we went ahead. My mother took all of us to move ahead, but unfortunately our car broke down about half way, so my mother left us with one of the families down there. I didn’t remember if they were relatives or strangers.

    My father was not with us because if he was with us the Vietnamese may know because they had blocked all the roads. My mother left us with that family and went back to tell my father. So my father went back to prepare the paperwork for him that he was going to Vientiane (Vias Caas) to do something and my mother was going to adopt children down there. They came to pick us up from the family where my mother had left us and we moved toward Vientiane. We spent one or two nights in Vientiane and then we secretly looked for ways to cross the river to Thailand so we did.

    The Vietnamese soldiers blocked all the roads to the river so we had to wait until 3:00 a.m. in the morning before we snuck across the road and moved toward the river. Then from there we took two boats to Thailand. The Vietnamese soldiers were firing shots too, but fortunately we got to Thailand safely.

    When we arrived in Thailand, the boat men told us that they would send our stuff by a second boat, but they never did. We lost all our belongings. The Thai people greeted us with open arms and gave us food to eat and a place for us to sleep. They treated us very well.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun: A member of a Communist political party or movement, or a supporter of the political philosophy of communism; they usually advocate for a classless society with communal ownership of property, and often set up one-party totalitaran type governments.


    Verb:  To declare someone a winner.  (crowns, crowning, crowned)

    General Vang Pao

    A former Major General in the Royal Lao Army. He is an ethnic Hmong and a leader of the Hmong American community in the United States


    Verb:  To stop or pause when making a decision or deciding an action.  (hesitates, hesitating, hesitated)


    Verb:  1. To raise someone or something to a more important or responsible job, rank, or position.  2. To advocate or urge on behalf of something or someone.  (promotes, promoting, promoted)


    Adjective:  Of or having to do with Thailand, its people or language.

    Noun:  1. A person from Thailand, or of Thai background.  2. The langauge spoken in Thailand.


    Adjective:  Of or pertaining to Vietnam.

    Noun:  1. Inhabitant of Vietnam or person of Vietnamese descent.  2. Language spoken predominantly in Vietnam.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 473