We were poor not only the outside, but also the inside.: 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
  • Ban Vinai refugee camp water station, Thailand.  Photo courtesy MayKao Hang.
    Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp, Thailand, 2004.  Photo courtesy MayKao Hang.

    Hmong, Politics, Refugee Camps, 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
    • Chapter 3

    Download Kim Yang 7
    1:32 Minutes | 1.47Mb


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

    Narrator: Kim Yang (KY)

    KY:  When we arrived in Nong Qhai (Noom Qhais), we did not have a house to live so we used plastic cloth to make a temporary tent for us to live. I remember that one time it rained so hard that it flooded our tent and we couldn’t sleep at all. In fact, it rained so hard that my mother took us, the children to sleep in the one of the restrooms. It smelled very bad, but because it was raining so hard outside, we stayed in the restroom all night.

    Shortly after that, we used tarps (ntaub kaus) to make bigger and stronger tents for us to live in because there was no more room available in the apartments. Those who came earlier than us had occupied them all.

    There was another camp named Nan Phong (Naab Phoos) and they came to pick up the refugees who did not have a place to stay in Nong Qhai to go to the new camp. We were supposed to go over there, but there were some people who came after us who had relatives working in the camp so they took their relatives instead of us. We stayed in Nong Qhai for about a year before move to Ban Vinai (Npaab Vib Nais).

    But when we were living in Nong Qhai, we were having lots of problem because the Thai people down there treated us, the refugees, very, very badly. They looked at us as though we were dogs, treated us with disrespect. When they were driving while we tried to cross the road, they pretended like they did not see us crossing. Let’s say when you go out to buy food to eat, the Thai people did not want to look at you at all and they sold food at a higher price to us than the Thai people. They were not nice to us at all.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Kim Yang 8
    2:24 Minutes | 2.3Mb


    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:  What year was it, when you escaped Laos into Thailand?

    KY: It was June… It seems like the beginning of June in 1975.

    MNM:  Then it was around the time that Laos fell to the Communists. How long did you stay in Nong Qhai before you moved to Ban Vinai?

    KY:  Around one year.

    MNM:  How long did you stay in Ban Vinai before you came to this country?

    KY:  We lived in Ban Vinai for about three and a half to four years. When we got to Ban Vinai, there was food that was supplied to us by the people around there, but it wasn’t enough for us to eat so my mother and I went out to look for work. We planted vegetables in small garden so we could have enough food to eat. When my mother and I went out to work, my father stayed home and baby-sat my brothers. We took a taxi to work and it took about three hours to get to work. We usually went for a month at a time before we came home. At that time there was no way of supporting our family other than this. We had to go to work like this so that we could get money to help support our family in the camp.

    In Ban Vinai, it was about the same as Nong Qhai. Let’s say you go out to shop for food, they charged you a higher price than they charged the Thai people. If there was a shortage of food, they will let their people get it first before letting the Hmong people buy them. There were lots of prejudices in both camps. Sometimes you walked along the way and if they saw you, they would spit at you. I also heard that for those who had traveled outside of the camp, regardless of where they went to play or to work, the Thai people treated them very badly and for some teenage girls, they were raped by the Thai people.

    MNM:  What kind of work did your mother do? What did you do?

    KY:  We gathered corn, sometimes removed weeds, and harvested rice.

    MNM:  Did they pay you more money?

    KY:  At that time, the value of their money was not that high either so it wasn’t that much, but we received enough money to support our family for about three or four months with a full month of work.

    MNM:  At that time, did the Thai soldiers allow you to go outside of camp to work?

    KY:  In the beginning, they allowed us, the Hmong people to go out to work too but later on they closed the camp and let no one out. If you wanted to go outside of camp, you must fill out certain paperwork to get permission and have enough reasons. In other words, you must pass through their door or gate with the appropriate paperwork before they let you go out.

    Continues in Chapter 3

    Download Kim Yang 9
    1:16 Minutes | 1.22Mb


    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:  Within the camp, Ban Vinai, what else did you do? Did you have enough time to go to school or do something else?

    KY:  At that time, we did have enough time to go to school and to do other duties too. We went to get water, washed our clothes, celebrated our New Year and threw balls at the New Year Party. There were lots of fun things to do at the camp.

    MNM:  When you think about Ban Vinai, what do you remember most about it?

    KY:  I don’t remember anything at all. This is because when we got to the camp, we were very poor. We were poor in many ways. We were poor not only the outside, but also the inside too. We were not only poor from not having enough food to eat, but we were poor inside of our hearts that we had no country to live in, and lots of my friends and families that used to live together were separated into many ways. There were lots of struggles within all of us, the Hmong people so there was not much to remember at all. I thought it was only a temporary place to live for a while.

    MNM:  When you think back about Ban Vinai, do you remember any good things about it?

    KY:  I think one of the good thing about the camp was that when we arrived at the camp there were houses that were ready for us and they let us live in those houses. That was a good thing. Other things, I don’t see any other good things about it.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective:  Suitable for a particular use.


    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:  1. To conquor somewhere.  2. To live or reside.  (occupies, occupying, occupied)


    Noun:  A negative judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge of the facts.


    Noun:  A person forced to leave his or her own country and seek refuge in a foreign country out of fear of persecution or violence or because of poverty or natural disaster.


    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.


    Noun:  The quality that makes something desirable or valuable; the degree of importance one gives to something. 

    Verb:  To regard highly; think much of; place importance upon.  (values, valuing, valued)


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
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