By the time I was fifteen, I was a soldier.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Yang Cha Ying
  • Age at interview - 56
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 11.20.1991
  • Hmong clan village, Laos.  Photo courtesy MayKao Hang.
    General Vang Pao in the U.S. with Lao Lu Hang (left) and Fu Hang (right), 1990s.

    Hmong, War

    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Politics & Government: How are other systems of government different than the U.S. government?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    In the middle of the 20th Century, the Hmong people, along with Laotians and Vietnamese, fought to get France to leave Southeast Asia.  When the French were gone, the Communists in Vietnam became more powerful and tried to take control of Laos. 

    The Hmong leader General Vang Pao was a high ranking officer in the Lao army, and he agreed to recruit soldiers to help fight off the Communist invasion of Laos when the U.S. went to war against the Vietnamese Communists.  There were many years of warfare that claimed the lives of thousands of Hmong men.

    A traditional Hmong burial is an elaborate ceremony and recounting of the person’s life that lasts several days.  Sometimes animals would be sacrificed as part of the burial ceremonies, and the kind and numbers of animals would show off the wealth and prestige of the family.

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

    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2

    Download Yang Cha Ying 1
    3:5 Minutes | 2.97Mb


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

    Narrator: Yang Cha Ying (YY)

    YY:  I was a governor before, in a city in Laos. More like an assistant for the mayor. By the time I was fifteen, I was a soldier. Before this I was a farmer. As an assistant for the mayor, I was doing two jobs at the same time. I live as a soldier. In 1953-55, I was a soldier. The war began in 1957. At first the French come and invade our country, and we fight, and until there was a traitor and then I went to the Vietnamese. This is how it started, and then General Vang Pao became the leader. He helped our country and then the Americans came and invade our country and help our country at that time. They tell us to keep fighting and to fight the French. At that time, the French and Vietnamese were fighting together. We fight and fight and fight until we lose the war and we move to Thailand.

    There were like three wars. The first war I don't know what year it begins, but it lasts for four years. The second one, the French came and invaded our country. I don't know how many years or how old I am. I just know that I know how to shoot a gun. After the four years that the French invade our country, we start over with General Vang Pao and this lasts for another six years.

    I was shot and it's the same as on the movies, they use the knives on their guns and you hit each other. I lost my jaw and both of my legs were injured in the French war. When General Vang Pao became the leader and we fight the Vietnamese I lost my jaw. I don't have any teeth. I have a really big scar. When I come to the United States I have plastic surgery to fix it, so I look a little better.

    There were 380 men in my group when we were fighting and I was the only one who survived. I was injured and when they were fighting and using the knives everyone died. I die too. I was unconscious and then the soldiers came and rescued me and took me to the hospital. I recover there. A lot of people who were taken still alive all died in the hospital. At that time I draw up like a will. I am fearful for my life and I think that I will die when they rescue me and put me in the hospital. My wife came and she sees me, and she's crying a lot. I tell her to go on with her life. I tell her how much money to leave for the children. I raise a lot of animals, so if I die just give me two buffalo. With the rest just give it to the children and go on with your life. I draw up a will.

    It was really hard. I didn't know if I would make it. I was in the hospital for three months. My wife came to see me in the hospital and she stay with me for two months. Because she has to do a lot of farming, we have a really big farm, she has to go home and I spend the last month alone in the hospital.

    See Chapter 2 for original Hmong interview.

    Download Yang Cha Ying 1 (Hmong)
    13:12 Minutes | 12.67Mb


    Excerpt of original interview in Hmong language.

    Related Glossary Terms

    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 enter by force in order to conquer.  (invades, invading, invaded)


    Noun:  One who violates his allegiance and betrays his/her country, often to an enemy; one who takes arms and levies war against his country or one who aids an enemy in conquering his country.


    AdjectiveWithout awareness, sensation, or cognition.


    Adjective:  Of or pertaining to Vietnam.

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


    Noun:  1.  A document describing a person's intentions for his or her property and money after death.  2. One's intention or desire.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 470