White Hmong Traditional Dress
Who Are the Hmong?
The Hmong people have a long and rich history. Five thousand years ago the ancestors of the Hmong lived in Northeastern China. In the Nineteenth century most of the Hmong left China to settle in the mountains of northern Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. They settled in small agricultural villages and had strong family and clan ties.
During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited by the CIA to fight the North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao in an effort to protect the supply route through Laos on the Ho Chi Minh trail. As Laos was supposed to be a neutral during the Vietnam War it was often referred to as "the Secret War". The Hmong also helped to rescue downed American pilots. It is estimated that 18,000 Hmong soldiers had been killed in battle and a uncertain number of woman and children. When the Americans pulled out of Vietnam the Hmong were left to fight on their own. At great risk from retaliation from the communists, more than 100,000 Hmong fled to Thailand. It is estimated that 30,000 Hmong died trying to get to Thailand and over 100,000 died during the war. While the majority of the Hmong initially settled in refugee camps in Thailand, many Hmong emigrated to countries around the world. Many Hmong came to the United States and settled primarily in the states of California (ca. 75,000), Minnesota (ca. 40,000), and Wisconsin (ca. 40,000). This year there is another large immigrant group coming to Wisconsin as many of the camps in Thailand are closing.
The Hmong have a rich culture with beautiful artwork, music and spiritual beliefs. The Hmong have a supportive clan system and very close family ties. They have a distinct language with various dialects, but did not have a written language until the mid part of the 20th century.