The Hmong have a long history dated back about 5,000 years; however, there are conflicting stories about early Hmong history as to where they lived. According to scholars, the Hmong have lived in China for at least 2,000 years. Many wars and uprisings were noted in early centuries with the majority Chinese. In response, the Hmong began constant movement within China to maintain freedom and preserve their culture. Some Chinese Dynasties welcomed the Hmong; most tried to enslave them.
References to the Miao, the larger ethnic group to which they belong, can be found in Chinese literature dating from the first century CE. Miao is considered derogatory by many non-Chinese Hmong, though it is still in common use in China
The term Hmong came into use, often translated as meaning “free” or “free people.” The Hmong had no written language in the early years. Therefore, folktales were developed during this time and have been orally recited ever since, passing from one generation to the next.
As a result of constant fighting and being conquered and taken over by the Chinese, some Hmong decided to flee to Southeast Asia. In the 18th century, large numbers of Hmong migrated to Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Thailand in response to the oppressive Qing Dynasty ruling in China. Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand now have some of the largest Hmong populations after China.
Before the 1960’s, the Hmong lived in small villages located in the mountainous areas in the central and northern part of Laos. For many decades, they were able to live peacefully by raising live stocks and doing agricultural farming to support their families. They were independence and enjoyed the freedom that they came to seek.
Since 1975, about half of the Hmong in Laos escaped to seek refuge in Thailand. Most of them have moved to a third country to seek freedom and opportunities for themselves and their children. Now, Hmong people can be found in many countries around the world including China, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Australia, France, Canada, Germany, and the United States.
In the early 1960’s, the U.S. CIA sought out the Hmong and recruited them to fight a “secret war” against the North Vietnamese communists and the Pathet Lao. The Hmong played many critical roles under the directions of the U.S. CIA, including disrupting the communist North Vietnamese on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, providing intelligence about enemy operations, guarding U.S. strategic installation, and rescuing downed American pilots in northern Laos.
After the War in 1975, the Hmong were singled out by the victorious communist governments of Laos and Vietnam. They were hunted down, taken to concentration camps, and persecuted. Their villages were sprayed with chemical weapons and bombed with napalm (yellow substance). It is estimated that more than 10% (35,000) of the entire Hmong population in Laos died as a result of their involvement with the United States during the Vietnam War. It is also estimated that an additional 20,000 Hmong died after 1975 because of persecution, starvation, chemical spray, drowning, and simply killed by the communist Pathet Lao. Many who survived suffered physically, mentally, and emotionally until this day.
Since 1975, after the U.S. pulled out of South Vietnam, thousands of Hmong have moved out of Laos to seek asylum in many European and Western countries. About 230,000 Hmong are now living in the United States, with the majority living in the states
of California (80,000), Minnesota (70,000) and Wisconsin (50,000). The remaining numbers are scattered in other states (MI, CO, NC, SC, FL, KS, MO, OH, RI, WA).
As political refugees, the Hmong sought a new life in the United States. They were resettled by church organizations such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Service. Area churches sponsored Hmong families here in Wisconsin and other states in the U.S. Approximately 50,000 Hmong Americans now live in many communities across Wisconsin.
The latest phase of Hmong refugee resettlement in the U.S. took place between June 2004 and May 2006. More than 3,000 Hmong refugees were sponsored by their families or relatives in Wisconsin to reunite with them in the state.
Hmong culture places great importance on the family. Most Hmong move to Wisconsin from other states to join with families, relatives, and clan leaders. Wisconsin also provides opportunities for Hmong families struggling to create a new life in the United States. In addition, Wisconsin cities offer a peaceful and healthy lifestyle as well as good educational opportunities for both children and adults. Furthermore, Wisconsin provides agricultural opportunities such as farming and gardening for many Hmong families.
There are approximately 9,000 Hmong living in Central Wisconsin (Marathon, Portage and Wood Counties), which make the area the second largest Hmong population in the state. Marathon County has more than 6,000 Hmong residents. Hmong-Americans comprise approximately 12% (4,700) of Wausau’s residents, making the city of Wausau the highest per capita Hmong population in the state and in the U.S.
The Hmong are integrating into American society. They are making great strides during the past 30 years. A significant number of Hmong are graduating from high schools and colleges. 95% of all able body Hmong-Americans are participating in the local workforce. Nearly 70% of all Hmong families have become homeowners. In addition, a growing number of Hmong families are starting family-run businesses. These businesses include grocery stores, restaurants, specialty clothing stores, video shops, and small manufacturing.
For the most part, Hmong children are doing well in schools. An increasing number of Hmong high school graduates have gone on to colleges or universities. Many have graduated from college and are returning to the community to work and serve as bridges between the Hmong and the larger communities. There are Hmong doctors, teachers, school counselors, nurses, social workers, bankers, businessmen, insurance agent, elected officials, and many others.
The majority of Hmong have become U.S. citizens. The Hmong-Americans are getting more involved in the community, and generally doing the varied things that one would expect in any community. In essence, they have become productive and contributing members of the community.
There are no more Hmong coming to Wisconsin nor the U.S. As stated earlier, the last group of Hmong refugee families that came to the United States from Thailand was between June 2004 and May 2006. About 70% of the 650 Hmong refugees that came to Central Wisconsin resettled in the greater Wausau area.
There are still several thousand (7,000) Hmong refugees in Thailand, but the U.S. government has no plan to bring them to this country. The Thai and Lao governments had decided to repatriate the Hmong in Thailand back to Laos. The repatriation has already begun in small numbers. There is fear that the Lao government would imprison or even persecute Hmong leaders and men who were returned because of their roles
during the Vietnam War under the United States CIA.