Joy Lim Nakrin

Hmong People of Southeast Asia now make St. Paul their home

At the end of the war in Vietnam a large influx of Hmong people were offered refuge in the United States. The first wave of refugees began arriving in December, 1975, from camps which had been established in Thailand. However, that early on in the immigration process only 3,466 of the refugees were given asylum; mostly men who were directly connected to the Laos General Vang Pao’s secret army under the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975. By May 1976 11,000 additional refugees were admitted to the US, and by 1978 there were 30,000 Hmong living in the United States, most of them men.

In 1980 the demographics of the Hmong refugees drastically changed with the Refugee Act of 1980 which allowed families to seek asylum in the United States. Today there are about a quarter of a million Hmong immigrants in the US, the majority of which reside in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The largest single community of Hmong lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a population of almost 30,000.

There are several organizations in Minnesota which do outreach to the Hmong community, helping them to assimilate more successfully into the dominant culture. Just a small sample of helping organizations includes an initiative by the Asian American Journalists Association where news anchor Joy Lim Nakrin is the vice president; The Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota where Ly Vang is the Executive Director; and the Hmong American Partnership, Bao Vang President and CEO.

Today about 5 percent of the world’s Hmong population live outside of Asia, the vast majority of those in the United States. Other countries with much smaller Hmong communities include France, Australia and French Guiana. In Asia itself ethnic Hmong come from China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. In the United States many Hmong have found their places in the greater society. Cy Thao is a Minnesota State Representative; Mee Maua and Foung Hawj are Minnesota State Senators, and Dr. Vang Pobzeb who was a leader of the Hmong who worked tirelessly to bridge relations between his people and the larger American community.