Many know the Vietnam War as one of the bloodiest and most unpopular wars in U.S. history. Some even label it a mistake. During the 1960s, the spread of communism brought fear to the American people. For the U.S. government, communism posed a political threat as the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and other countries started emerging as “red” states. They were afraid more dominoes would fall, so they placed themselves between them. American representatives were sent to Vietnam and neighboring countries to prevent the spread. This is where the story of my people begins.
In the country of Laos, luscious, green forests engulfed the land. In the rolling hills lived my people. Land locked to their agricultural lifestyles, my people led free and peaceful lives. They were free from all the troubles of the world around them. Their dry, dirt stained hands showed their determination, but they would be tested soon enough.
The year of 1954 was when they arrived. The notorious Ho Chi Minh trail provided the arms and resources necessary to give the communist Viet Cong an upper hand. The trail flowed through the jungles and forests of Laos near the border and provided enough coverage for safe travels between North and South Vietnam. The Viet Cong and Pathet Lao, the communist rebellion of Laos, started pressuring the Royal Lao Government into relinquishing power. That’s when the CIA came to secure the Ho Chi Minh trail; to weaken the communist threat within the war. In those jungles and forests is where they found my people.
The Americans needed someone to lead the fight, someone who could lead my people. General Vang Pao of the Royal Army in Laos was chosen. He and the CIA trained my people. Men and boys traded their shovels for guns and their dry, dirt stained hands became moist with blood. Every able-bodied male would fight in the Secret War, which become known as the highest honor. Sadly, honor could not save all the lives that we lost. April 30th, 1975. The end of the Vietnam War came when Saigon fell.
The communist Viet Cong had successfully captured the city and so the great America fled. They only took those they could fit and the rest were left. Soon after, food rations diminished, guns shot only air, and my people became defenseless. They would not be forgiven for their opposition in this war. The Pathet Lao came storming in and thundered the land with bombs. They shot lightning from their guns. If those methods did not work, eventually the rain would come. It was then, the sting of the bee could be felt. Some people fled for their lives. Some lives fled from their people. Those that could escape traveled to the darkest corners of the jungles, where only the worst of nightmares would haunt their dreams. The land my people once called home was now a grave. The only hope of living was the rushing sound of water. The Mekong River was the gate between the current life and the afterlife, stained red to represent its risk. Only few survived, but if they did, they had another shot at living the peaceful lives they once had.
In Thailand, my people were compacted into refugee camps. The conditions of these camps were worse than the lands they fled. In the early stages they had no water to stay clean, no land to grow food, not even a toilet to pee in. They survived on the rations they were given. Though their hearts, hopes, and spirits were broken, they fought on through the practice of their culture and the power of the community. They did not forget who they were even when all hope seemed to be lost.
December 1975 was when my people fled to the U.S. Although many of them immigrated to America, countries like France, Australia, Canada, and South America also became their homes. We are now spread all across the world. We don’t have our own country. We don’t have our own government. We have our history, our culture, and our families. I grew-up in Colorado.
To this day, I question why I did not learn about my history in the textbooks of America. Why were my people left out of the story, left out of history as if none of us existed. All those who lost their lives, all those who lost their loved ones, and all those who still live today with nightmares of those dark days. The story of my people are not written in the textbooks of history, but it is written within me. That is why I have shared this story with you today, so that I could reclaim my piece of history. So the next time you think of the Fall of Saigon, remember those who have fallen, but recognize those who still stand.
Remember the Hmong people.