For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

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Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Leaving Home . . . Part Two

If you think about the Hmong people at all, do you think that their persecution is all old news, nothing to do with today? Think again.

The personal tragedies of those forgotten soldiers left behind when America pulled out of Vietnam in 1975 lives on in the hearts and minds of many who, enduring incredible hardships, finally found their way to the United States as immigrants. And those stories, those hardships, are mirrored by those who struggle today to reach what they hope will be a land of opportunity. They don’t come because they want to leave family, home, culture, and country behind. They come because they must, to escape unbearable political conditions in their homelands, to provide for their families, to improve their chances for survival.

To quote just one experience from the many thousands experienced by Hmong refugees, taken from a story published on June 8, 2008, on appealdemocrat.com:

Grief visits Neng Xiong at Thanksgiving.

That's when the abundance of food and clean water—most basic of the many resources and opportunities available to him now—remind him of a sister who died for the lack of them. . . . He had been part of an early wave of Hmong tribespeople who fled pursuing communist mercenaries in Laos after US forces pulled out of the country.

Xiong says he left his village at about age 7 with his parents, three brothers, three sisters and various extended family members. They left their lives behind with little except clothes, blankets and 50 pounds of rice. "We struggled all the way," he says of the treacherous two-month trek.

Neither he nor his siblings had ever worn shoes or seen a house with running water, or a grocery store. They sought only safety. Opportunity and comfort were beyond their imaginations, Xiong says. "I never thought that I would make it here, I'm lucky to be here to tell this story."

To read the complete article, click HERE.

Because the Hmong were seen as collaborators by the communists who took over even as helicopters airlifted embassy employees and other Americans out, they were hunted down, driven out of ancestral lands and homes, and torn from everything they knew. Many of those who managed to survive years of ordeals and immigrated to the United States found themselves persecuted and unwelcome here, too, because they were different, because most did not yet speak English, because they were “too foreign.”

Coffee House Press has just published the work of a gifted Hmong writer, Kao Kalia Yang (http://www.kaokaliayang.com/home.html), titled The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. This poignant, unforgettable story about her family’s frightening experiences as they fled Laos after the Vietnam War, their years spent in a desolate, harsh Thai refugee camp where the author was born, and their ultimate immigration to the United States is a fine example of why smaller presses, dedicated to beautiful writing and important nonfiction, stories of people that might otherwise slip through the cracks because they are not about celebrities, are essential to literature in this era.

The Hmong and their circumstances after our government pulled the plug in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, has been a previously untold story about an “invisible” people. This memoir reveals the heartbreak, the loss of home and family, the deplorable conditions in which families fought to survive in country, in Thailand, and upon arrival in the United States. Yang writes lyrically and well and weaves the folk lore of her ancestry and the love of one generation for another into a compelling tale.

As I read her story, I found myself wondering: Whatever happened to “Bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses”? Have we lost compassion for those not fortunate enough to be born here? Do we now just use people and discard them when they have nothing else we want, without regard for what being a US ally costs them? It’s happening again in Iraq. Those who help us are left to fend for themselves when no longer perceived as useful in reaching our military goals.

How do you feel about this behavior, this history, still in the making, of a government who abandons those in need, those not needed, and those unable to fend for themselves through circumstances not of their making? Is this America the Beautiful, land of the free? I’d love to hear your comments
-- Rosemary Carstens


Anonymous said...


Wow, you have convinced me that I need to get this book. Great write up on it. Given what is going on in Iraq it looks like history may repeat itself, sadly enough. Love your website.

Patrice St. Onge

ClaireWalter said...

I can't pretend that the Hmong people are at the top of my consciousness (especially in view of the millions displaced since then around the world), but because there is a significant community in Boulder County and elsewhere in Colorado, I do think of them on occasion. I don't know whether "we" have lost our compassion, but some of our policy-setters have. Alas, we are also living at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment seems OK. Ronald Reagan is deified by conservatives for demanding, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" And nowm to our shame, we are building one.

As for using and discarding people, there are disspiriting stories of Iraqi and Afghan translators for the US military who hav been used (sometimes wounded) and discarded -- or at least denied entry into this country. I agree that it is all shameful.