March 27, 2023

By Cindy Yang via TakeAction Minnesota

Cindy Yang (Take Action Minnesota photo)

St. Paul, Minn. (April 28, 2017) — Ann Coulter recently wrote that it’s not just “illegal” immigrants that are the problem, it’s legal immigrants too. She went on to single out Hmong Americans as murderers and rapists.

As we witness a new, highly visible white nationalism in America, it’s important to understand that these movements desperately need a villain. These movements are not born, so much as made. They create a story with villains and a toxic atmosphere. New laws establish a clear line, determining who is and isn’t white and who is and isn’t American.

When immigrants and well-meaning communities create a value scale among the documented and undocumented – the good immigrant versus the bad immigrant – we play directly into the hands of such a movement. We miss the point, the opportunity to say, “It’s all of us or none of us.” We internalize the worst of American impulses – a deep history of trying to determine who is and who isn’t a part of this country, who is and isn’t human.

My name is Cindy Yang. I am a Hmong American and we are a stateless people.

I told my dad that Ann Coulter called Hmong people rapists in one of her books. He said, “They can’t do that. They can’t say that about us. We belong here…we were brought here because we fought alongside them in the Vietnam War.” I replied, “But they can, and they have.”

Four feelings come to mind when our government, people in power, neighbors, in-person and online strangers call me a rapist or a criminal –when they tell me to “go back home,” and tell me I “don’t belong in this country” – I feel anger, I feel threatened, antagonized, and most recently, I feel more politicized. 

But first, some light historical context for my beloved readers. The Hmong people lived in the remote areas of Laos. We built our villages, lived off the land, and raised our families in community. We were peaceful people.

In the early 1960s the Vietnam War began. It was the United States’ first dose of guerilla warfare. They were in desperate need of help to navigate the land, its people and culture. What better people to ask for help than villages filled with young boys and men? Lured by great promises from the U.S., my forefathers agreed to help them navigate the jungles of Laos and infiltrate the renowned Ho Chi Minh trail, where the Vietnamese communists were transporting goods and resources. My father, a mechanic for the CIA, fixed planes and trucks. By the grace of God, he survived – he was not among the thousands of Hmong people who died during the war.

When the U.S. pulled out of the war in 1969, the grand promises they made were quickly forgotten. My father and our entire Hmong community remained helpless, hopeless, and now hunted. Given no other choice, the Hmong people had to resist the Lao government. To save their children, they fled their homes, and sought refuge in Thailand. The journey to the Thai refugee camps was long – it meant dodging bullets, hiding in the jungles in extreme hot temperatures for days, while being hunted by soldiers. Families were forced to give light doses of opium to babies to quiet their cries; some babies never woke up. The finale of their journey was crossing the Mekong River. Families were forced to swim with their children on their backs. Some were fortunate enough to find boats to cross with. Some people never made it to the other side – entire families drowned or were shot by the soldiers guarding the river, searching for people trying to escape.

When I think about Ann Coulter’s words and of my father’s reaction, I can’t help but find the irony and cruel humor in telling a stateless people to go back home. My history, much like so many other immigrants in this country, is filled with bloodshed, tears, and loss. 

My parents came to the states in 1986. I was born here, so I’m American! Or so I thought. For most of my life I never thought of anything else as home – there was no “mother country” for me. I had never thought about what it meant to be stateless until I attended a Ghanian Independence celebration this past year.

I listened as each person approached the podium with pride as they spoke about their great land and home. Doctors and teachers spoke about the projects they created to improve the lives of the people in Ghana. I saw them celebrate a country that was theirs, their home, where they could step in and not be looked at as outsiders. I thought to myself, “I could never do that.” The Hmong people do not have a country. They don’t have a land to call theirs. There’s no feeling on independence, only loss. I live in a modern society. I grew up in the suburbs. I’m educated. And yet the remnants of the war – of not having a country to call home – weighed heavy on my chest as I sat there and felt displaced.

When you listen to Hmong elders speak of the war, they often say “thaum teb chaws tawg” – meaning “when the country exploded” or “broke.” Their lives were disrupted and everything they had—their homes, land, and riches—were all lost or buried in the land they hoped to someday return to. But they can never return. They forfeited their home when they helped the enemy.

I used to think our history of helping the U.S. in war would find us welcomed as “good” immigrants. But with the rise of Trump, white nationalism, and an overall anti-immigrant sentiment – with Muslim refugees abandoned by the U.S., much like the Hmong were, and Mexican immigrants labelled rapists just as Ann Coulter labelled Hmong people rapists – it dawned on me: We are a stateless people, and we remain so.

We have been trying to make this land our home for 40 years. A friend once said, the first 30 years was about survival, the next is about making this country our home. But as immigration laws continue to question our status – continue to threaten sending my family back to a place that we’ve only heard of in stories of bloodshed and loss – how are we to feel?

Many times, I feel anger. I’m angry because when I watch the news and see there’s been a crime committed, I hope it’s not a person who is Asian because I’m afraid of being generalized. And what about those who have committed crimes? I’m angry that friends and family members who have made mistakes, and have criminal records, may find their green card in jeopardy, regardless of time served. As stateless people, being sent back to “our country” is, in many ways, a death sentence.

President Trump launched his campaign on this story, that what makes America great is white. Immigrants, refugees, people of color, are outsiders. So, no matter how well I speak English or American I am, the color of my skin and the features on my face are enough to make people feel justified to say that I don’t belong here.

My fear and anger are symptoms of feeling powerlessness. My life was politicized before I was even born. I’m tired of feeling powerless, so I’ve put it upon myself to learn the democratic process in the country I’m determined to make my home. In the process, I’m want the law of this land to show compassion towards stateless people, to refugees, to all immigrants.

It’s easier to sing and dance to the words of deportation if you believe you own this land. Imagine if I told a white person to go back to your country. Where would they be sent?

The immigrant story of my people is complicated, and evolving. The question of who does and doesn’t belong here is complicated and evolving. America isn’t “a nation of immigrants.” It’s a nation built on contradiction. It’s a nation built on the best and worst of what the world has to offer. A nation built on the concept of freedom—attained through genocide and slavery. And despite being a country that has historically embraced some of our worst impulses. I still have hope that we can begin to move towards our best.

Moving towards my better impulses started with embracing my history, and understanding the history of the ground I currently stand on – a ground I hope to someday truly call home. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. And, I hope you’ll also join me in telling a different story — our story. A story that is evolving, complicated, imbedded with pain, but also resilience and hope. 

Now, I leave you with this question, how are you a part of this? What’s your story? Let me know what you think, and once you’re done, could you share it with 5 friends? I’m eager to keep the conversation going. 

Thank you,
Cindy Yang
Data and IT Manager
Take Action Minnesota

7 thoughts on “A stateless people

  1. As a Japanese American, many of our people were placed in concentration camps during WW2 and even after that were not seen as Americans even after many of our young men died in Europe fighting the Nazis. We were criticized for breeding like rabbits because we tended to have large families back then because most of us were farmers and the labor was needed. America has always blamed immigrants for their problems and every new immigrant group was blamed for taking jobs, which in reality, no white US citizens would do. When newer immigrants come in, the negative light is focused on them and you are seen as assimilated and are now American, whatever that means.

  2. As Hmong people, particularly Lao-Hmong, progress globally, it is very good to see Hmong women fighting for the fairness of how Hmong are being treated by authorities and racist writers / reporters. No matter how well many Hmongs are now doing, we cannot hide ourselves from our own national oriigin – Hmong. After all, Hmong people are not that bad as they have been be portrayed by communists and a few others. Hmong have their own distinctive culture for thousands of year. They have their own version of God, Adam and Eve, and Buddhism. I am proud to be a Lao_Hmong. Physically, I cannot ID me as White, Black, etc, but Hmong.

  3. Ann Coulter is a clueless, small minded, insignificant immigrant who is a disgrace to even calling herself an “AUTHOR”. Speaking of “rapists”…no other immigrants fits her narrative more than her own white immigrants ancestors. Did she so soon forget the brutalities and destruction the white immigrants committed against the NATIVES? Did she simple just brushed the white immigrants sins under the rug and think the white immigrants are saints? Maybe she FAILED history class? Maybe she have some form of degenerative mental illness or BOTH?

    America is a land of immigrants from all walks of life and from all across the world. She need to ask herself a simple question. How did she ended up in AMERICA if the first place? If she fails to see this then she failed AMERICA and those who fought for her rights to speak her racist rhetoric! I place very little VALUE to this insignificant person, let alone, considered her an intellectual.

    Ua Tsaug!

  4. Do not pay most attention for the racist author as Ann Coulter, he wrote his owned word on his owned book to describe the Hmong as bad as he mentioned. If he wants to know how much we value to this country, USA. All American people awed us, Hmong, billions and billions of dollars up-to-date. Let me compared between 1960 to 1975 of Vietnam War, we, Hmong, lost our young men and young women to protect the United States of America about 32,000 or more in the war. instead, of both country population young American men and women had to lost to South Vietnam about 17,000,000 young soldiers equal to the Hmong in Laos of 500,000 people, American was not 52,000 life lost in public records.

  5. Ann Coulter is known to be a conservative speaker. I say a racist, narrow minded person and an ignorant. That is why she has been rejected by the University of California, Berkley. Many of us regardless ages have been affected by the Vietnam War one way or the other. My uncle is missing in action. I went through trauma fearing someone might shoot me and my family. I must say, my father served in the United States army dung that war. It was an American war. They lost the war, not us. Therefore America is our country too. No one can tell us to go back home. Again my father was in the U.S. army and my soon is serving in teh U.S. Navy. Therefore, I must say, Ann Coulter you need to go back where you are coming from. You are also a stateless person.

  6. Cindy, I must admit your piece is well written and is full of emotional content. However, as American, I have to disagree with your premise that Ann Coulter is a racist. Ms. Coulter is a lot of things, but she is certainly not a racist; she is first and foremost an American and a conservative through and through. I would like to debate you and your readers on the topic of racism in America, but time does not permit it. So, let me part with this thought: ask yourself whether what Ms. Coulter wrote specifically about “child rapists” in the Hmong community, was that in fact true? I want you to ponder it from the legal perspective rather than cultural world view. I can assure all of you that Ms. Coulter spent countless of hours researching the “child rapists” that took place in the Hmong community, most of which can be found in our legal setting. We must admit we have had problem in the community and have the courage to debate the issue honestly and make a bold decision to change it.

  7. I feel for you Cindy. Because of an id card snafu I am a defacto stateless American “citizen”. My family
    confused my names (I can’t believe that one!). As a result all my identity papers are in one name. My
    birth certificate name is in another name. I cannot even qualify for public benefits because the photo id
    does not match the birth certificate name. what can I do about this? A legal name change will not work.
    Legal name changes are for people who have all their identity papers in the right same name and want to
    change it to another, not for mismatch id documents.

    Can anybody help?

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