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Chia Yang

Chia Yang

Hmong Oral Historian & Author

Born: Laos
Heritage: Hmong

You need to learn. Tomorrow may never come. If you have something you have to do, do it tonight. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Say to yourself, “I have to finish my homework tonight. I don’t want to wait until tomorrow.” All of your teachers are your friends and relatives. If you need help, always go to them. You learn from the teachers and from each other.

Chia Yang

Hmong Oral Historian & Author

My name is Chia Yang. I was born in Laos in 1973. I grew up in Thailand. From 1975 until 1979 I lived in the jungle. I don’t know exactly when I was born. I just know the village I was born into. I’m not really sure if my age is 35. I am Hmong. I was born Zoua Yang in 1973. I was born in the harvest season of November.

During the Vietnam War the Hmong, who had been living in the mountains, helped the Americans. General Vang Pao was our leader. He has a lot of power in the Hmong community. He was able to do the many things the Americans wanted the Hmong to do.

We lived in the valley when the Vietnamese came into Laos and burned down our homes. We moved to the mountains. When I was six months my father died. When my father died my mother remarried and moved to a different village and started a new family. Walking to her village took three days. Mother lost her children, so we were raised by my father’s parents.

During and after the Vietnam War, we lived in the mountains with thirty to forty families. They had five to six children with them. During the time in the mountains in the jungle we didn’t have clothes to wear. We had one pair of clothes and no supplies and no food. We ate what we found, like wild potatoes or tubers. We cooked them and that’s all we ate besides deer and wild boars. The Hmong are good hunters.

I didn’t know where my mom was. Then one day like a dream my mom came to see me. She was crying. She said to me, “God has taken your father and left you with your grandparents. . . . You have to be a good person,” she said. She held me all day long by the mountainside.

It was raining and we were under the tree. She had taken her foot and made her footprint for me. She said, “If you ever miss me, come to this spot and see my footprint.” During that time I came to that spot and watched for her everyday. My grandparents, they couldn’t find me, so they came looking for me. One day they found me under the tree. I had taken some leaves and covered the footprint. They purposefully erased the footprint. I missed her and they didn’t want me to know her. I was about three years old.

We lived in the jungle from 1975 until 1979. During that time many of my cousins and relatives died in the jungle [because of] the Vietnamese. We still had the weapons from the Americans. The Americans had given the weapons to us before we left. The war was still going on secretly.

After a couple months we decided to move to Thailand with 4,000 to 5,000 people with the Hmong soldiers. My uncle said, “We need to go to Thailand because it isn’t safe here for us to live anymore.” It took us three months to travel through the jungle to get to the border of Laos and Thailand, along the Mekong River. When we reached the border I turned around and looked back and said, “I have left my father and the uncles, killed by the soldiers. I have left all the soldiers and the one I called uncle.” Then I thought I would now have a better life.

To cross the Mekong River into Thailand we had to make floats from bamboo. A float would fit six people and there were big ones that fit ten people. That was in November 1979. We then lived in the Ban Vinai refugee camp from 1980 to 1990. I came to the United States with my husband and children in 1991.

Notation: Download PDF

Honoring Chia Yang

We’re the Hmong

We’re the Hmong. We’re the Hmong.
We’re the Hmong, Hmong, Hmong.
Go and tell Washington what we did,
what we done, back in the Vietnam War.
Long time ago, we are told, lived in an igloo-shaped home.
Felt like a cave down in the ground way up in Alaska.
To Mongolia we did move.
Down to China we did rule
a dynasty until China drove my people into hiding.
To Vietnam, Laos, Thailand
Where we helped the Americans
fight the Viet Cong way up north
We fought many fierce battles
under the leadership of General Vang Pao When American planes were shot down
we were the ones who rescued them
Way up in the mountains
When the war in Vietnam did end that’s when my story begins.
Six months old when Father died before
he became a soldier.
The spirit of the tiger came. His spirit fled but his flesh remained.
Made a path to where we should go
when my father became a Tiger.
Mother remarried. I was raised by my father’s parents. It took three days
to see my mother, so far away from the village we called the Eagle
With forty families we all fled.
If we had not we would be dead
Into the jungles without food with one pair of clothes we traveled
I didn’t know where my mother was
Then one day she did come
Under a tree she held me all day in the jungle
She left her footprint behind
I still hold her in my heart and mind
Way up on the mountainside my people are dying
I was two when we first ran
After five years up in the mountains
a blind dog came up the path
to give us all a warning
We followed him from where he came
We were safe but those who remained
were put to death on that very day
by the Vietnamese soldiers
With soldiers still in the fight, who took
us in, who saved our lives
With them we prayed day and night for strength from the milk of our mothers
With ancestors like Long Mae helping us along the way
With long black hair the Hmong soldiers came to take us into Thailand
Four thousand Hmong divided up
We traveled hard for three months
When the bamboo had no leaves we came to the Mekong River
Water poisoned, could not drink
Legs too tired, could not think
Making rafts of bamboo to cross over
But before we did I said farewell,
to my father and uncle killed,
to the soldiers who gave their lives,
so we could live in freedom

Words by LARRY LONG with Mrs. Leach’s and
Mr. Wenndt’s 6TH Grade Classrooms of Earle Brown Elementary School
(Brooklyn Center, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2006 / BMI

Listen: We're the Hmong