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Yakao Yang

Yakao Yang

Hmong native from Laos who came to America to provide better opportunities for his family

Born: Small Village, Laos
Heritage: Hmong

Stay in school and never quit. Be patient. Take your time. Study hard. Work hard. Do your homework. Be a smart kid. If you learn a lot and you study hard to achieve a goal, you will have a happy peaceful life.

Yakao Yang

Hmong native from Laos who came to America to provide better opportunities for his family

My name is Yakao Yang. I was born in a small village in the mountains of Laos in 1948. At that time, the French came to colonize my country. Because of that, it was difficult for me to go to school. My father took our family away from the village where I was born so we would have the opportunity to go to school.

When I was five, my brother and cousins went to live at a school in another village. I was happy that I was too young to be accepted. I was afraid of the severe punishment I had heard about from my brothers. I didn’t show any interest or get excited.

After all the boys left, I was only able to see them on the weekends. Week by week, month by month, I played alone. Bored because no one was there to play my games. I had to come up with a way to convince my parents to send me to school. So I decided to act up, make them very unhappy; complain every night, until my mother threw me out. She called my uncle to take me to school.

After finally convincing the teacher, I was allowed to stay at the school. I was proud to stay in school, even though it was tough. Once I had the opportunity to go to school, I worked hard. I never quit. I knew that if I got pulled out of school I would have to work hard in the crop fields. I went on to get my Bachelor’s degree. I became a teacher and taught small children, then older students.

In 1970, my wife and I were married in Laos. During the Vietnam war, my family had to flee from place to place. We moved from one place to another because war kept coming. We relocated every three months, six months, one year. We were scared of the Vietnamese. They were going to kill the Hmong that fought against them in the war.

That is why we became refugees in Thailand, waiting to get into the United States. Life in the refugee camp was horrible for my family. The camp was crowded. There was not enough food or water. Our children got sick. We had a lot of problems. Life in the camp is something I hate to the bone.
Eventually, UNICEF came to help us get out of the camp. My family and I moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Three days after I arrived in this country, before I ever had a chance to learn English, I began working for a company baking bread. I wanted to make a living to feed my family, to get my independence. To be able to live side by side with American people. Not depending on Welfare and stuff like that.

It was a little scary coming here not knowing English. But the dream come to the United States is the dream of myself and my family and the Hmong people. Seeking the peace they never had, the peace and democracy.

That’s why I live in this country. I’m a hard-working man. I’m grateful my daughters had the chance to go to school. They all got Master’s degrees. They all got jobs. They moved out leaving me and my wife.

All of my life, I dreamed of being a writer, of writing a book. Because of my education I was able to make that dream cone true. My book is called Hmong Boy. It is the story of my life. I wanted to give my ideas, my experiences everything I’ve got to you and to your children to come to understand the value of school because I am the boy that fought very hard to get in school.


Hmong Boy

Honoring Yakao Yang

Hmong Boy
(Honoring Yakao Yang)

Hmong Boy, Hmong Boy
Had to flee through the jungle as a refugee
Into Thailand we did go
Hmong Boy, Hmong Boy
To escape, to the United States
So many miles from home
I was born in a little tiny village, close to Vietnam.
I did not have a chance, to go to school, at first, when I was young.
Until we convinced, the teacher to accept me when I enrolled.
For as long as I could read and write, and do homework I could go.

We cook for our self; we sleep at the school, in the shelter for 5 days
Then on weekends, we walk barefoot home, through the jungle both ways
No shoes, with a shirt with no buttons, all year long we walk in the cold
Where the hungry lions and tigers live before the French went home
In the refugee camp we lived poorly, no clothes, no food, nothing
With no hope then UNICEF were able to bring
Us to Sioux Falls, South Dakota with the family
Then only three days after we came my sponsor took me
To go to work right away making bread, donuts, and buns
For 25 years, a hard-working man for the family I love
Now my children they have grown all with college degrees
With children of their own, education means a lot to me
My culture is very good but very hard to accept.
Listen to your mom and dad, treat them with respect.
Don’t steal, don’t kill - anyone, treat each other kind
From one generation to the next in body, heart and mind
Stay in school, never quit, be patient, study hard
Be a smart kid, do homework, and you will go far
This is why I wrote this book, my autobiography
To give back to all of those who have given to me.

Music by LARRY LONG. Words by LARRY LONG with with Renee Wenberg’s 4th Grade Class of Birchview Elementary School, Plymouth, Minnesota.

© Larry Long 2011