20 years later, Laotian family is reunited Vietnam War refugees end quest in California

November 29, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

FRESNO, Calif. -- Two dozen Hmong refugees, some of the last wandering faces of the Vietnam War, stepped off a bus in Fresno on Wednesday to the cries and embrace of long-lost family, their 20-year journey finally complete.

Ge Xiong, who settled in America with her husband in 1979, kept stroking the weary faces of her mother, brother and sister.

"It's you," she wept. "It's you."

The trek had taken them from mountain huts in Laos in the mid 1970s to a life of deadlock in Thailand refugee camps -- caught between dreams of one day returning home and the uncertainty of America. So they waited, in some cases for more than two decades.

When it became clear that the Thai government was closing the camps this year and that their homeland was still ruled by the enemy, the family of Ge Xiong sent a tape-recorded plea to her in Fresno, asking if she'd take them in -- but worried that she wouldn't.

Her mother was keenly aware of the Hmong custom that a daughter is no longer a daughter when she marries. But there was no elder son to take the family in.

"I had never heard that desperation in my mother's voice before," Xiong, 36, said. "She said she was going to kill herself if they couldn't come to America. I told her, 'Momma, don't worry. I have a very supportive husband. You and my little brother and sister are welcomed.' "

Some sociologists regard the Hmong as the most disadvantaged immigrant group to land in America, and the refugees who have lingered in the camps until now seem the most ill-prepared.

The Hmong were slash-and-burn farmers with no written language and almost no concept of Western ways when the CIA recruited them from the isolated mountain huts in the 1960s to fight the Viet Cong. They suffered some of the highest casualty rates of the war, and many of the 125,000 who came to America regard welfare as redress for blood spilled on behalf of their adopted land.

Those who arrived Wednesday have come at an uncertain time. About 6,000 Hmong have recently left California, citing fear of gangs, high unemployment and impending welfare changes. They have moved to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon and other states where they believe their chances of finding work are better.

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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