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Interview with Terry Yang




Terry Yang was born in 1956 in Luang Prabang, Laos. He and his family escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand in 1979, where they lived for one year before moving to the United States in 1980. At the time of the interview Yang was the President of the Yang Wang Meng Association of United States, a national organization dedicated to connecting the Hmong community, building Hmong leaders, and preserving Hmong culture. He was also on the board for the Walnut Grove PTA. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Escaping Laos - experiences in refugee camp - adjusting to life in America - family - Hmong cultural preservation and community-building.





World Region



Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Terry Yang Interviewer: Pa Yang



Cover design: Kim Jackson Copyright © 2013 by Minnesota Historical Society All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Oral History Office, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102.

The Asian population of Minnesota has grown dramatically since 1980 and in particular during the period from 1990 to the present. The Asian community is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, and is particularly noteworthy because its growth has been spread across such a wide spectrum of ethnic groups. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans formed a partnership to create a series of projects of oral history interviews with Asian community leaders. The projects are intended to help chronicle the history, successes, challenges, and contributions of this diverse and highly important group of Minnesotans. During the past twenty years the Minnesota Historical Society has successfully worked with many immigrant communities in the state to ensure that the stories of their arrival, settlement, and adjustment to life in Minnesota becomes part of the historical record. While the Society has worked with the Asian Indian, Tibetan, Cambodian and Hmong communities in the recent past, the current project includes interviews with members of the Vietnamese, Filipino, Lao and Korean communities, with more planned for the future. These new projects have created an expanded record that that better represents the Asian community and its importance to the state. The project could not have succeeded without the efforts of a remarkable group of advisors who helped frame the topics for discussion, and the narrators who shared their inspiring stories in each interview. We are deeply grateful for their interest and their commitment to the cause of history.

Ryan K. Barland Minnesota Historical Society

Kao Ly Ilean Her Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans


Terry Tong Ger Yang. Hmong funeral performing Hais Txiv Xaiv. 2002. St. Paul, Minnesota.



Two days after arrival in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Left to right top row: Terry Tong Ger Yang, Toua Lee Yang. Bottom row Rebecca H. Yang Mai and Kao Yang. 1980.

From left to right: Rick Dejarlias, Terry Tong Ger Yang, Emma Dejarlias. Sponsors that brought the Yang family to America. 1981. 8

From left to right: Boua Hae Yang, Terry Tong Ger Yang, and Moua Pao Yang, 1992. First time went back to Vietnam, Laos since Terry left Laos in 1978.


Terry and his father Fa Neng Yang, 2000.



Terry and Rebecca Yang celebrating Hmong New Year in Southwest, Minnesota, 2004. At this time Terry was President of Hmong S.W. Community (2004-2008).



Terry's family. Left to right, back row: Sara Vang, Victoria Yang, Bao Rebecca H. Which, Jayden Yang, Terry Tong Ger Yang, Betty Yang, Jennifer Vang, Megan Yang. Front row: Thomas Yang, Sai Yang, and Steven Yang.




Terry Yang Narrator Pa Yang Interviewer Walnut Grove, Minnesota September 16, 2012 Terry Yang Pa Yang -TY -PA

PY: Today is September 16, 2012. I’m conducting my interview with Terry Tong Ger Yang. Can you please state your name? TY: My name is Terry Tong Ger Yang. PY: When and where were you born? TY: I was born in Xiangkhouang, Laos. PY: Can you tell me if you can remember how your house looked like? TY: It was so nice during my childhood. And I enjoyed living in the village with my parents and then with our neighbors, yes. PY: Do you remember where your parents were born? TY: I do. My parents were born in Luang Prabang, Laos. PY: Both of your parents? TY: Yes. PY: Do you remember where your grandparents were born? TY: As I recall, my parents told me they’re also born in Luang Prabang, Laos. PY: Do you remember how your parents looked like as a child? TY: Ah, not really, not exactly, but I have a picture in my head that they both looked like nice people. PY: Can you tell me a very early memory that you can still remember now? TY: I can. I believe I was four years old. And there was a war and we were refugees inside of a 20

jungle. And that’s the kind of memory I will never forgot. I was playing close to a hose and I was injured in my chest. And that’s what I keep in my memory up until now. PY: Do you remember what war this was? In what year? TY: 1960. But I don’t recall the month. PY: When was your birthday? TY: Ah, my birthday is March 12, 1956. PY: Do you have any siblings? TY: I do. PY: How many? TY: Ah, six sisters and four brothers—including me, five. [Chuckles] Plus me! PY: Do you remember how they were like growing up? TY: I do for some but not the others. They are all grown-up now. Three of my brothers have passed away. One passed away in his childhood around five years old, but the other two were killed in the war. Ah, one was killed in the war and one was injured and handicapped in the war but he passed away in 1980 in America here after he came to this country for a week. And I do have six sisters. My older sister is married. She has two children and she passed away in Laos. Plus my brother-in-law both passed away in Laos. And one of my sisters was killed, lost with my mom in 1979 in the Mekong River during the time that we escaped from Laos to Thailand. And the rest of my sisters, one in Laos right now, and the other three are here, in America here. PY: Can you tell me what kind of education did you receive as a child? TY: We lived in a place that is a war zone so we didn’t really have much time to go to school so my education was level five. Back to Laos, level five means that you can read and write. And I must say it’s not really perfect, but it’s good enough. PY: Did you enjoy going to school? TY: Oh, yes. Pretty much we didn’t really have any bus, school bus or anything like that. We’d just have to walk. With my school, I have to walk like five miles. But you had to walk to school in the morning, and then you came back home for lunch, and then go back to school. So you have to walk twice to school per day. PY: That’s a very far journey! [Chuckles] TY: [Laughs] Of course! But really enjoy. [Chuckles] It’s not just me, you know, the whole 21

village. And so we have twenty, thirty students who walked together. [Chuckles] PY: Do you remember what your favorite subject in school was? TY: History. That’s my favorite subject. PY: Why did history spark your interest more? TY: Actually, I liked to know what was happening, you know, in each country. I enjoyed learning what happened in our past. It’s the history, it’s a kind of a real life, you know, you can bring into your life and maybe can build your future with that, too. PY: Right. What did you do for fun as a child? TY: We did have a lot of activities. [Chuckles] Ah, with our spare time we played some kind of game that, young kids do not play anymore. The games we played were special but it is hard to name it. And besides those games we went to the creek. I spent much of my time at the creek. We searched for frogs, for fish, crabs or for, you know, something that you can bring back home to eat. PY: Do you remember what your parents did for a living? TY: I do. Oh, they both did farming in the rice fields and corn fields. They raise cattle, they raise, you know, animals like pork, chicken, and they did all kinds of things there to support the family. They were able to do this without any help. PY: Great. What did you want to be when you grew up, as a child? TY: I always thought I would become a good leader during my childhood. My father’s also a chief of the village. And you know we have a good family, and my family really supported the villagers and other visitors that came to the village. And our house is the house that welcomed anybody in there, so as I grew up I always prepare myself to be a leader. I told to my dad and my uncle that one day I should become a good leader. PY: You said that your dad was the chief of the village. Can you tell me more? TY: Of course, yes. Actually, not really for the village, it’s for the whole territory that we lived in. He was a leader to like maybe three to five thousand people in that territory, and which governed part of the military region to support the troops to go to war and protect our border and protect our families, our farming and, you know, pretty much everything. PY: That’s a very big role to play. Do you remember or do you have any memories of your father being in action as a leader? TY: Yes, he was a good leader and he always supports his family, always supports the village, and the people surrounding the territory. And plus the army, they’re going to war, then when 22

they’re coming back, or whatever, they win or they lose, my father always took care of them. And he leaded a troop. He always helped people who cannot farm, especially like if they have sick parents or they’re really not well and not to help the family to do their farming. So he always prepared some party to support and help with those kinds of situations, too. PY: That’s wonderful. Do you remember any stories that your parents told you as a child that you can still remember now? TY: Actually, they told me a lot of stories but during my childhood, the country was lost and we left the country with a tragedy, I don’t know. Right now it’s hard to recall stories besides the stories that hurt inside from the war. PY: Can you remember any of your relatives that you lived around with? Were there any relatives that you were really close to? TY: Oh, of course. Usually in each village everyone knows each other because we are all family. We are pretty much a close family together in our village. PY: When you were living in Laos, you mentioned that you guys were refugees and left and fled to Thailand. After the war broke out in Laos. TY: Yes. PY: How was that experience for you? TY: It’s tough. And it’s a very tragic experience. Especially when the country was lost all those leaders had fled to Thailand, to other countries. We didn’t really have a chance, you know, to go with them during those times, and we didn’t really have any choice so we have to divide it, the territory, and prepare ourselves against the government. During that time I didn’t really know if our actions were right or wrong, but we have no choice that we have to do it. We had a huge problem though, you know, we didn’t really have any medicine to treat when people got injured. Or you didn’t really have any good weapons to fight against the government, but we tried our best. After three years, we lost. As soon as we lost, we tried to surrender to the government. But a couple months later we thought, you know, we’re not going to survive. So we tried to escape again, but this time we didn’t really have any chance that we will be able to live in Laos any longer, so that’s why we decided that we have to go to Thailand. But this journey took about a month and that you have to walk, and carry your own supplies for yourself. And it was hard because in my family was large. We had many young children in there. And you have to carry one child maybe, plus your supply of food and everything that should last for one month. So that’s how we got ready and walked to Thailand. PY: Did your father leave to Thailand before the rest of the family or did your father travel with you guys as well? TY: Ah, yes, my dad traveled with our family.


PY: You mentioned earlier that your mother passed away when you guys crossed the Mekong River. Can you tell me more about that experience? And what holds dear to your heart now? TY: Yes, that’s actually when we got to the Mekong River, there was a fight and we got attacked from there. And a couple people were killed in there, and we kind of got separated from each other for about a day or two and then we found each other. And this happened late at night. Then we got to the side of the river and we got ready to cross it. And I didn’t really know for sure what to do and everybody was so scared. Everyone had to try to survive on their own. And as soon as everybody jumped in the water, and when we got to the river on the other side of Thailand, my mother and one sister with my mom, they’re all gone. We didn’t really know what’s happened during that time, if they were killed or if they drowned. And, ever since, we never know anything about them up until now. PY: Do you remember how old you were when your family crossed the river? TY: I was twenty-two. I was married, too. PY: So you had your own family already. TY: I was married but we had no kids. PY: No kids. Can you tell me about how you met your wife? TY: We were living, not really together, but it is a separate village but it’s a close by village. So we are neighbors for a long time, yes, I watched her grow up when she was a young kid. PY: Was she younger than you? TY: Oh, yes. [Chuckles] PY: Much younger? TY: Ah, five, six years. PY: Can you tell me about your first child? Was your first child born in Thailand? TY: No, born in the United States. PY: When you fled Laos to Thailand, when you arrived in Thailand, can you tell me your first initial reaction to being in a different country? TY: It was tough. [Chuckles] It’s hard that, you know, you do not know the system in Thailand so you don’t know how to adapt to the regulation or to understand what you’re supposed to do. You’re especially not allowed to back to Laos. You’re not really living in the city; you live in a village. And it’s hard to adapt under regulations and so we were so scared sometimes, but, you know sometimes we just feel lucky that, you know, we are out of the country and that we are 24

safe. And you can be sad, but the other part, you know, the other side you’re also happy, too. PY: Did you feel free when you arrived in Thailand? TY: Of course. And that’s only across the Mekong River. And as soon as it turned morning, then you face the Thai official who came to ask you questions. You know, during the time that we escaped to Thailand, the Thai officials were really respectful. They knew that people crossed the Mekong River from Laos, were from the jungle. So they also treated you so well. And yes, I really felt great about that and felt freedom, you know, you don’t really feel that have to escape some enemy or question if I have any food. And so there was a sense of freedom. PY: When you arrived in Thailand, did you have to resettle and start a new life or were you guys in refugee camps? TY: Yes. We were in the refugee camp. We were not the first people there, so they already have a good program with the United Nations. United Nation supplied the food and pretty much everything into the camp. And they also transported the food twice a week. So as soon as you walk into the camp, and your names are registered, you are in the program. You begin to receive those foods and it wasn’t so good, not enough food, but it’s better than nothing. PY: Can you describe how the camp looked like? TY: The camp, it’s very crowded. [Chuckles] It’s not a big area but it contained like, I might say like, forty, fifty thousand people. And the worst part was for the toddler, the babies, the weather, it’s so hot. And I don’t know a lot of pollutions in there and it’s hard for the baby to survive. If a family had like four or five children, only one or two will survive. PY: Were you guys allowed to leave the camp premises? TY: I must say no. Yes, they put the barbed wires around the camp. If you cross over, you’re going to get arrested and put in jail or get punished. Or some people also killed. So if you want to be safe, you have to live within the camp, not outside the camp. PY: How did you guys manage to survive besides the support from the UN? Was it strictly just foods that were provided from the UN or were you guys able to farm within this camp? TY: I’m not really sure, they used to, at first, but not after. So we were not really allowed to go outside of the camp, but we were so lucky enough that we did have some family in the United States and friends in other countries, you know. They also send us some money to support. PY: When you guys were in this camp, were you separated from your families? Were your families in other camps or was everyone in the same camp? TY: When we in the camp, we were always together. They didn’t really have too many camps. So they don’t really care, men, women, children, you know, they’re always put together.


PY: How long were you in this camp? TY: Not that long. Actually, I might say a year in the camp. PY: Did the UN come in and were you guys able to apply to come to the US? What was the process? TY: Yes. Actually, when you’re in the camp, you’ve got your name in the register for food. And then as soon as you got a food support, then it means that you’re on the UN’s list. The UN has a program and it used to be once a year, but from at the end of 1979, there were a lot of refugees and so they really wanted to take those refugees out of the camp. They were able to bring the refugees into other country once every three months. When they came, they announced that they’re going to have a program, you know, to get the refugees and go to other countries. You can make your decision to come to the United States, go to France or, you know, Australia. And as soon as you make your decision on what country you’re going to go, you have to take your family and get all their names, birthdays, and other information. Some information was about our life in Laos. Soon as they’ve collect that information, they then call you back in a couple of days. And when they call you back, they will ask you about the information you gave them to make sure if those information were correct. And then after a couple of days, they call you back and you have to identify some leaders in Laos or some weapons, you know. You might have to identify a person in Laos or in that territory that you may know. And as soon as you identified all of those, not really a hundred percent but, you know, like seventy, eighty percent right, then they say you pass the test. [Chuckles] And you can go to America or France or wherever. But those people that came to America, they have a harder part, but France or other countries, they are easier. PY: So why did you decide to come to the US instead of France or Australia? TY: Yes, that’s a good question. Especially to me, when I was in school in Laos we never knew much about the United States, what we just read in the books about the United States and saw a couple movies. How the king there came to visit the United States, you know, and the country wasn’t so nice. And another reason is because I do have my sister and my brother-in-law; they came to this country and they sent us a lot of money to support our family. And I knew that, you know, the country that can send you the money probably will support you more. That should be the best country that you have to go. And in my parents’ life, my grandparents’ life, or even through my life in Laos, you’ll not even spare a penny to help anybody. So that’s why I decided that the United States is probably the best choice for me. So I decided to come here. PY: Were you able to decide what state you wanted to come to? TY: Not really. There were two options, you know. If you want to come to Minnesota, you would need and have a family sponsor you, or else you can't. And they have to wait for the sponsor, so it can be much longer wait to come to the United States. If you say that, oh, I can go to whatever state, you know, it doesn’t really matter, and just get you into the United States, 26

they’ll maybe take you sooner or, you know, faster. But I was lucky that I have my brother, my sister-in-law, or my sister, my brother-in-law in Massachusetts. And so I decided to come to Massachusetts. So they sponsored me and that’s where I ended up, in Massachusetts first. PY: How did you end up in Minnesota? TY: Yes. [Sighs] That’s a good question, too. Especially in Massachusetts, when I came to that state and the city we all lived at, we only have like six families, Hmong families in there. Only two of these Hmong members spoke English. And those two individuals were the only ones with a driver’s license. [Chuckles] But we were lucky enough that each one of us, we have a whole church, you know, to sponsored us. And they also took good care of us. Yes, my older brother and I, we both came there first. And in a month or two later my oldest brother arrived. But unfortunately, seven days after his arrival, he passed away and most of my relatives, my cousins, they live in Minnesota. And those times were very difficult for us and really tragic for us and, as soon as he’s passed, I had a conversation with my other brother that we should go live with our relatives and family, you know. And if something like this happens again, you know, it is not going to get easier, not living here, you know. And that’s when we decided to move to Minnesota, closer to our family. PY: Do you remember what year that was? TY: Yes. My brother passed away on May 1, 1980. And then in 1983 my brother, older brother, he moved to Minnesota. And as soon as he moved to Minnesota, I thought I was going to move in that year, too, but I had a brother-in-law who moved from Rhode Island, a neighbor state, to live in Massachusetts, so I decided I have to stay. You know, and they all came very new to my town, so I decided to stay for another two years. And that’s when I decided to move to Minnesota in 1985. PY: Can you tell me about your initial reaction when you first arrived here in the United States? TY: It was a surprise. [Chuckles] I came in the month of February. As soon as you land the plane in Massachusetts, in Boston, Massachusetts, and you see the land was covered in this white stuff. [Chuckles] And I never thought that the white stuff would turn green. So I was kind of worry, you know. I was worried if we would be able to survive. It’s so strange. And we never saw snow, you know, like this in Laos, never ever. And, you know, that’s when we didn’t really know how to speak much English and didn’t really know how to question our sponsor or other people that, you know, how that’s going to go? And if that white stuff would ever disappear or was it going to stay like this forever? You know, but sooner or later, you know, it began to disappear and it was gone. And then the grass turned green, and the leaves turned green, and the temperatures rise to seventy, eighty degrees. PY: [Chuckles] TY: And just like, well [chuckles] you know, where you were before in Laos. So we thought, 27

you know, times can change. And everything can change. So we can, you know, adapt to it. And that’s, you know, we thought that we should be able to live in this country. PY: Great. When your wife and you came to the United States, was it just you and your wife or did your father come with you? TY: Yes, my mother was lost in the Mekong River. Ah, actually, my dad married two wives in Laos. So my stepmother was also lost the same night along with a half brother. There were a couple brothers and sisters who stayed with my dad. And I took two siblings with me when I moved to the United States. [Chuckles] PY: So the four of you came to the United States together. TY: Yes. That was my family. PY: They weren’t married yet either? TY: No. They were young. PY: Yes. TY: And my brother only sixteen and my sister only twelve. PY: Very young. [Chuckles] TY: Yes. Very young, yes. PY: Did they move to Minnesota with you? TY: Especially, yes, my sister was married in Massachusetts before we moved here. But my brother, yes, he moved with me to Minnesota. PY: When you arrived in Minnesota, was it different from Massachusetts? TY: Not much different, Massachusetts and Minnesota, you know. The weather pretty much the same, but the difference is you have lots of family here. We then got here, we were so surprised, a lot of the people and family members I remember seeing in Laos or in Thailand. I never thought that they’re going to end up in Minnesota too. A lot of the people you knew. A lot of help, you know, you can get. And then each time you go to a hospital, you go to the welfares department, or you know something like that, there's always somebody over there to help you. So, yes, we felt so lucky when we moved to Minnesota. PY: So there were many programs and resources to help you and your family settle down in Minnesota. TY: Oh, of course. Yes. Even though if you’re capable of and go to work, during that time, there 28

were plenty of jobs and you can work. You say to yourself, well, I came to this country for four to five years now, I didn’t really have any education, and so I should go and get some form of an education. It doesn’t really matter, whatever you do, you have chance. Well, I told myself that I need to do whatever I need to do because there are a lot of good programs here waiting to help. PY: When you arrived in Minnesota did you decide to continue your education? TY: I did when I moved from Massachusetts but when I got here, some other things changed! [Chuckles] Yes, I did get my GED. And I also took a vocational study, not really a degree, but it’s a diploma from the Century College, too. But my plan from Massachusetts was bigger than that, but when I came here, things changed. It’s because of a lot of people in here; they didn’t really know how to practice cultural rituals. Most of the elders did, but not the young ones. Since I practiced Hmong culture in Laos ever since 1976, I figure I will help volunteer my time to do cultural performances at weddings and funerals that’s what took me out of continuing my education. PY: When you arrived in Minnesota, where did you live? TY: [Sighs] At first, for the first couple months I lived with my uncle in McDonough Home for I believe, two months. Then I found an apartment on Marshall Avenue in Saint Paul. So I lived there. But during that time, the rent was so cheap; I rented like at two hundred fifty dollars a month. PY: I see. TY: Yes, so, that’s a nice place, too. PY: Did you and your wife have any children by then? TY: Oh, yes. We had four when we lived in Massachusetts. When we got to Minnesota, we decided to build our family here, and that’s where we end up with ten children. PY: Ten children. TY: Yes. PY: How many boys and how many girls? TY: Three boys and seven girls. PY: Are they all still in Minnesota? TY: Yes. They’re all in Minnesota except one in Wisconsin. [Chuckles] PY: Are they married?


TY: Yes. Most, but some are not. There are four girls married, two sons married. PY: So how long did you live in Saint Paul? TY: I lived from 1985 to 2001, so I might say sixteen years. PY: And where did you move after you left Saint Paul? TY: Ah, I moved to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Walnut Grove is down south, southwest Minnesota by Marshall. It’s about thirty miles east of Marshall. PY: Why did you decide to move down there? TY: Yes, I bought my house in 1989 in Saint Paul on East Cook Avenue. And during that time, our mortgage was not that expensive but in 1999, we did have a lot of family move from California. And in 2000 the houses in Minnesota, in Saint Paul/Minneapolis areas in here was going up so high, including the rent, you know. Many of those families were not able to afford rent and mortgage in the city. So one of my brothers went down to Marshall one time and he came back and he kind of mentioned that they’ve got nice cheap houses down there, even if you rent or you buy it. So that’s what we decided to do. We went and visit a couple times to find that it was real. The house was cheap, and even the rent was cheap. And it’s kind of a pleasant life but, you know, it’s more private, it looked safer, you know, for maybe children or, you know, for us. That’s why we decided that we should move. And some of the areas down South kind of looked like back to Laos, too. There were many farms and it was a small town, and that’s why we decided to move down there. PY: When you went and moved down south, can you share some of your personal experience with the community down there? TY: Yes, sometimes at first you thought it might be hard. [Sighs] But for those communities and small towns like that, they’re all mostly elder people. And they’re very experienced with life. And especially down there, where there are not too many different culture, we thought it would be difficult, but, you know, as soon as you enter the town and you get to know the people there, like the mayor, council, and some of business peoples, you realize that they do respect new people. And they, you know, did really welcomed us to be in the town and they’re turning to be a really good neighbor and really good people, you know. And we never thought that we could have had that kind of respect and behavior but we did. You know, each way you walk, you drive people always wave for you. You know, at first you thought that they don’t even know you, why are they waving at you? Maybe they know you, but for the true meaning is that they didn’t really know you but they just respect you. And that’s when we decide that with this small town, we have good neighbors and it is a good town. And living there, you know, you never have any fear that somebody will come do something wrong in your place or to your children or your people, 30

you know. Then we feel so safe and we’re so happy that we moved down there. PY: Are all your children down south, too, or do you have any that lives up here in the Cities? TY: Yes like at first I took all my children down there, except one of my older sons. He worked in the city and then he got married, so he lives here in the city, but then all those nine, I took down there. But they were all so young, but now they’re all grown up. And yes, they’re all coming back here. [Chuckles] PY: Moving back to the city? TY: Yes, to the city. And right now I only have one left, the last girl with me, with us. But she’ll be gone next year. PY: For school? TY: Yes, for school. Yes. PY: When you moved down south, did you purchase a home? TY: Yes. I purchased a little house before I moved down there. You know, well, my brother and my brother-in-law, they went down there first and they looked at houses for me too. They found one for eighteen thousand, with an acre of land and that little house has four bathrooms. [Chuckles] I thought that you know they should just deposit that for me, and they did. I moved down there in 2001. After living there for a year, I made some extension to the house. And so the house is not really too big. But if compared to the town, it's a big house. PY: What kind of occupation did you do when you first arrived there? TY: Yes, at first I sent my family down there and then I still worked in the city for a year. But the traveling was really a distance. I thought I should, you know, just get rid of my job and go down there. Soon after many Hmong family moved down there, there were many Hmong students in the schools so I applied and got a job in the school, as part time. I didn’t really want to work full time but it is a part time job. And just do some assistance to help the children, you know, with those teachers, because the teachers did not know much about our culture. PY: So you worked for the school. TY: Yes, I work with that for I believe a year, maybe a little more than a year. And then my brother and I, we decided that, you know, we have many Hmong families down there, so we should, you know, do some business. So that’s how we established our grocery, oriental grocery store in Walnut Grove in 2003. PY: So now you have a retail shop? TY: Yes. We operated the retail shop for two years. There was a grocery store that was owned 31

by people in the town. The owner, he had two stores. One is about ten miles east of the town. And he asked us if we were interested, if we were, he can sell it to us. So that’s when we thought that, you know, be in the same building with just, you know, a different space, so we decided that it’s a good time anyways, so we purchased that, too. So we purchased that, the other retail grocery. And then we owned both the stores and but now we combined it to one. PY: So it’s just a bigger space now? TY: Yes. It’s bigger; it’s about seven thousand square feet for both stores. PY: And what kind of products do you carry? Just Asian products? TY: Yes, Asian, and the Caucasian products, too, yes. PY: Okay. TY: And mostly it’s a Caucasian. Asian is like, forty percent; sixty percent with the Caucasian. PY: Can you tell me about the community, the Hmong community down there? How large is the Hmong community down there? TY: When we moved down there to Walnut Grove, there was only about one family in Walnut Grove before we moved in. And then we moved like five families there. The number of Hmong families has grown because people continue to move down there. In Walnut Grove right now, I think I might say sixty families live in Walnut Grove. In total, I think probably around one hundred forty or fifty families right now in southwest area. PY: Do the children still participate in cultural ceremonies and if so, how? TY: We do still participate in some cultural practices. And yes, many of them takes their time to come and do some practice or to get some training. We usually train them within our homes or something like that. PY: You mentioned earlier in the interview that you are involved in the Hmong community. Do you participate in weddings and funeral ceremonies? TY: Yes. PY: Are you still involved in that? TY: Yes, I do help out and participate in wedding and funeral ceremonies. The reason why I still participate in the ceremonies is because it is hard to find people you trust to perform these ceremonies. But because I do have the experience of performing these rituals, the community does ask for my participation. I still perform at weddings and funerals but I’m not as active since the request has slowed down.


PY: So for example in weddings, what roles do you play? Are you the negotiator for the wedding? What role do you play? TY: Yes. Mostly the negotiator, you know. PY: What about for funeral ceremonies? TY: Yes, funerals, especially, I usually play the part as the person in charge of the funeral. And that’s the biggest role I usually have. I also perform using the qeej, which is a bamboo flute or something like that, you know. These are the few roles that I play during a funeral. PY: So you’re not as involved now? TY: Yes. Not really as much as before. Especially this year. PY: With this year. TY: Yes. PY: Can you tell me your involvement with the Hmong community right now? TY: Yes. PY: Can you tell me about that process and the struggles that you faced as you participated as a candidate for this position as President to Yang Wang Meng Association of United States? TY: Yes, I believe that it is important that local Hmong Minnesotans and Hmong from all around the United States needs to be united when it comes to issues that effects the Hmong community. I think this is very important to the young people. Finding a way for the Hmong communities to connect was a struggle. When we came to this country many of our parents, our grandparents, they have tried to establish some organization that will bring the community together. I have always been active with the community my whole life. And it is something that I see that if I took my time and, you know, use my knowledge, I may be able to bring the community together. I wanted to see if I can bring all these people together and, you know, make them understand each other. That’s when I decided that I should run for this position. I wanted to see if I can realize my vision for the Hmong community. My campaign was very small and I had great family members to help me out., My really close cousins, Fasheelong Yang, really did a great job and helped me campaign locally. And when I was told that we won the election, I was very excited about the work we were going to do in the near future. PY: Can you tell me the mission or the vision of this organization? 33

TY: The vision for this organization is to be a solid place to connect the Hmong community together. And for the mission, we are trying to build leadership and find different conflict resolution for the Hmong community. We are also trying to find ways to preserve our cultural performances and to find a way to do work collaboratively. PY: So this organization is trying to do some cultural preservation? TY: Yes. PY: And this organization runs on a national level? TY: Yes. It’s a national level, yes. PY: So when you guys were running for this position, did you have to run ballots across the nation? So did each state report who they wanted as the president? Or how does that work? TY: That’s the plan going forward. We are trying to restructure the organization. PY: Can you tell me about some of the struggles you’ve had with living in an area that’s most dominated by other ethnicity? Did you ever face any discrimination? TY: Oh, not really. I don’t really see any discrimination there because the city officials, they know that there are many other ethnicities around their town they understand that even though they come to live in a small town and live together like that, they treated everybody equally. So we don’t really see anything like that. PY: Do you feel that your children or the younger generation are losing their culture because there is such a huge gap between what’s happening now and what happened in Laos? TY: Yes, the Hmong kids who grew up here are involved in other activities besides learning their culture. Many of our children are still in school and if they are done with school, they go and find jobs to support themselves. And so when you compare it to our generation, who grew up in Laos, their schedule leaves them little time to practice culture. So it’s hard for them to take their time and to practice some culture and to keep practicing. We cannot expect them to know exactly like their parents and their grandparents. But a lot of the children, they’re also trying so hard, you know, to get involved with the culture and to make sure that, you know, it does not disappear from who they are. And not really a hundred percent, but I believe that, you know, forty, fifty percent of these children, they really struggle to keep or preserve their own culture. PY: Do you consider Minnesota your home now? TY: That’s a good question. I must say yes. Because I’ve lived here longer than anyplace else, so I think I’m more used to Minnesota. I think not really every piece, but I think for the most part I know it. And I think if I continue to live here, I would be happier. I do have many family members living here in Minnesota, you know. People I have known since Laos and Thailand. 34

[Chuckles] PY: Do you plan on moving back to the Cities or do you enjoy your lifestyle down south more? TY: Yes, it’s a tough question, too, especially to me. I have two things, okay. One thing, I’ am aging so I ask myself if I can afford the cost of living in bigger city. The second thing is, when I moved down there, many Hmong families moved down there as well. It would be hard for me to make the decision to leave all the nice people. So it’s hard for me, and I probably plan to live in Walnut Grove now for a while. PY: Is your father here in Minnesota right now? TY: Yes, he is. But he is in Saint Paul. PY: He lives in Saint Paul? TY: Yes, Saint Paul. PY: Does he live with your siblings, your brother? TY: He used to. He used to but now they are living in their own place, so more private for them. And they’re more comfortable with that, too. PY: Can you tell me about your experience with how change has been over the decade culturally, personally? What’s the biggest struggle you’ve had so far? TY: Yes, I believe that there have been many changes. Especially with economy, it’s kind of a big change. And when you do a business it’s a huge change in there. And oh, like right now, you can see the inflation rise up, and your total on your inventory, equal number, but your profits is a totally different. And that is a major change, you know, for me and for the business. But for other situations, all my children’s are grown up now. And technology plays such a big role in their life so the elders are trying to adapt to this change. And I see a lot of other parents that struggles with their children because of identity issues. Their children are trying to find their identity. PY: Is there a person that has really changed your life or something that he or she did that has really changed your perspective of how life is? TY: Yes. When I decided to run for this position, I met many individuals who changed my life. There were people who supported me financially, supported me by using their time and energy. I t shows me that are good people out there who may understand your vision or mission. PY: What would you consider to be the most dramatic change that you’ve had recently? Besides being the president of the association. TY: I would say my business has recently gone through some change. The business has worked well for us. And the business supported our two families. I have had a feeling recently that it’s a 35

really big change in my life, so we’re trying to preserve that, see how long that we can sustain and hold the business. So that’s one thing in my life. PY: Did you have any struggles when you first started your business? TY: Ah, not really a big struggle because we are located in a small town. We do have some other business but it’s kind of a distance away. PY: Were there programs or individuals that helped you to begin the business? TY: Ah, yes. There were programs that helped first time business owner. And they did support the small business around. And, you know, I think that that’s a statewide. PY: If you could go anywhere right now and travel, where would you go? And why? TY: [Chuckles] I think I’d probably go to Laos. Ah, because I still do have many family members there and many other community members that I grew up with there. PY: Have you been back to Laos since you have left back in 1980? TY: Yes, I’ve been back around ten times. PY: Have you seen any change? TY: A lot, yes, a lot. 1992, I went to Laos. It was not much change, you know, from where I left. But in 2009-10, I went back there. There were big changes, really big change. So it was kind of a surprise, and I really, you know, support the new government that they are working so hard to get the countries going. So that’s one thing. PY: Do you remember someone saying something to you that has made a big impact on how you lived your life? TY: Yes. Mostly my parents and my uncle. And all those instructors in school. Yes, they said a lot of good things, and that, you know if you do and can make your life change. PY: Can you tell me what your greatest accomplishment is? TY: Do they have a number that I should give it? PY: You can give me as many accomplishments as you want. TY: [Chuckles] Yes, I might say my accomplishment to bring my family to this country, and to live a happy life, a safe life, and for freedom. And also as soon as we walked into this country, we began to work and go to school at the same time. We took adult school and we spoke no English when we first came to this country. And I tried so hard to understand but it was a struggle because I knew so little English. We did not know where to begin. We finally got jobs 36

and found support for our family and that’s one thing I feel I have accomplished here. And soon after that, I turned my focus around and try to support the community here. I took my time to volunteer to support our Hmong community by attending funerals and weddings and performed performances yes, I feel that I have accomplished with my community too. I also joined the board for our Walnut Grove PTA for two terms. Each term is for two years, so I joined it for four years which is two terms. And yes, I did have a good relationship with the city, and council, and mayor, and plus many of our good neighbors and resident. And that’s another thing I accomplished. I’m trying so hard to build the business and to continue to hold that business. It has been over, nine years that we have had the business, so I accomplished with that, too. And now I’m trying to do some other things to help the Hmong people, all clan. I want to help the Hmong community understand the regulation/ law in this country. I also want to help the community become citizens. Becoming a citizen means that you will have better support by your district, at the city, the town, and wherever you live. It is important for our community to do so. PY: Can you tell me one thing that you are grateful for? TY: Of course. I am grateful for my freedom; freedom to continue practicing my tradition, freedom to practice my culture. I’m grateful that my children are able to have a better education, that they’re able to fulfill their dreams and hope. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to own my own business, which has created a strong foundation for my family. But most importantly, I’m grateful for having this opportunity to share my story because I was born in Laos, but now Minnesota is my home. PY: Terry, I’m going to be concluding the interview very soon here. Is there any last statement that you would like to say? TY: Yes. I became a citizen of the United States not too long after coming to this country. I like to support the people where ever. I believe that supporting the people in your community will build a stronger relationship. These relationships should be happening in your neighborhood and across the country. PY: Thank you. I want to thank you for being such a wonderful narrator. So thank you very much. TY: Thank you.