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Interview with Xang Vang

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  • 2nd Lieutenant, Ammunition Specialist, SGU, CIA Secret War in Laos 1961-1975
  • Former Executive Director, Lao Family Community of Minnesota
  • Hmong Business Entrepreneur
  • One of the first Hmong growers to sell in the St. Paul Farmers Market
(English subtitles)

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01:06:27

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Center for Hmong Studies staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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XANG VANG
• 2nd Lieutenant, Ammunition Specialist, SGU, CIA Secret War in Laos 1961-1975
• Former Executive Director, Lao Family Community of Minnesota
• Hmong Business Entrepreneur
• One of the first Hmong growers to sell in the St. Paul Farmers Market

I was born in Pha Eng village, city of Nong Het, Xieng Khouang Province in Laos. My father is Nhia Bee and my mother is Xo. My mother was the second wife and I am her oldest son. My father was married to 6 wives but only two stayed with him. We have 6 brothers and 5 sisters.
I was born in Nong Het. But when I was 6 months old my parent moved to Muang Cha and I grew up there. When I was a kid, my duty was to watch our cows, water buffaloes, and horses. There were no schools at the time. So, my father and other villagers agreed to hire a Laotian from the city to come and teach us. So, I went to school when I was about seven or eight years old but I didn’t know anything much at that time.

As as kid, I didn’t think really think of anything much. But I was the more mature among my brothers. So, I would led us to school and back. Later on we went to school in Tham Lo and Muang Om. It was far from our village so we couldn’t come home. So I was in-charged of my brothers to make sure we go to school and have water, burning wood, food, and wash our clothes. So I’ve always played a leadership role since I was young.

Before the war began, I was about seven or eight. In 1959, I was already 9 years old. The war expanded to our area. The General’s base was still in Xieng Khouang. We were in Muang Cha and heard that the war was getting intense. So my uncles and my father were called by the General to assist in the fight in Xieng Khouang. So, in 1959 they left for Xieng Khouang and took up weapons to become soldier for the General. After they met the General, he assigned them under a Battalion Commander, the 23rd Battalion in Muang Om. So, we moved there. That was 1959 and I was about nine years old. There were no teachers from the government. Our hired teacher was also gone. The war conflict had intensified. My uncle who was my father’s youngest brother was literate. I followed my uncles to the outpost so my uncle can teach me. Hmong people called it “learn as you play”. So, most of my basic education was through that. During the day some soldiers went out on patrol so I had the opportunity to study with him. At night, we all slept at the outpost camp.

At that time I was little so I had no fear. I had confidence that if our post was overrun by the enemy, my uncles would not leave me behind. They would take me with them. So I was confident being with them.

From 1959-1961, I was with my uncles. In January of 1961, Bill Lair came. They were told to bring more weapons from Pa Dong. So, they went to get more weapons to defend the Nang Feng, Muang Cha, and Muang Om areas. When Pa Dong was defeated, the General retreated to Pha Khao. At that time, my uncles also moved to stay in Pha Khao with the General. They stayed in Pha Khao for two or three weeks or maybe a month. Then they moved to Long Cheng to open a base there. It was 1962 when I followed my uncles to stay in Long Cheng. I started 1st grade in Long Cheng. I was a bit older at the time but I had to start 1st grade.
Yes, there were schools in Long Cheng. The highest grade level was 3rd grade. When I came to Long Cheng in 1962, I already knew all the basic from my previous learning. I started 1st grade but I jumped two or three grade levels after a year. So, in 1963-1964, I already went to 3rd grade in Sam Thong. I went to school in Sam Thong for 3 years. And then I started Junior High in Sam Thong.

In 1968, the General used the fund from the CIA to start Sam Thong college. When the school was established, the Lao Department of Education then sent teachers to the school. So, I went to junior high in 1968/1969 in Sam Thong. Sam Thong College was a private institution that was established by General Vang Pao for the Hmong students because of the war at the time and Hmong kids were not able to go to the city. Partly because we’re poor and only the rich kids can go to school in the capitol city of Vientiane. We were poor so we studied in Sam Thong. We lived in Long Cheng until 1971. Then my parent moved back to live in Muang Cha. But in the summer of June 1969, th communist invaded Sam Thong and the school was closed down. The school was moved to Vientiane so I didn’t go back to school. I joined my uncles and became a soldier. In September or October of that year, the General needed a person who can write and keep inventory of ammunitions. So the General asked my uncle, if he has any soldier who can keep track of ammunition coming in and out. He recommended me and asked the general to take me in and see if I can do it because I had some schooling. So, my uncle took me to meet the General. The General asked me what grade level I’ve finished. I told him I finished junior high. Then he told me to stop working as an administrator at my uncle’s company and come work in the ammunition department. Then he told my uncle to drop me off at the airport to work with the Thais and Americans the next day. I said ok. The next day my uncle who was my commander dropped me off to work with a Thai and two Hmong. When I arrived, my Thai supervisor taught me how to do daily, weekly, and monthly reports. Then I started doing reports of how many types of ammunitions come in each day. I also kept track of the quantity left in the depot and the quantity being used each day. Keeping track of which company and battalion made the request. Then I sent three reports each day to the General. One for the CIA, the second for the General, and the third for his chief of staff, Colonel Lee Tou Pao. So, they know how much supplies they have and how much to send to their soldier at the front line. My dad and uncles are his bodyguards. They guarded his compound to make sure nothing happens. My dad and the General were very close like brothers. So, I was able to see him often. But I was mostly doing his household chores such as washing the dishes, heat the water, cut the wood, and cleaned their living areas when they had guests. I wasn’t able to get close and meet him personally until I was enlisted and became a soldier and started working at the ammunition depot, that he began to see my work and valued me. That’s when I could get closer to him.

As an ammunition specialist and a soldier, we were not informed of the top secret things regarding the national political situation and the status of the country. So as soldiers, we were told to stay firm in our post. When the country was falling apart, our soldiers were still guarding route 13 at Sala Phukhon. We were not aware that we’ll be leaving our country behind. The General told us that we must defend our homeland. So we were still on duty at the time. On the 8th or 9th of May that year, our soldiers at Sala Phukhon were still requesting ammunitions. We still sent them ammunitions. We were still doing our job. On the 10th, C-130 started coming to airlift people for two or three days. C-47s were also evacuating the top leaders and their families to safety in Thailand. On the 12th, with the last flight of a C-130 I took my family into the plane and left the country for Nam Phong, Thailand.

People were running and scrambling to get on the plane but I wasn’t concern about leaving at first. I was still on duty in a panic mode, not sure what to do because I’m afraid of my superiors as well. I was not sure whether to abandon my job and flee or what. So, on the 12th, I decided to abandon my job. I took my family to the airport and when we got there it was already getting dark. When the plane landed there were a lot of people scrambling to get on board. There were those who got on board but their suitcases that had cash in it fell off. But they weren’t aware of it so the plane’s engine blew the money all over the places. Nobody cares about the money anymore. People just wanted to get on the plane. My wife carried our son and I carried my rifle and some grenades on my waist. We fought our way to the airport and when we got there I tossed away my rifle on the side of the runway. I pulled my wife’s hand and pushed her onto the aircraft. I then pulled myself up into the plane and sat my family down among many others. We were all squeezed into the plane like a bunch of hogs. Then they closed the door and the plane took off. When the plane took off, I thought to myself if I would ever set foot on this land again. My tears fell. We weren’t sure of the plane could take off because it was jam packed with people. We saw the first few planes and they can hardly take off because they carried such heavy load of people. So I wasn’t sure if our plane would make it to Thailand. I worried about plane crashing, the fall of our country, leaving my parents, brothers, sisters behind... It was just me, my wife, and son that fled.

I think at that time they had a list of the evacuees but it was for the Colonels and Majors only. Not for low ranking soldiers. At the time, I was only a Lieutenant in the Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU). I knew I wasn’t on the list. So, when the Plane came we just fought our way in. When we got to Thailand and regrouped, I then learned that only those who worked closely with the CIA had priority. I talked to some of my friends and encouraged them to enlist with me to come to America. So, we registered and I wrote down my position and responsibilities at the ammunitions depot. They recorded it and we became the first category to come to America.
When we arrived in Nam Phong, I knew we won’t be there long. Because the American that my friends worked with as interpreter already told them to round up their group. So they came back and asked me, if I’m going or not. So, I registered. While in Nam Phong, I knew I had limited educational background. I knew my education wasn’t high and I didn’t know the language. So I asked a Thai garbage hauler who came into the camp to buy me book to study English. It was a self-taught English language book that says “Learn English in 75 hours.” The English we learned in Long Cheng were military codes and formats. So we were able to communicate. But when we were in Thailand, it was totally different. We couldn’t use those code languages anymore. At that point, I realized I didn’t know English so I asked them to buy me the book. I studied it for 3 months without going anywhere except for eating. I completed the book so I knew a little more English. I knew that they have verbs, adjectives, nouns and how English grammar works. When the General came from Udorn to Nam Phong, he gathered all the former leaders together to assess their people as to who had made it to the camp and who had not. So, Colonel. Tou Pao and Tou Long recruited my friends from Sam Thong college to conduct a census to determine the number of people in the refugee camp so they can generate a list to submit to the United Nations so they could send us food. So my friends helped them with that. As of me, I was focusing on studying because I was behind them in English.

We were placed in a former military training camp that trained some of our soldiers during the war. The camp was divided into 5 sections. I was placed in section four. Each section would find their own able body, young people to cook and distribute the food. The foods were transported in by the Thai people but purchased by the General. The General said he used the fund from the CIA. Je used the annual funding from the CIA to buy food for the refugees because we had yet to submit the census to the UN so the NGO and UN begin sending food supplies to us. So, he used the CIA fund to feed us from May all the way to December of 1975. So the food was distributed to each family based on their number of family members.
When we came to America, we landed in Los Angeles and got stuck there for a night. In the morning we boarded the plane for Madison. My sponsors picked us up in Madison. When we got here it was early Spring, March 16. The snow was starting to melt. It was still very cold. So, our sponsors brought us some used jackets to wear. I had a pair of shoes, but all my wife had were sandals. So, they brought her some shoes. Then they drove us about 45 minutes from Madison to Loganville, close to Wisconsin Dells. We arrived around 9:00 pm and they had a dinner party waiting for my family. Their congregation came to welcome us and had dinner with my family. I bought and brought along a Hmong embroidery. During the diner I gave that as a gift to the Church Pastor thanking them for sponsoring me. I was able to speak but it was in French accent so they didn’t quite understand. I started working three days after I arrived. My sponsor asked me to work for a member of the congregation at his farm. So he came and picked me up and asked me what I had done before. I told him I worked at the airport operating tractors in Laos, transporting, unloading, and reloading ammunition to and from C-130 and C-123 aircrafts. He taught me how to operate a few times and knew that I could drive the tractor. So, he let me plowed his land. He picked me up every morning at 6:00 am to go and work at his farm. At 2:00 pm he would drop me off at a nursing home. I worked in the laundromat washing clothes and blankets. I worked there for six or seven months but I told my sponsor that I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t handle washing dirty clothes with feces. So, he found me a job at another company. They asked me if I know how to operate the forklift. I told them that was what I did back in Laos. So, they tested me. I lifted and stacked everything quickly and thy told me I was excellent. They then issued me the forklift operator certificate. From there, I worked as warehouse manager, forklift operator, and fill up supplies for the assembly line workers. In Spring of 1977, I decided to follow the General and move to Missoula, Montana. When I got there I stayed with him that Spring and Summer. I visited him at the farm and helped him with his farm works. He was always on the phone talking to Hmong people. He said to me, this is too hard, let’s go to California to rally the educated people and start an organization. So, in late 1977 we went to California and established Lao Family. The General called Sher and some of the educated people who came here before the fall of Laos to help him.

So we went there and established Lao Family in Santa Ana. Dr. Yang Dao, General Vang Pao, Kham Moi, Dr. Sher, and me, there were five of us. We drove the General’s car from Orange county to Fresno, Merced, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, and then to Missoula. We were scouting for a suitable city for Hmong to live. Fresno wasn’t the ideal place but Merced was what we had in mind. When we went to California, I observed some of the neighborhoods and I didn’t like it down there. That’s why I didn’t move there. So, by the end of November, I moved to Minnesota. At the time Vang Leng and Yang Yang were there. We knew each other while working for some American case officers back in Laos. So, I asked Leng if I would be able to find jobs in Minnesota. Because before I moved to Missoula, I had already visited Minnesota. So Leng told me to come and he will find me a job. At the time, Leng was working for Lutheran Social Services. He helped find job for people and picked of them up when they arrived at the airport. He encouraged me to come. So, I moved from Missoula to here. When I got here, we started the Hmong Association of Minnesota organization. The important people, when I got here, were the Yang Yang’s family, Her Dang, Vang Leng, and Vang Shoua who was in Menomonie at the time. So when I got here, Vang Leng told us to start the organization then I became a board member. The following year, I became the secretary. On the second year, Yang Yang became the President after Vang Leng and I became the Vice-President. In 1980 General Vang Pao came and he told us to join together and have the Lao Family Organization only. So we decided to do what the General requested and turned Hmong Association into Lao Family. Then we started gathering people and brought Yang Blong from Wisconsin, Lee Tong from Hawaii, Tria from Indiana, and Vang Tou from Kentucky. These were people with higher education. So, we they all came together, we regrouped. When we started Lao Family, there was no intention of me being the Director. We wanted either Vang Tou or Lee Tong because both of them were highly educated. But they keep refusing. So, we elected Colonel Lee Teng to be the first president of Lao Family. Then I said, if everyone agrees, even though I may not have much experience…I will volunteer to be the director until the organization is fully functioning and there is funding. Then we can find one with experience and I will step down. So, the General asked, if everyone agrees. About 99.5 percent raised their hands in agreement. Only four or five people did not. So, I was elected by the floor but it was also nominated and endorsed by Colonel Lee Teng and the General.

When we first began our lives here in St Paul, MN, it was both hard and easy. I was the secretary, a board member, and the vice-president. Yang Yang was the President but he worked 2nd shift. Most of the community affairs took place in the afternoon. So, I was in charge most of them. I assisted with cases at the County’s welfare office. All of these were volunteer works and not a paying job. I dealt with the city and agencies such as the International Institute of Minnesota and Lutheran Social Services who were the major sponsors. I also dealt with the State Refugees Office so they knew me well. So, when we switched from Hmong Association to Lao Family I was appointed and elected to be the Project Director. At that time, the position was not yet called “Executive Director.” So, I was elected to be the Project Director of Lao Family. It was fortunate that I worked for the school district’s ABCE, adult basic continued education department. The director was a black person. He was veteran and married to a Filipinos wife. So, he understood the difficulties of oriental people. I was a bilingual and bicultural assistant for several months during 1978 or 1979. He told me you teach better than his Caucasian teachers so he’ll find a way for me to obtain a license. So he brought me a form and told me to apply to the state. In those early days, the state issued temporary teaching license for the bilingual and bicultural program. So, I was able to teach. Some of the grade schools were in need. So, I was hired as a K-6 teacher. It was not teaching in one single class but going to different schools in the entire district. Wherever there were Hmong students having difficulties, I would go there and assist them. I did that for two years and the school district knew me well. So when I became project director, Mr. Ben Bryant told me not to worry and he’ll help me. At that time Lao Family didn’t have anything. No pen, no book, and no office furniture. So, I went to see him. I told him we didn’t have anything. So I asked if he can help us. So, he gave us some of the surplus equipment of the ABCE program. I also told him I don’t have any Americans to help me. At that time Dianna Rankin was pursuing her Bachelor’s degree and she was interning for with Mr. Bryant. So, Mr. Ben Bryant assigned Dianna Rankin to work with me. So, she became my volunteer assistant. We then went to get all the surplus office supplies and furniture from the School District. And we began Lao Family office at the YMCA in downtown St. Paul. At this point, I didn’t know much about administrative work and proposals. I didn’t know how to write a proposal. So we didn’t have any money to run the organization. My best shot was to see George Latimer. Then I asked the Mayor if the City can help our organization. Because I thought they were the one who would provide fund for us. Then he said, in the city we have no money but you go see Nancy, my wife at the St. Paul Foundation. So he called Nancy and set up an appointment for me to meet with Nancy. When I met Nancy I told her about Lao Family and our needs. Then she asked me if I have a proposal. I told her I don’t know how to write a proposal. So Nancy assigned me a case worker. They then appointed me a field officer. I describe to him our needs then he entered them into the proposal and submitted it to St. Paul foundation. That’s why I mentioned early that it was both hard and easy. It was hard because we didn’t know where to start. But it was easy when we met the key person and they introduced us to others. And even though we may not have a proper proposal, we received funding because we were able to tell them our needs. Nancy was working at St. Paul foundation so when they gave us the grant, she also asked Otto Bremer, Bush, and McKnight to contribute. McKnight came in a little later. Diane Ahren, who was the commissioner for the Summit and University Area, she took me to the McKnight Foundation and talked to them. We met them then they helped us with the proposal. They gave us guidelines and I brought it back to Dianna and she helped us put together some a proposal. We submitted it to them and we received funding to operate Lao Family.

What were the needs of the Hmong at the time? We operated everything according to the mission of Lao Family. When I was appointed to be the project director, we used similar Articles of Incorporation and By-laws from Santa Ana. So, Sher came and sat down with me for two days and discussed what our missions are. English as a second language, housing, adult education, and employment, these were the three sections we focused heavily on because a lot of Hmong were arriving at that time and they didn’t know how to find rental houses. So, they relied on the organization to help coordinate showings with landlords and making deposits. So that was housing. As for employment, Hmong people didn’t know how to look for jobs. When we have the employment program Hmong people stopped going to Cedar and the Welfare job referral. At the time, State was not willing to give any fund for our English as a second language program. So, I brought Mr. Ben Bryant to testify at the State Refugees Office and he said that Vang Xang taught at my adult education program and he was a better teacher than my mainstream teachers, based on his observation. So I should receive some funding to teach basic level and he will take care of the intermediate level. After that, we got funding for our English as a second language program from the State. So we got to handle the basic level then transfer them to the intermediate at St. Paul School District. That was how we started Lao Family.

At that time, a lot of Hmong people came to asked me what else I can do to assist them. They asked if farming would be something I can help them with. I told them let me go and talk to University’s (of Minnesota) Agriculture Extension Department. When I met them, they told me to go and talk to the County Extension Office. Then I went and talk to the County Extension but they didn’t know how to help us either. So, I came back to meet with Diane Ahren. When I met her, she told me to go back to the Extension Office again. She then called and asked them to help me because I was in her district. They told her that they have no budget. But she told them to help anyway and she would find the budget. So, Commissioner Diane made the calls. She called Nancy Latimar and a few of the foundations to meet at my house and discussed the farming program. So, I told them prior to the war, Hmong people’s expertise was slash and burn agriculture. We were recruited to fight in the war for 14-15 years but we still retain their farming skills. So, I asked if they can help us. Commissioner Diane Ahren encouraged them to help. Again, Nancy Latimer offered to help. So, she asked the St. Paul Foundation to host and front the fund. Then we started the pilot farming program in Oakdale. Diane Ahren told the County Extension Department to come and take charge of the program. So, we began the training program in Oakdale. By the second year they saw that we were serious and working hard, so the University (of Minnesota) said that they will sponsor the program. We also met with ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) in Washington D.C. So ORR agreed that they would fund this program if the Hmong are serious about it. Then ORR, McKnight, Bush, Otto Bremer, and St. Paul Foundation contributed and we started a training program in Farmington. On the first two years it was only Hmong people. On the third year, we brought some Cambodians on board for the training. But during the training program, nobody makes any money, so no one was really motivated. In the winter we had classes that teach about produce, marketing, technology, mechanical usage of tractor and rotor trailer, and crop names. During the summer we practiced it on the field. After two years of the training program, the Hmong people started growing crops to sell and were making money. So, everyone started to work very harder. The State Refugee Office also funded the program. But some Americans complained about it. The State Refugees Office’s response was that the Hmong are just in for the training. They will never be successful. Both the St. Paul and Minneapolis Farmers Markets rejected and didn’t allow Hmong people to be members. They were concerned that Hmong people may not know how to use pesticides and insecticides properly which may pose health risk to the public and result in lawsuits against the two Farmer Markets. So, they didn’t allow us to be member. But after the training at the University, they sent some people with me to inspect and guarantee them that our people have received proper training on pesticides and insecticides, and the proper use of chemicals. They then allowed Hmong to be members. So, we earned our membership privileges since 1983. Since then more Hmong people became members. Today about 80 percent are Hmong. The 120 families that went through the program are now grown to about 400 families. We sell our produce in the two Farmers Markets and other surrounding metropolitan areas. Most were successful. Many have received their PhD and Master Degrees because of their family farming businesses. Chia Youyee Vang is an example of early family farming success. Pa Kou Hang is another example which her family’s farming had helped her obtain a high education.

When Hmong people visit Minnesota, they liked it partly because of the Soccer Tournament. When we first started in 1978, the event was held at Harriet Island Park. When the place can no long hold us, we moved to Como. We held it there for a few years but we had issues. So we moved it to a church, to Eagan, and then Fort Snelling. When we had the problems, I was a civic affair activist. So, I helped Mayor Norm Coleman’s campaigned. When he was elected, he said the City is aware that the affairs at the Hmong Soccer Tournament benefited the city. So, he reserved it for us to hold the Soccer Tournament every year ever since.

Before we talk about enterprises on University Avenue, I want to talk about how I met Norm Coleman. In the early 90s there were a lot of Hmong kids who were involved in gang activities. Norm Coleman was an assistant state attorney general and was involved in the drug enforcement. He announced his mayoral candidacy in the Newspaper. So, I thought if we have someone who knows how to deal with Hmong gang issues, it would be helpful. I called him. He wasn’t interested in me but he came and met me. He then went to meet Steve Young and Steve Young told him to come back and see me. The second time he came and met me, he brought along his campaign manager and a few field workers. I explained to them, these kids had nothing to do so they look for exciting things to do. Therefore, we must find things for them to do. At that time, I was in charge of Hmong Youth Association. I asked them to allocate funds to help the youth so they can develop and improve themselves. So, I told them, if you help me, I will help you. He asked me what I want in return if he gets elected. I told him I don’t want anything for myself but the Hmong people want something. He asked me, what does the Hmong need? I told him the Hmong need a community where they can meet, they can talk, and they get together. We have Lao Family but it doesn’t have a center. He said to me, if I should win I’ll help you. Fortunately, he won. The City already had a budget to develop University Avenue they called it “community block grant”. So, I mentioned to him about the grant to develop University Avenue and Frog Town. Therefore, we want Lao Family to be on University instead of at Minnehaha because there was a heavy concentration of Hmong on University Avenue. He said he will help if he gets elected. When he won, he asked the City Council to release over $200K for us. At the time, many foundations also had agreed to help fund Lao Family. But they requested that the City must contribute as well because if the organization should fail the property will fall to the City. Therefore, they required the City to make a commitment before the can release the funds. They said, we have oral and moral commitment but won’t release any fund until the City toss in theirs. At the time, it was only me who had relationship with the city, with George Latimar, Jim Sheibel, and Norm. The relationship with Sheibel was low. When Norm was elected, I asked him to help and he did. So, the City release over $200k for us and that’s why we able to acquire Lao Family.

I bought many apartments as rental properties. This allowed me more time to travel with the General versus staying in an office from 8-5 where you can’t go out. When I was working with Lao Family I was very strict. I didn’t get to go to D.C. or anywhere. I stayed here only but I worked very hard for the people in dealing with human rights, the state, and local government. But I didn’t go to Washington D.C. When I left Lao Family, I focused more on property rental and farming. For farming, sometimes you can let the spouse to take care of it. I would plow it and let my family take care of the rest if I went somewhere for a week or so. Rental properties don’t take up much of your time, once you’ve mad all the necessary repairs.
In late 1992, the General said we must have an office in Washington D.C. So, he told me to be there. At the time Ban Vinai Refugee camp was closing. So, Phillip Smith and Tria were assigned to do a field survey to find out why the Hmong in Ban Vinai refugee camp were being repatriated back to Laos. So Phillip and Tria reported that the U.N. contract of Ban Vinai has ended and can no longer be extended.

The organization there was called Lao Hmong Washington House which was a clearing house. Why is it called a clearing house? Because, we filtered all the news and intelligence from Laos and Thailand, including complaints from the U.S. before I report anything to Congress and ask them to communicate with their embassies in each respective country to investigate on the individual cases. So, I stayed there in D.C. for nearly 3 years. These were big duties in the areas of research, development, and starting our life in our new country. I couldn’t have done this without support from our leaders and the people.

In regard to SGU, we went to Washington D.C. to lobby the HR-371 resolution so that Hmong get their citizenship and so that they don’t lose their welfare benefits, and SSI benefits. There was a Senator. I think it was Jessie Helms. He told the General, if you want benefits for your veterans, Lao Veteran represents the country of Laos. If we help you, then what about the Cambodian and the Vietnamese? We can’t do it. Go back and organize only those who were directly involved with the U.S. and lobby for them. We came back, thought, and talked for a few years on how we can lobbly for the benefits. We went back and forth on the talking without any action. So one day, Chue Chou Chang, and a few low ranking officers, were having a meeting with the General. I arrived a bit later, listening to their discussion. Then I said to them, if you guys really want to obtain the benefits, we must follow the process recommended by Jessie Helms when we talked to him in Congress. Jessie Helms already told the General that we can only include those who were directly involve with the American. What was the name given to you by the Americans (CIA)? The General said, “Special Guerrilla Unit.” I then said, since many of the SGU Veteran had passed away we should name it, SGU Veterans and Family. Then General said, Pa Xang, so far it was just talks but nothing happens. So, you get it done. I said to him, ok, I’ll get it done. I asked Chue Chou to bring me th Articles of Incorporation from Lao Veterans. I adapted it and gave it to Joe to edit. When he finished editing, we registered the organization. The registrant at the state was Chue Chou, Xai Pao, and Xai Chou. Not me. But I was the one who did the paperwork. After that we established the board. The General wanted Colonel Lee Teng to be the president of the board but he declined. Then Colonel Moua Kao was nominated for the position. Everyone was ready to get rolling but there were no office space for the organization. We had no Tax ID at the time, so I told everyone that we should let Hmong American Mutual Assistance (HAMA) be the temporary fiscal agent until we get the IRS non-profit status. Then, we can break away. So during Colonel Moua Kao’s presidency, we moved SGU to HAMA. I gave them office space because I was the Director of HAMA. The main purpose of the SGU organization was to deal with the federal government to see if they would set aside a budget for the SGU personnel who had assisted the U.S. in the war and to fight for VA hospitalization benefits. That was my involvement with SGU organization. We’ve established everything and made it legal. So, now they are running it. We’ve met with Jim Costa’s and he agreed to continue sponsoring the HR-371 bill year after year as Bruce Vento had done for us for many years. We don’t know when Congress would understand, agree, and vote so that it would move step by step. What’s important is, will Hmong love Hmong enough to be one voice? Will Hmong help each other? I’ve retired from HAMA and everywhere else. I told them to find a new director for SGU and I’ll just be involved as a consultant. Whether or not the organization can move forward depends on the vision of the new president and whether or not he listens to others. If he only depends on his own ideas only then it would be hard. According to what we had discussed in Washington D.C., the answer was that we were not registered veterans of the Department of Defense. So if the Department of Defense denied us, than Congress can’t do anything to help us. Therefore, if we really want to obtain the benefits, we must start at the State Department because back then CIA was under the State Department. So my thought was that if the Department of Defense keeps denying us, we must go to the State Department and the CIA and have them include us in their benefit budget. From there, they can allocate the benefits to us. Even though we may not get the full benefits like the Filipinos, at least we get something. I believe there is a possibility. But if we have a lot of fake SGUs running around here and there trying to claim thing, I will not put my reputation for the fakes. I want to be truthful. This is where the SGU business comes to a halt.

The intellectuals, those who will lead the Hmong in the future, do not look for the money in Hmong pockets, don’t just see within the Hmong circle. You must be willing to protect even a bad Hmong person, the blind, the disabled, dumb, smart, they are all Hmong. We have a military saying, the leader goes first and withdraws last. As a leader, if you lead people into something you don’t withdraw. Even if you’re being replaced, you must still maintain good deeds. I hope that the young intellectuals and elected officials of our new country here in America continue their career and don’t withdraw. I hope the young intellectuals will follow the leadership model of General Vang Pao. Even if your position won’t allow you to serve until the day you die, your knowledge, wisdom, and your mental thinking should serve until the day you die. For me, I will do that until the day I die when it comes to leading the Hmong people. I’ll not fight to be a leader, but for as long as you still need me, I will serve. If that’s what you can contribute then do it until the day you die. Don’t keep a blind eye after you’ve left a position. Don’t forget about everybody else when you have become prosperous because you’ve led them, you’ve used, them to get to where you are. When people still value and use you, you must contribute and help them. All my works that I’ve done in my life did not benefit me but benefit the Hmong people. I may have suffered, but the Hmong have received prosperity. I am proud and happy for that.

Text Transcription completed by: Moua Lee and Kao Chang


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