Dia Cha, Professor of Anthropology, St. Cloud State University
Conducted by Mary Stucky
Dia Cha: [00:00:00] I’m Dia Cha and I a professor at St. Cloud State University. I teach anthropology in ethnic study classes on Asian-American study and Hmong study.
Mary Stucky:[00:00:13]: And you’re Hmong.
[00:00:14] Yes I’m Hmong.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:00:15] Can you tell me about your background. You came to this country.
Dia Cha: [00:00:19] Well I was born in the early 1960s and grew up in the secret war in Laos and my father was recruited by the American CIA. He was a soldier for many years and he was missing in action in 1972 and he never came back. So we don’t know what happened to him. And when Laos became of a communist country in 1975 my mother’s take my brother and sister, we fled to Thailand and live in a refugee camp for four and a half years and then we came to this country in 1979. You first live in California and then moved to Colorado and I spent most of my you know in Colorado and I have my education. I came to this country. I started ninth grade in high school and I was learning English you know beginning with the English alphabet.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:01:14] In the ninth grade?
Dia Cha: [00:01:16] Yes.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:01:17] And did you speak any.
Dia Cha: [00:01:19] No no no. I start from ABC. And so I congratulate the high school diploma in Colorado and then I move on to my bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State College in Denver Colorado. Then I go on for my masters degree and applied anthropology for Northern Arizona University. And then I work with three year. Then I go back to school and got my Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in Boulder. And then I graduate in 2000 and my Ph.D. and I start this position here teaching here since 2001.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:01:56] What do you teach here?
Dia Cha: [00:01:57] I teach and anthropology, cultural anthrology, applied anthropology medical anthropology and also ethnic study, Asian-American study Hmong study and Southeast Asian.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:02:11] What a story. I mean yours is the immigrant’s story really of success in this country. Not to speak any English at all. They probably weren’t Hmong translators where you were.
Dia Cha: [00:02:22] No. At the time it was very hard because you know when you all my childhood because of the war so you don’t have any formal education because we are constantly moving all the time. And so we were in the refugee camp. I study Thai and parttime and takes a math lesson but no English class until I got to this country.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:02:47] You’re very smart.
Dia Cha: [00:02:47] No it’s a lot of hard work. I study all the time until one or two o’clock in the morning and I always study for at least for my high school years undergrad years. It’s constantly hard work. Yeah.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:03:07] So the first Hmong came here when?
Dia Cha: [00:03:12] In early 1976 the first group that came to this country and there are very few or most of those are considered from the military class of the elite class.
Mary Stucky:[ [00:03:27] There are many people who really came with very different world. What do you meant by that>
Dia Cha: [00:03:40] Well I think it depends on what group you’re talking about the first group who came here in 1976. Again they we live in the urban city in Laos before they came here so they had more exposure to urban life and but it lots also in you know in government professional government official were educated. And so those school contracted a second and a third group who came later is the one who may have lost a spouse to an urban living. And also you know alongside you know wage labor and things like that. So what they mean that’s very different is that I have a very different cultural backgrounds inside of you know in terms of religious belief, cultural practices. And daily life activity are very different from the American way. Our lives in you know American society is make our emphasis on the individual and the importance of the individual very materialistic compared to the most important is to grow is more important than the individual and people focus on you know the relationship of the people more than the materials facts. So these are often in conflict and very contradictory to each other because of this different background. In addition to the American Society of being an urbanized in a very advanced technology way way more we came from is a more rural and agricultural society. So those are some of the things they’re referring to.
Mary Stucky: [00:05:16] What were the origins of the Hmong? We can go back many thousands of years.
Dia Cha: [00:05:22] Well we know all scholars have a knowledge in agreed that Hmong is is in China for these four or five thousand years ago. And so that’s for sure. We know that the Hmong from China.
Mary Stucky: [00:05:38] And most still live in China right?
[00:05:39] Yeah the majority millions are still live in China.
Mary Stucky: [00:05:43] And what brought them to Laos and when did that happen?
Dia Cha: [00:05:50] Well and again that ism ost scholars know that you know during these 17 to 1800s when there’s a lots of political turmoil in China as well as economic hardship and that is when probably create the migration southward of Southeast Asia due to you know some of the economic hardship and a political situation that led them to migrate toward Vietnam then eventually toward Laos in Thailand. And so that is what we know from studies on the 1700 to the 1900.
Mary Stucky: [00:06:33] What is life like? What was life like for years in Laos?
Dia Cha: [00:06:38] Well when the bombing first came to stay occupied the highlands of Laos where there was no one to occupy it the time. It’s mostly for us and so they were able to live in peace and create their own village and agricultural practices and they were able to live very peacefully until when the French came to Southeast Asia and they colonized French Indochina and that is when the French start to create a different political system in a way so that they have be able to rule and also collect taxes from the Hmong and the various other groups in Laos. So does this how their exposure to the westerner from you know the French and then eventually when the French return and give our big colony in 1954 is when the Americans start to come in because of the Cold War.
Mary Stucky: [00:07:37] What was life like?
Dia Cha: [00:07:39] Well my village life is very strange. (Sound from outside)
Mary Stucky: [00:07:44] This is a lawnmower.
Dia Cha: [00:07:56] Sorry.
Mary Stucky: [00:07:57] Yeah. What is a village life?
[00:08:00] In other words, how did people survive? Did they grow crops?
Dia Cha: [00:08:05] The Hmong before they can contact the Westerner, the Hmong were very self-sufficiency in their independence. They don’t ask for anyone to how they can themselves. And so very highly superior people. They are very independence. They farming daily. They raise animal like horse and cows and pigs and chickens and all those you know domestic animal and have enough for their own consumption and they engage you know rice farming and vegetables you know throughout the season. So they produce efficiency in that and they work hard. They provide for their own needs. They have live in a different village that is set up by the Hmong clans systems that is the main social organization.
Mary Stucky: [00:09:04] Organized by clans?
Dia Cha: [00:09:05] Yeah organized by clans in a different village and so on. So this is a daily life is how you can get out the morning your breakfast. You cook and go to the field and you do your work and then you come back and you feed the animal. Usually all family are together. They are not like today where each family goes separate way and so the children are social life into the culture by you know their family the parents so in total influence of their children’s life. So as I said children they grow up to learn the different cultural component cultural practices like ritual, folk songs. They know riddles and legends and folk story which is socialize into the culture and then and then go to the start of practice another important ritual like weddings you know, your funeral rituals and various you know rites of passage throughout life.
Dia Cha: [00:10:00] And so those are very typical you know traditional village him before the secret war and during the Vietnam War. But then when the Vietnam War started and thats when everything disrupted. Hmong were the men were recruited to become a soldier. And they were sent away from their family. And so the women would take responsibility in providing needs taking care of the family like they are to their children and because of the war they are constantly moving and they were disrupt their traditional traditional setting. Does the woman’s day had to provide food for the family.
Dia Cha: [00:10:41] And so the women were being very creative if they were gone they would cultivate a small plot of land and try to supplement their diet through that. And in the U.S. refugees relieve have one of these programs where they drop rice from the airplane to help to internal refugee. And the Hmong had become internal refugee long before 1975 because of the war that is constantly shifting the boundary of losing and gaining new people and going back and forth.
Dia Cha: [00:11:14] And so you know in traditional society way before the war the men would protect their family protect their village. They would help with the daily household chores. But during the war the men were far away and they were no longer part of it. But then they got a salary and then they had this title of a military title while making them very you know how important is it that you create a loss of social you know a change in Hmong society because of the war.
Dia Cha: [00:11:48] And because during the war and the Hmong men because of these titles that they are signing today. A lots of them have their prestige position and then suddenly you know when the U.S. government pull out of Southeast Asia and that they pull the troops and everything in then that’s when the over abundance and then they lost all those position. The aid is are no longer available. And so they are losing not only their political party affiliation the position the salary but also the country in their homelands.
Dia Cha: [00:12:23] So the Hmong were the one who help the U.S. government. They either had to flee. Otherwise they will stay involved in the military the government service government official level and they will be rounded up and taken to education camp starting in 1976 when the new government took power.
Dia Cha: [00:12:47] And so that has put a lot of people you know who flee to Thailand to become or become a refugee and I you know again during this and they are Hmong who were recruited by the American CIA and there also Hmong who were recruited by the Vietnamese on the other side because you just wherever they are and whoever happened to come to their village and if you cannot leave then that’s where you you’re there because you really don’t have any choice.
Dia Cha: [00:13:17] You don’t know when they’re going to suddenly appear in your village and have a stop meeting and just start to say that you know you are a man you had to do this because this is for your country and all those things and then you know people don’t know what’s going on they know that you know something’s changed politically but you can’t do it. So you’ll go along with that.
Dia Cha: [00:13:40] And so this is how you have Hmong fighting Hmong on different sides. You have a brother fighting each other again because you are on different side. If you don’t and you choose to run away you can get caught and you got caught and then you will be punishment. And so this is where Hmong find and so very difficult position to be in at that time.
Mary Stucky: [00:14:04] Why–that explains a little bit about why the Hmong for the most part not our side. Why. What else what what other reasons do you think there are for this for us? It’s a major sacrifice for us.
Dia Cha: [00:14:24] And again for the majority that people do not know all the politics of the Cold War and they do not understand is a struggle between these two superpower nation in the world like the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the time. But it was really that was a consequence a new leader in General Vang Pao was hired by the American CIA. He was you know to recruit the Hmong men to support him in and against. The main issue at the time is that Hmong wanted to have an independence you know to be able to live in that territory the village in you know peaceful way. But it’s like all the politic of the time wouldn’t allowed to do that. Even the country of Laos is trying to be neutral. It just stay as a neutral country. They were forced into the conflicts because they are in the middle. And the U.S. government afraid that if Laos fall into a communist country and then the rest are easier. So it is going to be a communist country and then we are also worried that if Laos becomes a democratic country then that means they will have no buffer against a boundary. So they will try to get that got Laos to be affiliated with them and to be a stronghold for to protect them. And so because of these various political factions trying to sway Laos back and forth. And you know no matter what they were the leader at the time were put a very difficult position. You really really don’t have any choice.
Mary Stucky: [00:16:03] And so General probably didn’t have a choice in the matter?
Dia Cha: [00:16:08] It’s hard to tell you know because you know he was a minority leader at the time. He doesn’t you know his followers. He doesn’t have as much political clout compared to other leaders in Laos at the time.
Dia Cha: [00:16:23] And so you know in Vang Pao probably have. We’re not that it will stay in power. If the US government back him all the way back because they cannot do that he had no aid he cannot continue. And so it is hard to tell. But I mean is is really part of the world politics that boiled down to a fact like how remote they are they still ashamed by it.
Mary Stucky: [00:16:51] It’s so hard to imagine because this is a very remote people.
Dia Cha: [00:16:55] Yeah.
Mary Stucky: [00:16:56] But they were sought out.
Dia Cha: [00:16:58] Yes they were sought out.
Mary Stucky: [00:16:59] And really given no choice in the matter.
Dia Cha: [00:17:01] Yes. They don’t they don’t have any choice.
Mary Stucky: [00:17:05] So what did the Hmong do for us?
Dia Cha: [00:17:08] Well like I say the Hmong first recruited to as a Secret Army and that they were supposed to go and spy on the Ho Chi Minh in trail on a daily basis. Like my father do is that you then go and stay live in a jungle for months and they will gather intelligence is monitoring turns on a daily basis. How much you know weapons ammunitions and soldier travel through the Ho Chi Minh trail and record and report back to the CIA headquarter in Thailand as well as in Laos and Saigon in Vietnam. So that is one thing they do.
Dia Cha: [00:17:48] Secondly is the U.S. government install some site in Laos. Radar and especially the last couple of site so the Hmong were recorded to protect those three sites from communist invasion. And then if the reason is that they were very familiar of it and jumgle area and those territory they can live in the jungle for months they won’t get lost and they won’t be starved because they know what they eat. And so they were recruited to to spread out in those area to rescue downed American pilot. And so those are some other three faction that they were originally recorded to do for the American government.
Mary Stucky: [00:18:32] We can say that Hmong saved American lives.
Dia Cha: [00:18:34] Yeah they saved many of them. They saved many American lives and you know when I was a little girl my grandmother always tell me this story about is a white man with curly hair who come into her village and he was his plane was shot down. And so he had another friend who was who died. So it was the Hmong men who go and rescue these white men and brought to the village. But because the language barrier they cannot communicate with each other.
Dia Cha: [00:19:07] And this man was so depressed and so sad. And for three day he would not eat anything if he went to sleep in the house. He won’t go to sleep with the pig. And he obviously put his head down here because he was he was so depressed he was so so mad. And my grandmother will say that she didn’t know what to do. So after the third day he wouldn’t eat, won’t drink. He just feel so bad.
Dia Cha: [00:19:33] So my grandmother would go to just yell at him and yell at him and behave like she was really really mad at him and she took him into the house. And you know he got cuts all over his face. And so she put some medicine on on his wound and then you know trying to feed him. And usually the Hmong way is that when you have someone who’s injured, someone sick you don’t, you you prepare a special meal for them. Boil rice until they’re very soft and tender and you feed them that. And so she does that for him and then he feels better. And then took him to the to the district and sent him away.
Dia Cha: [00:20:13] So you know as a little girl she would always tell me this story and I will say I saw she was this tall white men like silk, like corn silk color hair. And you know as a little child I always ask her so what happened to you and to you. What are you say to him when you ask him to eat and drink. And she would just say, “I don’t know so I just make my hand movement and say you point your finger. Now you need to do this and that and so that’s how you can get by you know so.” So the story are really a real story.
Dia Cha: [00:20:48] And then when I was living in Colorado and it was very fascinating that one day my mother wanted to buy a waterbed. So it was kind of expensive in the store so we want to go garage hunting and then garage sale. And so we enjoy around the neighborhood various neighborhoods that we came to this neighborhood where this man was selling because I look at the newspaper and we go in and we drive around.
Dia Cha: [00:21:17] If you saw I go to this house (?) you know he’s selling a lot of stuff in his garage. And first time he saw me he’d just say Oh you Vietnamese? I said no I’m not and he say OK what are you? I say I’m more I came from Laos. It was just total shock he say. Oh you are Hmong. How are you doing? And I the first time that American a total strange asked me that question. How am I doing? Are you happy? Are you happy here? I never thought of that.
Dia Cha: [00:21:56] I have always so busy in my life had learning studying surviving trying to survive and I never thought am I happy here. So I paused and didn’t know how to answer him but he was say in such a tone that he no he knows no know me so. And then they say why are you asking this strange question he said well I was a pilot to Laos in 1969. Tell your people I won’t be here today and so and he say what do you want? And say wow my mother want you know some furniture and that’s why you are here. He would just say take what you want you know I can never repay what your people done for me. So take what you like. Bring your mother in it wherever she wanted so we bought a couple end tables and know what she is looking for. And you know I tried to offer him some money and said No I can never repay you for your people for what you have done for me. And so I took it. And so we took it in and we came back.
Dia Cha: [00:23:00] And then I thought for a few days I said well I shall go talk to this man again and try to interview him because he to be fascinating. And then I didn’t take notes on his address because we were driving around in you know this new development where they had a same street 104 street, 104 court. And so I would go running around to be the same model home. So I couldn’t find him. Bit I got the furniture. So that’s just you don’t know. Some people that I run into my life that is fascinating how they are still remember the story.
Mary Stucky: [00:23:42] Yeah. Is your mother still living?
Dia Cha: [00:23:47] No she passed away last year. Yeah.
Mary Stucky: [00:23:52] I’m sorry. Was she happy here? Were you happy here?
Dia Cha: [00:23:56] You know I think it’s because I thought about it more I think. Yes right now I think I can say that I’m happy. But in the last 20 years have been a struggle. It’s been very very hard. You know even though you might consider that I’m very successful but isn’t, it’s not have been a very difficult journey.
Mary Stucky: [00:24:22] How about your mother? Would she have told me she was.
Dia Cha: [00:24:25] It’s hard to tell. I think if she look at her children’s and the kind of life we have I think she’s happy.
Mary Stucky: [00:24:32] Happy for you.
Dia Cha: [00:24:33] Happy for us. But consider the sacrifice that she had to make. I think it’s very hard for her to answer the question.
Mary Stucky: [00:24:42] What it happened to people or what happened after the war? few small few top leaders were flown to Thailand. What happened to most people?
Dia Cha: [00:24:56] The majority of people who were left behind they were either had to find their own way to flee to Thailand to escape if they fear their life or they stay back and some trying to return to their homelands who went before the war that they were leaving to find their family that they were separated for during the war that they were able to see each other because they were on each other’s you know a difference political factions.
Dia Cha: [00:25:27] And so we have Hmong who were not involved in the war or think that they will be fined which is staying back and some of them were still there in Laos today and then we have some of the Hmong go back to their homelands and they were being put in re-education camps for over 10 years. And you know last year when I went to Laos. I saw one of these uncles from my father, my family, my mother’s side of the family who were put in the re-education camp for 10 years. And they he finally been released and now able to live a normal life. So we have you know people go on to rush? in and out of the war. Most of the people who had fled to Thailand they were on their own and suddenly you know come into the capital city and they come to Thailand and go and go and spend many months and many years are lost or they lost their lives. Thousands of them lost their lives.
Mary Stucky: [00:26:34] How many Hmong died in the war?
Dia Cha: [00:26:36] Well it has been estimated at least 10 percent of the population at a time when in the war Laos, the population were estimated to be 300,000. And so the people who who die were about 10 percent and then the destructions and people who were injured those things are not you know usually not count.
Dia Cha: [00:27:04] It’s kind of hard to know I guess I’ll say here I can’t remember right now maybe it is one third of the 300,000 Hmong in Laos did not survive the wars? Is that possible or is that too high?
Dia Cha: [00:27:17] It’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell but we know that it is a hundred thousand and they have been destroyed. Their lives have been hit. They are either being killed or injured or disrupted from the normal life. It’s hard to tell.
Mary Stucky: [00:27:36] Why did you or did your father tell you why he was helping the Americans?
Dia Cha: [00:27:41] No. No I don’t. I don’t know. I mean during my childhood I never had I never saw him home for three day. He always gone because the only time you were sent back home because he was so sick that they sent him back home. Home for my mother to take care. But when he’s feeling better he’s always at home from ?. And so I never have a conversation with him. I only know from a distance that person over there is my father. And so you always gone because you know the war. So.
Mary Stucky: [00:28:15] What a horrible change from Hmong families. You describe me for the war that there was this really close family life. And then… it’s really hard. Did your mother try to explain why he was gone?
Dia Cha: [00:28:33] Well what we know that he was a soldier then and when he come back home he always has so many good guys who will come see him. And so maybe it’s just the way it is. And you you don’t you don’t know. You thought that the world was like that. That’s all I got when I was a little child Laos.
Mary Stucky: [00:29:01] And the United States government told what we’ll take care of your right?
Dia Cha: [00:29:06] Yeah that’s what we hear from the leader now is dead or alive who say that that’s what the problem is that we’re made. And then you know if you see the video of that called “Becoming Americans” and what one of the U.S. government official does make a statement the U.S. government responsible to take care of Hmong because now what they had done to them and so it isn’t just you know all the people who understood that.
Mary Stucky: [00:29:39] And there were Hmong in the jungle for some time than me. But ultimately many Hmong made it across the border camps. Can you explain how that happened?
Dia Cha: [00:29:53] Well some of the the one who could not escape through like taking them back to normal way transportation like that they would fled to the jungle. Many. And so you know a long journey to Thailand to the border. Some of them, they come to the village and then they will hire a villager to who have boat to carry them across. If there’s no soldier coming soldier around or if they will come to the area where there’s no water around and they will just cut the bamboo and just log and just put on the armpit so that they make a raft and sometimes they would just tie it on the armpit and usually the men would work.
Mary Stucky: [00:30:51] I’ve seen it in pictures under their arms. Yeah.
Dia Cha: [00:30:52] So they were tie it because the wear these sashes were just stay at them and how they spend the time at the village village and then very early the next morning when there was very few people. So they let us through.
Dia Cha: [00:31:08] And so we came from the capital city Vientiane and then we don’t have a place to go in so we can go to some catholic missionary work where all the people had already left and there’s just one priest in it and a man who has stayed behind. So we’re just go and stay there. And then there was a lots of riots. And so the priest told my family and also a few other Hmong family who are planning is to escape take whatever you need and yeah know whatever clothes or food you want to bring you can bring.
Dia Cha: [00:31:45] So my mother packed on like a few pounds of rice and then we were there in for like two night and then they had to go and fly someone to take us across to across like 2 o’clock in the morning. It was totally dark. They take us to the missionary and then take us by taxi and it took to get to the riverside and then we just had to hold each other’s hand and don’t make any noise not rushlight and so you can go to the boats in any day. They take us across. And then we were on the other side. And so it got pretty fast.
Dia Cha: [00:32:26] You know that I have to force my mother’s and one brother and sister and then we will be here two or three other family that we did not know what just happened.
Dia Cha: [00:32:39] At the same time that the missionary So I have two older brothers and one older sister who fled before us and then they came to Thailand. But my sister was long the another relative in addition cams and their two older brother was in different camps and in my mother’s and the two younger brother and sister we were introduced in the other camp. So you don’t see each other until after six month after. We were in Thailand and we were finally brought together in one camp. And so we stay together until we come to this country.
Mary Stucky: [00:33:21] So people should just like you did. Yeah. What’s that like?
Dia Cha: [00:33:28] Well the camps that different can have a different kind of environment the first camp that we live in you have no shelter you have nothing. And so it was just a wide-open field and no tree nothing so my moms had to go and buy bamboo from the village and she make so like an arch in it she bought some plastic sheet and she just put that one over and one under. So that’s how the four of us sleeping. So when it rain so hard then all tough under shelter. And you know just like an off like that in it and you can feel the water underneath you can see the rain coming out in it when you’re laying for days then you have no food because we could go outside only. And so I don’t remember how long we stay in that place. But as far as I camp and then the second count of his day was in the old military training base that I used to train the military so we can stay there.
Dia Cha: [00:34:32] But it was on the bunk on your bunk bed in all the rooms were taken so they made some temporary tent like a soldier tent that they put us in there so they were like if your family you know when these be tents. And if you must live there for over a year I don’t remember them eventually being transferred to third camp. The third camp is barely for us.
Dia Cha: [00:34:59] So at that time we of one family had one unit which is like a 10 by 10 feet and you know we are sleeping in one. It won’t be room. I mean we make our own kitchen. You make your own from outside.
Dia Cha: [00:35:15] And so. So that’s how it was like any it was very crowded. I think there was a lot of disease and illness and because the Hmong live in the highland before we become a refugee and eternally lost.
Dia Cha: [00:35:54] So. So that’s how life was like the first two refugee camps that we live in. There was no school because there’s no space. And so the third one that we live in before we come to this country is there was school for an elementary education and then there was one adult education for people to go by because there are so many people now you can only pay one one session and you have to take so. So that’s how life was like.
Mary Stucky: [00:36:29] Do you remember was the goal. What did the Hmong people want me at that point? To get the old life back but this was not likely.
Dia Cha: [00:36:45] Well I mean that kind of thing. My mother’s is the one who made the decision to fled Laos. She say because we have lost and the communist side before our one time my earliest childhood memories the year and my brother and sister and my mom were lost on the communist side. And my my father was working with Americans. He left. He was no longer to be us but we were lost on that side for one year and my mom took us to live on the phone in the middle of the forest. And it was very hard because to communist would soldier will come in and start to interrogate my mother.
Dia Cha: [00:37:28] And they were asked about why and my father how come she doesn’t her husband and she had all these children. And those so they become very suspicious.
Dia Cha: [00:37:36] And I think my first memory or remembering thing is that they were threatening to kill my mom and they say they’re going to char her two different pieces alive. So they say that in front of us. So my grandma was just a cry. And then all the children we all cried. So my grandmother told the soldier that if you’re going to kill her why don’t you kill us before you come home because without her we are starving. My grandmother was old and we are too young. And so my grandmother say that you could take anything you want you could take all day animals. But if you’re going to kill her the make sure you kill her first. And so they didn’t do anything to kill her. So because.
Mary Stucky: [00:38:19] These were Lao communists?
Dia Cha: [00:38:21] Yeah. These are the Laos communists who come to the village and be you know. At that time the territory the village they were lost.
Mary Stucky: [00:38:31] This is before her before the end of the war.
Dia Cha: [00:38:34] And so you know.
Mary Stucky: [00:38:35] This is who now is controlling Laos.
Dia Cha: [00:38:38] Yeah.
Mary Stucky: [00:38:38] So your mother’s decision was very sensible. We will be killed.
Dia Cha: [00:38:44] Yes. Because based on that experience we know that if you stay and then because my father records and his involvement he will be treated differently. And so she said if you go we can go into the Thailand’s way and you know everyone all the people on his side gone. So we had no idea where it is going. We only know that we cannot live in Laos. So we came to Thailand and the people went we when we got Thailand we had no idea what will happen to us. My mother do not know. And then when they start to interview people to come into this country other western country. And my mother is one wanted to bring. She know that you cannot go back. But the Thai government will not stop in Thailand. And so we want to come over here. But then we don’t have anything because my father is no army. So he can go and say I was there I can say this is how I serve and how many years and this is my title. All those things. no, we don’t have that kind of information. And before we left Laos my mother destroyed all his documents because if he’d been if anyone had got access to those we are be in big trouble. So I she destroy all the document and he had no evidence to prove that he had no picture whatsoever.
Dia Cha: [00:40:08] And then that’s why I stay in a camp for four and a half year because we don’t have it and then eventually one of my father’s old friends who were you know the front line with him in Laos he can get him when it is black and white old photo that they were taking together at the front line. And they were in uniform.
Dia Cha: [00:40:30] And so he got the picture and didn’t go back to the American U.S. Immigration Officers say that you know he qualified to go to America because of the sacrifice that my father made.
Mary Stucky: [00:40:43] Is the ultimate sacrifice.
Dia Cha: [00:40:45] Yeah. Yeah. And then so eventually we got to come to this country.
Mary Stucky: [00:40:50] What year was that?
Dia Cha: [00:40:50] In 1979. It was a long process and it was very very hard. And we you know we just continued to live in the camp in limbo. We don’t know where we going. We had no idea how our future will be.
Mary Stucky: [00:41:14] You’ve been to the temple in the camp. The temple.
Dia Cha: [00:41:21] Yes.
Mary Stucky: [00:41:22] Tell me what it’s like there.
Dia Cha: [00:41:25] Well they decided it was a Buddhist temple and they were originally created to sort of like a rehabilitation center. And the Hmong who come over there they were because they did not want it to a lot of them do not qualify to come here or they do not want it to come and but they do not want to go back Laos so they can go and stay there. It was a very typical refugee camp site. I think I went there quite a few times in the late 1990. There were less restriction so people can go and visit and stay with their relatives for you know a few day and that’s fine. But then since last year they have been a and security issue and so is very hard. It was just like they can lose before you have Thai military or puttering around the camp. And there there’s a lot of restrictions that you can do these and back and there’s a loss of human rights violations and abuses. And so those are very typical camp life.
Mary Stucky: [00:42:37] It was a place where children grow up?
[00:42:43] Yes they born and they grow up and that’s all they know as home.
Mary Stucky: [00:42:49] Not the place you choose for your children to spend their childhood.
[00:42:53] No I don’t think anyone would choose that. If they have a choice.
Mary Stucky: [00:43:11] I mean there was obviously an elite group that had had some education systems or other exposure.
Mary Stucky: [00:43:20] But for most what kind of transition to go from there to here?
Dia Cha: [00:43:28] Learning the language learning how to read and write and learning how to use the public transportation is everything from you know using the healthcare system in education and employment. All those things are new forms. Most of them had to come in. So like take one day at a time and learn each stack and. And so because the Hmong had always a struggle as a minority groups you know so happened is rough and they had an ability to adapt very quickly and usually even they put in a very disadvantaged position, they they were really in in total you know like a control of their life but somehow they were not. They handle it in a way and you know somehow we will overcome. And I think that the help a lot and the Hmong are hardworking people and wherever they are they will survive. And so that just has been you know even though we have lots of problems and difficulty that the majority I think managed to survive pretty well.
Mary Stucky: [00:44:49] It was enormous cultural leap though. We talked a little bit. Can you say more about that?
Dia Cha: [00:44:58] In terms of you know when you look at in terms of technology and urbanization, that was was a major cultural leap for the Hmong. And I think it’s harder for the older people to make the transition and are the younger people. And I think when you look at in terms of materially then people can make the transition easier. It’s harder for people to do with ideologies and belief and cultural practices. And that’s another thing that is very hard for the older people to do to us and especially for men who have total control of their life and eventually everything in reverse that they become like children the parent or the children you know they no longer parent but because children because of the language or because lack of humanity anything in operation in society. So I mean those are not the reverse, role reverse as we see just suddenly that you know you come from a Laos to this country. From Thailand in this country you know you just become dependent. And in a way you’re more from a less developed country to a more developed country but then you rose just a reverse from an adult to a child and you depend on your children to make a decision for you who had no life experience to back them up or for simple you your child or to translate for you. When you see your doctor. But the children as children. They do not understand this complex abstraction we are trying to understand and that they mean to them best that you know they are not the most useful.
Mary Stucky: [00:46:57] Can’t imagine how strange to have my child translating that without the life experience you it to really. Translation would be poor frankly even if they understood the words.
Dia Cha: [00:47:08] Yeah.
Mary Stucky: Well at first the Hmong were kind of dispersed around a lot of different places and then took it upon themselves to find each other again. You can’t use that word. Why would that happen?
Dia Cha: [00:47:22] Well that’s just one other thing about the U.S. immigration policy is that it never had been a tradition in this country you’re trying to resettle people urban urban Area or rural to rual area and that was never intention of the U.S. immigration official. And then secondly the policy was in congruent the U.S. immigration policy is that you bring in the a melting pot and can bring refugee immigrant to this country that you’re spreading across the country so that they were assimilated as quickly as possible to the American society. And second in that they were had a lot less impact on the whole society because they spread out across the country. And so all because only as an extended family the way they are at least three or four generations living in one family but when they come to Thailand to go interview they were purposely break the family apart.
Mary Stucky: [00:48:24] Purposely break the family?
Dia Cha: [00:48:26] Yeah. And if you have grandparents living with their son day their son and his wife who had childrens then you separate and grandparents have a different family so that you have a nuclear family. Only the parent be with their children. And so that that was very hard for the Hmong. Hmong did not know that. And they say well you know your parents had to be with a different family and had them go separate on different. So that’s how you work and then.
Mary Stucky: [00:49:01] Must have been awful.
Dia Cha: [00:49:01] Yeah it was very hard in saying this number about the families should be less than eight people in a family and should not be more. And because they were thinking about you have eight people and that you can live in a house here like four bedroom by here more than to fair flight and ? how it is harder to find this country and it will cost more. So you know all these things are very American way of thinking. And so they will apply to the Hmong who were under totally family structure.
Dia Cha: [00:49:34] And so that is how when when we come to this country and then the whole world you know and the grandparents who are always leave it to the children adult children and the children and grandchildren were not able to live together. And that was another stress and then to put it in their environment where they don’t speak the language you don’t understand the culture. On top of that all the change. And so this is where a lot of the mental health problems which is where the people who handle the situation never thought about you know the lots of these things, mental health problem that Hmong people have are, are preventable is only deal with the social consequence. Then they don’t have it.
Dia Cha: [00:50:17] If we allow them to be able to help each other, support each other especially emotionally they usually and they are not like the hardcore mental health problem they had the pin drop. They don’t need that. And so it was only after 15-20 years in in the signs of mental health problems start to come out. And that’s when they oh what do we do you know now that we have it? You know it’s very serious. And so that says that again the consequences of the policies is to spread them as far away from each other as possible so that they will assimilate as soon as possible.
Dia Cha: [00:50:55] When they first come to this country, it was so hard for them. The Hmong do not know anything more American than America and they had their holidays sponsor know nothing about the Hmong. And you know you used to you know hear this story all the family will tell you this story and now we laugh about it. But then at the time it was very very hard. You had your host family, American family, who are wonderful people who come in you know got this new Hmong family who just kind of resettle in your community and that the sponsor will bring to this wonderful food right.
Dia Cha: [00:51:31] You know hamburgers and you have Apple you have ice cream and milk, cold milk and all this thing Hmong had never eat before and the pumpkin thinking you know how come they don’t rice? Where is the . eggplants? Where is the tofu? How come they don’t bring any of those? And they can bring these hamburger. What do we do with it?
Mary Stucky: [00:51:51] What do we do?
Dia Cha: [00:51:52] Yeah so you we never eat ice cream or drink cold milk or Apple and broccoli. We never had those before we come to this country. and that’s what they brought it for us. And in and I still remember very well when I go to high school and the first few weeks is that you can go to the cafeteria and you have hamburger and tacos and milk and I keep waiting. So when I’m going to have my real food because there’s no rice. And then after a while I just figured it out on my own. Oh this is what American food. And so I either eat it or I don’t. And so you go to to eat those and they don’t taste anything when you when you first eat it.
Dia Cha: [00:52:39] Ice cream. I used to hate it because to me it was so it was so smooth so mushy like something that you put up for baby food. And so it was it doesn’t have any taste and you know you know years out there I live here and that I was start to learn the taste. I eventually like it. But at first it was really hard enough for someone who was so young right.
Mary Stucky: [00:53:03] Everybody, every child is supposed to like ice cream. That’s a great story.
Dia Cha: [00:53:08] Yeah.
Mary Stucky: [00:53:09] Where is rice? It would seem so strange no rice ever.
Dia Cha: [00:53:13] Yeah. No rice. And you know when they start to ask all rice and they’re supposed to go in the bring this Uncle Ben’s.
Mary Stucky: [00:53:22] Oh that awful stuff. Even I won’t eat that.
Dia Cha: [00:53:25] That’s how. That was how they knew.
Mary Stucky: [00:53:32] So but then slowly the Hmong started to migrate within and concentrate in certain areas more.
Dia Cha: [00:53:41] Yeah. And because they were I find it very hard to survive. You know if you you cannot communicate. There’s no translator. And they had to go to work and go to school. Find a house and got their children in school and it’s was very hard. So when they start to know where each other live in this country and I had no idea how they found out about that too. But they when they found out and then they come back. And they move like when you first come to this country we live in California and then somehow my brothers and my mother found most all relative live in Colorado so we moved from California to join them in Colorado. And so when we were there as a group we were able to leave each other when someone is someone who is sick. And then my brother can translate when someone’s dying and then you have more people to help and you feel stronger you feel more at home because you had the support systems and if so when he worked anyplace you have someone who is speak English you can read the newspaper who can help you. And so those are in some other gradual thing that.
Mary Stucky: [00:54:55] You like to talk with your hands.
Dia Cha: [00:54:56] Yeah yeah.
Mary Stucky: [00:54:59] So it makes sense that it would that it would work that way. Let’s talk a little bit about Hmong culture we already have. But there’s more there’s so much to say and I don’t know I’m going to get all of this but there there are all sorts of family traditions that family strong. The Hmong culture is organized by clan. And there are a number of different clans. People marry young. Traditionally, I’m sure it’s changing of it now. Now the statistics are pretty much that that Hmong women marry and have their children fairly young. They have help though int his extended family setting.
Dia Cha: [00:55:50] Yeah. Usually they have help from the parents their grandparents help raise their children. And so there has always been the tradition and then now because they live in American society where they kind of more and more nuclear family that means that they don’t have that kind of support system anymore. So make it hard for the family and for the children as well. My own family does is that they are one other parent who has to work at day shift in a the other working night shift. And so that they can you know is changing taking care of their children’s. And that means that they have less time together and see each other spending time with each other. So that has some consequence in you know family you know breaking down. And as more become more assimilated and acculturate American society they start to think more in terms or individualistic interests. And so that’s why now we have a trend. The more we become acculturated that we become following a laws of the trend of the mainstream society.
Mary Stucky: [00:57:00] We’re seeing quite a bit of success in the Hmong community in your generation. People going on graduate school getting degrees. How would you–Would you talk about that?
Dia Cha: [00:57:12] Well I think like when we first come to this country or when we left Laos in 1975 we had only one person with a have a Ph.D., Dr. Yen Dao(?) who’s now living in Brooklyn Park. But you know consider that in 30 years, right now we have over 200 people who will be advanced degrees. And he is only in this country and especially Hmong women when you come here we don’t hate anyone who have a Bachelor degree 30 years ago, and now we has many successful Hmong womens as was a man who spread in all field, all profession. And so that is tremendous progress when you consider that our parents were illiterate when we come here at least 80 percent among parents who never have any formal education. And in 30 years we have made tremendous stride and now we have thousands of people the bachelor degrees and you know at least a few hundred a master’s degree. And are working from you know government position to business to you know owner, different business owners and so on.
Dia Cha: [00:58:31] So is it just a lots of progress that we make and we also have struggle. Some or the children who are born in this country especially in the in the 90. A lot of children join gang and who were who were just totally lost who don’t know who they are. What are the conditions how Americans are Hmong. And again because you know in the in the home they were. Taught that they were Hmong. But then in the school there’s nothing that teach them more. And so there was this cultural conflict so that the children experience and because other parents are busy trying to survive in this society that they may do may not have the same amount of time to spend with the children so or so and die slowly and drift apart the relationship as well. And so we have some of those things might be some of the challenge that we face.
Mary Stucky: [00:59:40] The Hmong culture is an oral tradition correct.
Dia Cha: [00:59:43] Yes.
Mary Stucky: [00:59:45] Can you explain that?
Dia Cha: [00:59:45] Hmong don’t have a written language at all. We had legends who could tell in a long time ago have written language but then we don’t have written language and in the 1950 when the missionary Christian missionary came to Laos and they were trying to translate the Bible by this no written language. So they send some linguists to come in and create these Roman alphabet for the Hmong so that they can translate the Bible into Hmong so have these written language. And by all language we have for centuries everything transmitted orally and all the spoken word and a daily conversation as well as the ritual of ritual consists of different text that people memorize and pass on from generation to generation. And as was the folksongs and the folktales in all those things are part of the language. And so they have this ability of memorizing these texts for all these thousands of years. But then when we become educated then somehow we do love the tools how to take notes in every only way we can do on those memory any more so. So I remember when I was a child that my grandma used to tell me about this song that I remember very well. And I could tell this story all this folk stories about it whenever I want to tell. I will remember that. And you know they just happened give me the title of the story and then I could tell it and from beginning to end.
Dia Cha: [01:01:35] But then when you stop to be educated here and then I time and now I cannot do that anymore. I can only take notes and I can go by my notes but I cannot remember the story that I used to tell as a young child. And so.
Mary Stucky: [01:01:52] Dia, it’s almost like your brain is changed.
Dia Cha: [01:01:55] Yeah, it’s just the way you’ve been trained to think and to emphasize what’s important. And so that’s just something that I find in myself is this I cannot do that anymore because I have so much thing I have to think about and I put those away. It’s hard for me to come back–if I wanted to tell a story I have to go read it first and then I remember but other than that I cannot work with it anymore.
Mary Stucky: [01:02:25] And your culture is that now of course it’s a written culture your generation the next the next it will all be (knocks on books) this stuff.
Dia Cha: [01:02:32] Yes.
Mary Stucky: [01:02:34] That’s interesting. Entire neighborhoods in St. Paul have been revitalized by Hmong businesses and Hmong economic activity. I mean it’s really been fantastic positive thing for the whole city taxbase.
Dia Cha: [01:02:50] Yes.
Mary Stucky: [01:02:53] OK. Well it’s a little bit about the folk tales and what not. Those folk tales teach people how to live.
Dia Cha: [01:02:59] Yes. It teach you a little about moral your values.
Mary Stucky: [01:03:03] Moral values.
Dia Cha: [01:03:03] It teach you about the language. And you know.. about the culture your cultural messages. It teach you so many thing. It’s having lots of codes that you learned as a part of the socialization process on being a person, a member of the society and the folksongs and folktales and it teach you who is the heroes and who is the enemy you know things like that.
Mary Stucky: [01:03:34] What about religion? You know asking the question of you know what. What is a religion is a big subject. But essentially what’s at the heart of Hmong traditional religions?
Dia Cha: [01:03:48] Yeah, I mean traditional religions and people today get very confused even the Hmong so about the Hmong religion is what anthropology call them animisms.
Mary Stucky: [01:03:59] Animist.
[01:04:02] Animism is like Hmong religions, the version of animism means is the worship your ancestor and to believe that everything have a soul and those two combine many Hmong religions.
Mary Stucky: [01:04:14] Worship of ancestors and belief that everything has a soul or a spirit soul spirit?
Dia Cha: [01:04:22] So to me the soul spirit is the Hmong really believe again. Hmong is compared to Westerner. Hmong usually don’t have a precise interpretation of understanding of what it is that they know that person has souls. We don’t know how many souls but we know that they are at least the person has three important souls and one of the soul occupy your head area, one in your torso and one occupy your lower body. And those soul have to be in touch with you all the time and if they ever wonder off or frightened away that’s when you get sick. And so because your soul is an issue and that’s why you are imbalance you’re not in harmony.
Dia Cha: [01:05:05] And so the Hmong have these shamans which is is a healing practice. Shaman is more like a spiritual doctor who when someone is sick they will consult a Shaman who are trying to diagnose what happened to the soul. Be caused by this ???. So if you’re so having one then the Shaman were trying to find bring him back so that you will feel better. But what the Hmong believes are these three soul is that when, when a person die they want the soul. We’ll go and wash the grave and stay with grave. And that’s why Hmong family will always go visit the grave and bring food and things like that. Is this for the soul who watch over the grave and their second so as to the one who was travel back to you are where your ancestor had gone to the other world. It won’t go and stay with them. And then they would stay there so when you need in them and you’ll call upon and they will kind of protect you and guide you and help you and take care of you in your life. And so that’s why you worship the ancestors of people who’ve gone before you.
Dia Cha: [01:06:19] And then third soul is the one who won’t go to heaven and they will get a new visa and they will reincarnate and how and and what form it determine how you live your life. And so the Hmong believe that a person was born into this world via amending of life, like a visa that say how long are you going to live here? When it’s your turn is expired then you have to go. And when you are your turn is fine then you’ll start to get sick. And if you if you take care of yourself or you have a family will take care yourself sound and you consult a Shaman and Shaman will know that. So the shaman had the ability to go into in trying to extend the visa so that you can stay longer. And so sometimes they’re successful sometimes they don’t. So this is how Hmong explain.
Dia Cha: [01:07:13] And so what is this interpretation come to life is that for Hmong family when someone is very sick in the hospital and the person who now wanted to live your life they have family or you know fulfill the mission and they wanted to go. And you should accept that. And so also the Hmong have a hard time of it on life support way. The doctor wanted to prolong the life by doing this and Hmong do not feel good about that.
Dia Cha: [01:07:47] And because Hmong think that the last thing to go by a lots of assumptions. You don’t just you know express openly and so even though we know that is coming. We usually understood we don’t say much about that. But usually a doctor will say you know you’re going to die if you don’t do this and that and Hmong find it very hard to deal with that to actually make such a statement. Because they believe that it’s only it’s only someone who is in higher power will have the ability to do that. And when it is your turn to go there you go if you just leave. So those are another different thing.
Dia Cha: [01:08:34] But but Hmong really believe the world is is make like two dimension. One is to what we call reality is where we occupy and the other what Hmong call the unseen reality is occupied by the spiritual world that is it is close but because we do not see. So that’s when the Shaman is the one who’s going back to the unseen reality and coming interacting back and forth by the living people can only see the same reality. So that’s how they believe about that.
Mary Stucky: [01:09:12] In the family that I’ve gotten to know. The mother of Pang’s mother, grandmother of the family. She knows the ritual. And for I think it was the child of a second or third cousin. You know it’s like my uncle and I love. It’s like. Finally I said to Pang. How many uncles do you have, Pang? Not really my uncle. You know this is a Hmong culture because it’s not we as we say only our uncle is her uncle but not you know much bigger feeling. I think in Hmong culture the way the little girl of this family has fallen into the lake one summer and gotten really scared. And so this was to call her spirit back. It sounds like something you’re familiar with. Right.
Dia Cha: [01:10:02] I mean that’s what we call hope-lee. Soul calling. Soul calling. call the soul back. When a person is frightened you know any cases that they hear she’d been frightened and then the Hmong believe that your mind that has frightening spirit has scared the soul away. And Hmong believe that a soul is just like a child, is very curious in a lot of wander away. And so you can wander away and not coming back and unable to find you again. So when that happened then did the person would get sick and start to have all kinds of symptoms. And so in order to call the soul back you can go to where the is if you can and trying to call the soul back and bring it to the home and with the bodies so that they will recovered. So those are very typical practices.
Mary Stucky: [01:10:58] I think you explained a little bit about the mental health problems. You know we’re we kind of made a decision to stay away from say the Vang? the trial. This is going to be a documentary about you know it’s not news story it’s not like what’s happening right this minute it’s more like the whole story. And I think he put to rest the fact that there we have seen we have seen cases of terrible violence in Hmong community usually within families. And every community has this. The Hmong are in no way unique. But whenever we look at those cases it seems like a Hmong community, one can often see the stresses of acculturation. Do you agree with that?
Dia Cha: [01:11:50] Yeah.
Mary Stucky: [01:11:50] Or is this just a case where we make too much attention of this. And of course every community has people who aren’t mentally stable. And we shouldn’t draw assumptions that all the Hmong are less stable because it had to make this transition. I don’t know if you want to say anything about that but as a reporter I want to be sure that I’m careful with this subject because I think we can get exaggerated really easily and say all Hmong people have mental health problems and I don’t want my listeners to start to see that there’s something about this journey the Hmong made that inherently causes that. But by the same token it’s sort of true that has been difficult.
Dia Cha: [01:12:32] Yeah. I mean this has been difficult for a lot Hmong that made the transition to coach acculturation transition. But I think the violence is is that is is being seen in Hmong community is not uniquely Hmong. It is not does not have anything to do with Hmong culture alone. It’s part of human experience. Every society we had some people who will deal with such we are in saturation. I know why. And it’s something that I think social scientists need to look more into as a universal thing across you know human society is not. And I get lots reporter who say it must be part of Hmong culture and it’s not. It’s part of every human being’s culture.
Dia Cha: [01:13:22] Now we has some people will respond to certain treatments violently. And the chaos you know ?? and various other Hmong cases are all I can say that a prone to be violence because that’s not true. Only some individuals in society does that. And we can identify who is it until they do it .
Mary Stucky: [01:13:45] That’s really important to say.
Dia Cha: [01:13:46] Yeah.
Mary Stucky: [01:13:46] What about for lack of a better word feminism because it was and is has been a male dominated culture correct?
Dia Cha: [01:13:59] Yes.
Mary Stucky: [01:14:00] That’s changing.
Dia Cha: [01:14:01] Yes.
Mary Stucky: [01:14:02] Is that something that’s going to change more. I mean I guess the question just is how big an issue is that in Hmong culture at the moment?
Dia Cha: [01:14:12] Well I think Hmong women have always been the backbone of the society. They play a very important role society but because it’s a patriarchal society where everything is tied to the lie I think a loss of the culture so far I have continued to stay on the line. But right now the loss of women’s even though they do not talk about the role that plays and what contribution they make also then start to realize that they play a very important part in the certain thing that they will tolerate is something that they will not. And so when the majority especially now that the younger generation who have been educated in this country have been very acculturated when they refuse to act as a group and subscribe to certain cultural practices and then does this kind of create some kind of movement. And to what degree and what do you we do not know yet about.
Dia Cha: [01:15:21] We know that the issue of early marriage is issue now not a young woman’s are not willing to do that and they are postponing marriage and going for education and career first and lots of young woman are very successful who live independently who do not hold whose lives have very little to do with Hmong society.
Dia Cha: [01:15:49] They can go on living their life in the mainstream and they will come into only when they are invited to. And so you can see that there’s some some movement. But is it more intense than individual success instead I guess improve. So I know that answer your question but that’s how I observe it.
Mary Stucky: [01:16:11] Its.. I’ve been asking everyone you know this country puts its stamp on people. It doesn’t take long. All of us are immigrants only takes a few generations sometimes for major change to take place and Hmong culture can be lost. Will Hmong culture be lost.
[01:16:31] No I don’t think it will be lost but you will not be the same. It was ? what change you take on and this like this and I knew would be a new one. And that’s how cultures survive. And there’s no culture that has remained unchanged. Every culture has changed throughout times and through our century and so and every generation change the way they want it to be. And Hmong culture will be the same.
Mary Stucky: [01:16:58] What do you want our listeners across this country. I mean we know cities we know the story. Many of us I’m guessing there are people that never heard this story that will hear this. What do you know about the contributions of the Hmong in the past and present.
Dia Cha: [01:17:22] Well I think that both have a very unique culture. There’s a lot of things that people can learn from them. And the struggle to survive in a difficult situation and that is something that one can show us you know humanity. And then the Hmong just like every other people in the world this time you know we have problems he has solved he has made tremendous sacrifice to society especially in American society. I think in the past and many people have somehow come home and culture of Hmong people is very exotic you know place so issues.
Mary Stucky: [01:18:14] Exotic?
Dia Cha: [01:18:14] Yeah. Yeah. And so so I think you know in a way we are very typical Just like any other human being we face life’s challenge and difficulty thign and make the best out of it. So there’s nothing that uniquely Hmong culture that we may both behave in certain way. I think it is like any other culture in the same way the same way about them because all the change we had and gone you come by everything together.
Mary Stucky: [01:18:49] I know that some as you have Hmong have gone back to visit. I always remember I worked and worked in television for a long time and I worked with photographer for many years from Vietnam. He used to say I used to think I’d go back when I retired and live there and now I’m not so sure. My children are here, my grandchildren will be here. This is my country now. Is that the way most people thinking about that I’m sure at the beginning it was to go back and liberate Laos and take our positions again in our communities. That changes doesn’t it over time?
Dia Cha: [01:19:29] Yeah. I don’t think most Hmong today want to go back and leave in Laos. This is home. This is life you are US citizens. We pay our taxes we work and we become very adjusting in here. You know I don’t think a lot of people want to go back to visit. Yes.
Mary Stucky: [01:19:49] Visit? Yes.
Dia Cha: [01:19:50] No I don’t think so is after your 20 years here. You are very comfortable here. And I’m going back you have to start over again and especially now that the communist government. No I don’t think that people are willing to live under that. So I don’t think many people would do and even for myself I don’t think I can go back and live there. I will go to work and teach and do research. I will always come back here.
Mary Stucky: [01:20:26] This is home.
Dia Cha: [01:20:28] This is home. Now everything that my productive life are here. I’m work hard and I have everything that I wanted to accomplish here. And why do I abandon it and go back to start in one way and go back to Laos. I’m not fluent in Lao any more. I can still speak but. I cannot read Lao. I don’t want to learn the language again.
Mary Stucky: [01:20:50] You’ve done enough. You’ve done plenty. Oh what am I’m not asking you you’d like to say. This’s a pretty loving. I”m been loving looking at this man. (sees photo) Oh this is beautiful. We love you.
Dia Cha: [01:21:09] That’s from a student.
Mary Stucky: [01:21:10] Oh it’s students.
Dia Cha: [01:21:15] I did a lot with a study abroad program and bring students to Thailand and Laos and so. You know part of the group they do with their bought this and they gave us a gift to thank me for it.
Mary Stucky: [01:21:32] That great program. I’d love to go with. I want to go with you so Sometime you need a journalist along.
Dia Cha: [01:21:38] Yeah. You should go. That would be great. You could do a story.
Mary Stucky: [01:21:44] Wonderful. Yes. Translate for me. It looks like you have a lot of students. Let’s see how names are all known. Johnson I bet he’s not no he’s not. And Rodriguez.
Dia Cha: [01:21:57] No. I get very diverse. This was 31 students who make all. You know we are diverse. African-American, Native Americans. Latina. Hmong You know
Mary Stucky: Interesting.
Dia Cha: [01:22:14] Hmong. Was a very good experience for all the student.
Mary Stucky: [01:22:17] Oh fabulous. Anything we’re missing?
Dia Cha: [01:22:24] I don’t know I can’t thank it’s Friday.
Mary Stucky: [01:22:27] (stops tape) I know what I wanted to ask.(starts again) The Hmong as many people in southeast I mean this is a subsistence culture that had a cash crop which was opium. Like many cultures in Southeast Asia.
Dia Cha: [01:22:52] Yes. I mean the Hmong was not the only ethnic group who come to the cultivated opium as cash crops. All the neighboring tribes. And then you know even in the dominant society people are able used the crops as a cash to make a living you know paying extra cash. And so it was everybody does. But somehow the Hmong got it attached more than other people and the whole opium to function in society was cultivated as a cash crops. So Hmong have a strong stigma against it. Young people who get addicted to opium have a very hard time finding a bride or a spouse and people will consider that people who are addicted to opium will be poorer. And so there’s a lot of social pressure. And opium was used mostly for medicines as painkillers and the older people were more dependent on opium because they have more chronic illness. And so people usually who even they are difficult to opium they will still be able to carry on their daily responsibility and you know intense family tasks and household activities, agriculture activity and they were going to their lives just like any other people who are not addicted to opim. And so this is if I the society there’s lots of times you know opium feeling. And so.
Mary Stucky: [01:24:30] Yes makes sense. It is damaging Yeah. Yes. The Hmong saw that.
Dia Cha: [01:24:35] Yeah I saw that and they know and so they did cultivate it so that they can get some money and for cash and trade things that they don’t have. And again it was a long time ago it was the Chinese merchants who would travel from southwest China to Hmong village and they would travel by horses and they would take in you know fabrics and other goods and then brought it to Hmong village to harvest time and they would trade those goods with opium. And they would take opium opium by horse and back to wherever it is. We do not know. And so that how it was until you know the war start and when they had all the mode of transportation who may have used in America. We do not know for sure because again all these things speculations and there’s no written material on it. But then to have someone actually admitted to have any kind of concrete evidence is what we do not know for sure. Again because it’s a secret war. Everything was kept secret. So I mean yeah you may never know. Last Sunday when the U.S. government decided to declassify lots of the material and probably we’ll learn.