This chapter examines what happened to the Hmong after the United States left Southeast Asia. Lia’s sister was three and a half when her family and all its relatives decided to move to Thailand. They walked all the way, and it was one of the scariest times they had ever experienced. Soldiers were everywhere, and there was also a great deal of shooting. When shots would ring out, the parents would grab their children, put them on their backs or in their arms, and run for their lives. They often had to throw away what was valuable to them, because the lives of their children were more important. This occurred in 1979 although they had tried once before to flee and were captured by North Vietnamese soldiers. They were herded back to their village at gunpoint, and one of their children died there soon after their return. They spent three years in the village under intermittent guard. The villagers were regarded as traitors, because they had supported the French and Royal Lao government. The Vietnamese treated them so poorly that they often had no food, and one of the Lee children, a baby son, died of starvation, because Foua had no milk to give him.
One month after the baby’s death, the clan decided to try to escape again. They had their own gunmen who walked on all sides of the people as they moved along. Then, the Vietnamese began to burn the vegetation all around them. Somehow, the group managed to escape the fire and then, they chose to take a path of escape that the Vietnamese were not expecting. They walked for twenty-six days and spent a year in two different refugee camps before being cleared to emigrate to the United States. Unfortunately, another child, a daughter, Ge, died in the first camp. The Lees never considered staying in Laos. They were among the immemorial Hmong preference for flight, resistance, or death over persecution and assimilation. Unfortunately, the communist government of Laos viewed them as enemies of the state. Whenever they were seen fleeing, the Pathet Lao troops would open fire on them, because they believed there was no reason to allow the Hmong to live. The communists did everything they could to torture the Hmong: killing them, forcing them to live in the lowlands, burning everything in their villages; making them change their names so as to destroy the clans; and making them stop speaking Hmong. They did everything to wipe out the Hmong culture, but after two thousand years, they were still Hmong.
The Lees considered themselves lucky to be allowed to return to their village. However, it was not all good for other Hmong who were forced to relocate to the lowlands. There, they were exposed to disease that they had never encountered in the highlands. As a result, many died of malaria and other tropical diseases. Also, for the Lees, life in the village was, at times, trying especially when they were forced to allow to communist soldiers to live with them. They couldn’t then even talk as a family, because whatever they said would be reported to the government. Those who were declared reactionary by what they might have said were often sent to seminar camps which combined forced labor and political indoctrination. In many cases, the camps completely broke the personalities of the people who lived there. There was some armed rebellion at first. A resistant movement organized and began a system of furious retaliation whenever they heard of the communists torturing or hurting the Hmong. Sporadic resistance exists even today two decades after the war.
The most widespread Hmong response to the terrors of post-war Laos was migration. Most feared retribution, though some were motivated more immediately by famine. Every Hmong has an exodus story. Some were airlifted, but still had to leave behind everything of value to them, including family. Most of the Hmong walked, and there was never a Hmong who fled alone. It usually took about a month to walk to Thailand with the parents and other relatives carrying their children on their backs. This was also a problem, because babies and children cry, and silence was essential. They would often mix a little opium in water to put their children to sleep. Sometimes, however, they mixed too much, and then the child died. “The horror of the opium overdoses was not the only such things that happened to the Hmong, but they happened to frequently that, far from driving a nation into mourning, they never made headlines, never caught the world’s ear, never reached beyond a community of families that numbly accepted them as a fact of life.” Able-bodied adults usually took turns carrying the elderly, the sick, and the wounded until they were no longer able to do so. Then, through the process of triage, the burdensome relatives were left by the side of the road with a little food and a little opium. When judging this story, the reader must be aware of how the Hmong revered their elders and how it crushed them that they could not properly bury them.