In Their Own Words:  The Diverse Perspectives Of Being Hmong In America

Courtesy Pew Research



In the fall of 2021, Pew Research Center undertook the largest focus group study it had ever conducted – 66 focus groups with 264 total participants – to hear Asian Americans talk about their lived experiences in America. The focus groups were organized into 18 distinct Asian ethnic origin groups, fielded in 18 languages, and moderated by members of their own ethnic groups.

These quotes reflect participants’ initial reaction to the question: “What does it mean to be you in America?” Many of the participants told us this was the first time they were ever asked this question. Others told us their answers to this question had evolved over time.

“I think because we came to this country, in this country, they always provide opportunity to you to choose your path, it’s never easy, you may have [people] try to stop you or suppress you or things like that. But you always have an opportunity. If you want to start a business, there is no one to hold you back. If you want to study and go to college, there is no one to prevent you but there are programs to help you. If you want to live anywhere in this country, there is no one who will prevent you from living there. So, coming from us where you are born, you don’t have an opportunity. You don’t have a chance to do that. Our sons still have opportunity that maybe the parents will send them to go to school. So, I think that we come, we Hmong in America, we have an opportunity to advance ourselves towards the things we want, or our goals. I think that’s why, that’s why I wrote that down to be the first, like, for example, like [Sunisa Lee], she has the opportunity … to become the first Hmong Olympian right? So yeah, that, I don’t think that happens anywhere else, I think if we lived in another country longer than we have lived here in America, speaking of us Hmong people, we would not have had opportunity like we have had since we came to this country.”

Immigrant man of Hmong origin, 39 (translated from Hmong)

“Hmong is a group; we are a group of people that likes to gather. … We have respect, love for each of those in our group. We move not as an individual, we are not into individualism, we move together as a group.”

Immigrant woman of Hmong origin, 56 (translated from Hmong)

“I am proud to be Hmong and to have been born and raised in the U.S. It is definitely a unique and different experience to have.”

U.S. born woman of Hmong origin, 30

“I think because we live in America we are educated now. So, our skills level is different. I want to have a country or a place for Hmong and we can do anything, and we have our relatives. [People ask where I am from, I answer] I was born in Thailand.”

Immigrant woman of Hmong origin, 31 (translated from Hmong)

“Three words to describe what Hmong people are: Resilience, adaptable and survivors.”

U.S. born man of Hmong origin, 42

“I am sad that [we] don’t have a [country we] can represent. … The not good thing is that we don’t have an identity … but the good thing about us not having a country is that we always have opportunity [to plant our Hmong roots anywhere]. Just like you see that we don’t have a country, but we have opportunities to come to this country like [Olympic gymnast Sunisa Lee]. Her parents came from the old country and carried our Hmong name altogether too. … [If we go to new countries and do well, we still can proclaim our name loudly more than if we only have a little country.] So see if you can use that opportunity like this now that we live everywhere, to be loud, do good and do it together … our name will always be really loud. To me this is the most important thing.”

Immigrant woman of Hmong origin, 56 (translated from Hmong)

“I do think in a way it is like, debilitating as a community when we are so closed-minded to like other ethnicities … when [I go to this one bar], like I swear to God when you go in there and if [an outside] person walks in everybody stares, everybody looks, turns their head, they start whispering a little bit. And I feel like that’s kind of unfortunate just because like … it’s a bar, people go there to drink, have fun. Same thing as like interracial dating, I feel like [to] most [Hmong] elders it’s still like frowned upon. And it’s kind of like unfortunate … for sure we are very cliquey. Growing up, like I said, I only had four friends and they were Hmong … but it will be nice to like get out of that little circle.”

U.S. born woman of Hmong origin, 24

“I think every culture is unique, every ethnic group is unique. We [Hmong] are unique too in our own ways. Just our struggles of how we migrated to the States, how we contributed to growing America, I think that’s very unique. We are a very extremely family oriented ethnic group. And like I shared with you earlier, I grew up with Filipinos, and Chinese, and Vietnamese [people], and they don’t have that same structure or family bond like us Hmongs do. … [I also think] Hmong people are very prideful and cliquey. I don’t see that we’re open to making friends outside of our group for some odd reason … I come here and if you go to [a list of local bars], or any of those bars, 99.9% are Hmong people and to me that’s weird. Where are all the other ethnic groups? How come they’re not coming to our bars? How come they’re not coming to our restaurants? How come they’re not coming to our sports festivals? … I think we should have pride in our culture, but we should also open up to others.”

U.S. born man of Hmong origin, 42

“Hmong [people] don’t have a country … and it is sad, but [not having] a country doesn’t [discredit] people. … I believe that every race of people [in America belongs … and when people] have strength, the country has strength [too]. [Because] they take the land and take care of it. … In the area [where I was born in Laos], there are many types of people … and they put one person to oversee it. For example, [the country of Laos is named after one group called Lao], but there weren’t just Lao people there. There were Lao, Khmu, Hmong. There was a city of Khmu that was their land and their place. Or a Hmong village, that was their land and their place but … the leaders came and divided it up. They divided it for the people that have the power or have money or are close to them, so they divided the land. So us Hmong, even though we didn’t have any land, you will gather for our name if you believe we [belong to this world]. … It means that we are a group of people that don’t have a border … [who can] travel to wherever we want.”

Immigrant man of Hmong origin, 39 (translated from Hmong)

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