(Interview Excerpts & Photographs Copyright by Minors)
As we interview for our book and exhibition projects those who made the often perilous journey from Laos to seek refuge in Thailand in the decades after 1975, we hear stories that reflect the suffering, the shock and grief of separation or loss of family members, the pervasive fear, and the tremendous confusion that came with their escapes.
These photos were taken at one of several holding centers on the Thai side of the Mekong River where Hmong and other refugees who crossed from Laos were held, sometimes for many days, before being transported by Thai authorities to a refugee camp, in this case to Nong Khai, in northeastern Thailand.
The second article in this series, the October 23 issue of Hmong Times, told of the reactions of the students at Harding High School’s Advanced Hmong Language class to the experience of interviewing their elders. Here are a few excerpts of what teacher Youa Lee’s students recorded, transcribed and translated:
“We were attacked so we had to go even if we didn’t want to. We didn’t have enough food, clothes, or any guns with us, so we ate only edible tree roots. Yes, I was scared of everything going at that time. At that time, we’re very scared of soldiers if we stayed. They said, “Run!” so we just ran out with our neighbors. Everyone ran away so we followed them.”
“When we are going to cross the river, I was very scared, but we thought that if one will die – two will survive, so I jumped into the river. We crossed the river by swimming, using bamboo to hold us afloat. There were no boats. For me I use floaties and for my uncle and the others, they used just bamboo.”
“I left your mom and grandma and I looked for the way to Thailand and I was very, very scared because you have to be careful if you meet the Lao communist on the way they’ll try to kill you. And you have to look and remember the way and choose the same way to come back, and when you get to the Mekong River and you try to cross, you still have to be careful because they stay around the river bank to see whose crossing and if they see anyone they don’t care who you are – whether you’re a man, woman or child – if they see you, they’ll try to kill everyone.”
“At that time, I was still small so I don’t know so much. My mom and dad ran so they just took us with them. When I got to Thailand? When I came to Thailand, Thailand was just Thailand. I remember that we went to live in some sort of house for two to three days before going to the refugee camps. I was still small, but I remember that much. We went to live in some sort of village. There are people who your grandfather knew, who would find ways to get us there.
At that time, I remember that when we reached the edge of the river the first time I stepped on the sand and rocks at the edge of the river and I was scared. I couldn’t go because I was too scared so my older sister had to carry me. She carried me to a boat. I remember that they carried me to a wooden boat to cross to the other side of the river. It was dark so I never remember feeling the water.”
“We arrived in Thailand and didn’t have any houses to live in. We just lived in groups and saw a lot of Hmong people. They then did paperwork for us and drove us to Nong Khai camp and we stayed there. We stayed there for quite a long time and then moved to Ban Vinai camp and stayed for 10 years.”
“When we crossed the Mekong River, we were getting shot at. We lived in Laos and left to the jungle for a couple of years, but we couldn’t live there anymore so we escaped to Thailand. We arrived at the Mekong River and the Vietnamese soldiers were there to kill us. Grandpa was with the people that led the way to the river, but your great grandma, your aunt and I were caught by the Vietnamese soldiers.
We were so scared we didn’t even think that we would be able to live the life that we are living right now. We just lived as each day went on and didn’t know when we’ll die. If the Vietnamese soldiers killed us one day then that’s that, but if we escape and they don’t see us then we’ll just see what happens. We didn’t know that we would be having this life in the future at all.”
Anyone recognizing someone in these and other photos in this series, please kindly contact us, it will help this project greatly. Thank You.
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