I had imagined this day for so long—the day I would venture back to our “homeland” of Laos, hand-in-hand with my parents, for them to show me all the places they grew up in, to show me what home meant and what it looked like to them.
What I thought would be a welcoming to my roots—a reunion with the lost parts of myself, was a welcoming to the reminder that we have always never belonged, and have always never been welcomed.
What was supposed to be a trip for my father to finally show us all the things he loved about his home, all the places in the stories he’s told, became another scar to remind him that this place was no longer home.
Our homecoming, was met with the Lao border patrols (as we were entering from Thailand), who decided our last names (Vang) were reason enough to keep us as the last of our bus group even though we were first, to “pay extra visa fees” although we already retained pre-paid Lao Visas from the Lao Embassy of Washington D.C., to aimlessly interrogate us, humiliate us, and if you ask me, dehumanize us. With questions that didn’t make sense, and for reasons that were attempted to sound “casual.” “No discrimination here” they said. Just “protocol,” as every other foreigner passes with ease, except any Hmong person who came in sight.
As my dad already foresaw, I could see his friendly smile fade into the redness of his skin—because this wasn’t his far from his expectations, but he had hope that it would differ. The slump in my dad’s shoulders let out a sigh to remind himself that he had to stay composed to get his family across. He reached into his little wrinkled envelop he had been saving money for us in, to reluctantly hand over the “extra visa fee”—which broke my heart in realizing what this moment symbolized.
The reality of life after war. The reality of my dad’s beloved home—a home that has become a mere prison that our people cannot escape nor enter with ease. The awakening of my naivety and what I thought homecoming would be.
Do know, my father didn’t hand the money over in vain.
“I am handing over this money not because I am scared of you. It is a mere cost of a meal for me, but for you, you should feel ashamed for believing you can mistreat people because they are Hmong. I have seen every White and Chinese person walk by this gate without a problem, and you dare stop me because I’m Hmong and you dare try to cheat me because of who I am. You can take my money—if that makes you feel good. But don’t you dare discriminate another Hmong person that passes by here again.”
Trust, that that man’s cocky smirk was wiped from his face and replaced with wavering eyes and embarrassment. His broad shoulders became small, and his hand weak in accepting the cash that now weighed on him.
And trust me, that this was not the last and only time such a disgusting discrimination and hate crime was put on us during this trip, because of our blood and history in this country. The corruption of a government that does no justice to the actual beauty and kindness of the Lao people—who are humane, hospitable, and our friends.
What mark we must’ve left for every country we’ve stepped in, to fear us and our existence. What power must we really hold to make a man in uniform shake.
For Hmong Americans—we fled war. But those behind, were left in it, left to pick up after the remnants.
Here in the homeland, both in Laos and Thailand, we are being suppressed and erased everyday (along with many minorities).
Here, our traditional clothing and items no longer sell. Tourism sells. What used to be a place where Hmong Americans always thought we could just go back to, to get the real “authentic” Hmong things, is now a place where our traditional shirts and skirts have become nothing more than table runners and pillow cases.
The beautiful creation of black smiths can only be found in rare rural villages as our traditional necklaces have become nothing but silver strings and plastic plates.
And our language. Our language. Not far off from just a memory to some (as we experience here in America), only surfacing in what seems to be the cracks of Lao and Thai accents.
As my grandmother once told me, “For you, going back may be fun because everything is new and there must be much to do. But I will never go back. There’s not a part of me that wants to return to a place that is nothing more than a place of suffering and hurtful memories. Going to a place where there is no more Grandpa, no more of my fields, and no more of my house, is a useless place I will no longer need to go.”
I lived abroad for a year and was so homesick to return home.
But what is a homesickness that lasts for eternity?
What is a homesickness that has no place, name or face to return to.
Only fragments of a memory, locked into a country that you no longer belong. And even upon entry, fragments of a memory that no longer match up to the busy streets, tourists, and buildings you see.
I came to the “homeland,” to pick up the pieces of what is left, to bring with me back to the “home” of my generation. Where we are more us than I see left in our motherland at times. Where survival does not entirely jeopardize the existence of who we are. Where our parents and grandparents have already helped us start over, and preserve what we can, just as we did in Laos lifetimes ago when we fled China.
I don’t know how to help our people sometimes. But I do want to devote my life to celebrating us. Passing that down to my kids as well. To attend every new year even if it’s the same every time. Dressing up in Hmong clothes even if it’s heavy. Speaking Hmong even if it’s hard. I would hope we would celebrate us forever for all the hardships and adversity our people have overcome.