Kou Moua takes his first step in Laos since he fled with his family in 1975 when he was eight years old. Once in Laos we applied for a one-day visa at the immigration office. In a welcoming gesture an official granted Kou a 60-day visa.
Posted by Jean Van Houten
When Mr. Raney and Mr. Moua taught a lesson on Hmong history, each student wrote one question for Mr. Moua. Five or six students asked the same question: "Why did you have to escape Laos to Thailand?"
Mr. Moua used his own story and his expertise on Hmong history to answer the students' questions.
Two story cloths hung in front of the classroom to represent 5,000 years of Hmong history. Many Hmong migrated south from China to live in the mountains of Laos. Mr. Moua explained the migration and talked about how many Hmong people helped the Americans fight in the CIA’s Secret War.
After the U.S. left Laos in 1975, many Hmong people escaped persecution or death by the Communists who ruled the country. Mr. Moua and his family flew out of Laos on a small plane to Thailand on May 13, 1975. In just a few days the U.S. airlifted about 2,500 Hmong people from Long Cheng to refugee camps in Thailand. But several hundred thousand Hmong people fled on foot. They had to escape through thick jungles, keeping the children quiet so the Communists would not find them.
The Communist soldiers (Pathet Lao) in Laos hunted down and killed many Hmong as punishment for helping the U.S. Or, if they weren't killed, they might be sent to relocation camps. The details of the escape piqued the children’s interest when they saw the soldiers on the story cloth carrying guns.
In this closeup shot of a large story cloth, you can see Communist soldiers shooting at Hmong people as they approach the Mekong River on the Laos side. The embroidered depiction of the river shows some of the ways people attempted to cross and the dangers they faced.
If the fleeing Hmong made it through the jungle, they had the terrifying step to cross the Mekong River, which makes up much of the border between Thailand and Laos. Some were fortunate enough to hire a person who would transport them across the river by boat. Less fortunate people, often entire families, had to cross with improvised rafts made from bamboo, banana tree trunks, or inner tubes. And still there was the fear of being shot by Pathet Lao soldiers as the trip across often took as long as three hours.
When safely arriving in Thailand, Thai soldiers brought them to refugee camps. Many people in Eau Claire, like Mr. Moua and his family, lived in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. Mr. Moua lived in the camp for thirteen years before arriving in Eau Claire in 1987. His brother Nu was born in Ban Vinai in 1976 and lived there until he was 14. He left the refugee camp with his family to live in Chai Thong in Northern Thailand.
We took this picture of the Mekong from Thailand after our one-day trip to Laos.