From “the Secret War” in the hills of Laos to the refugee camps of Thailand to the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, a Hmong woman recounts the story of her family’s emigration.
Country Focus: Laos (Pathet Lao in Lao)
The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
By Kao Kalia Yang
Published by Coffee House Press, 2008.
Time period: 1975-2007
Notes: The Hmong are an ethnic minority of China who left their homeland to escape persecution during the 1800s. Hundreds of thousands made a new home in Laos. The Hmong fought a “Secret War” against communist forces in Laos that paralleled the Vietnam War. After the American military pulled out and their enemies prevailed, the Hmong people fled for their lives. Kao Kalia Yang’s is but one thousands of families who found refuge in the U.S. Yang never set foot in Laos (she was born in a Thai refugee camp), but her family, particularly her revered Grandmother, instilled in her a powerful emotional connection with her ancestral homeland.
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The Latehomecomer is also a bit of late bloomer. Nearly half the memoir describes events that happened before Yang was six years old, and her account of them feels second-hand. As the years advance, Yang’s memory of them improves and her book begins to shine. I found it impossible not to marvel at the hard-working Yangs and their extraordinary family ties.
I come from a family that believes profoundly in the strength of numbers. The adults talked about how they had survived the war in Laos only because there were so many of them; there were seven brothers who could help each other. They said that during the saddest times in a life, when the meaning of staying alive is all confused, the only way to survive is to hold on to each other. The only way to get through life is to have a big team on your side. The strongest thing that can hold people together is blood. They were all my grandma’s children and they believed the same thing she did: the more of them there were, the stronger their hold on life — the more sons, the stronger their hold to the earth.
Laotian writers need to be translated. Titles written by westerners about Laos are included below.