Memorial Day is time of remembrance for the sacrifice that men and women in the armed forces have given for the United States and preserving peace globally. This Memorial Day is especially significant to the Hmong and Lao veterans in the United States as it is the first one after the passage of the Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act was passed on March 23rd.
Under the Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act, veterans have earned the right to be buried in U.S. national cemeteries (Arlington Cemetery excluded). Under the guidelines of the Act, nearly 10,000 Hmong veterans would qualify for this honor.
On May 14-15, Laos and Hmong veterans met with President Donald Trump at the White House, an honor not extended to them since the end of the Vietnam War. The month-long celebration of these veterans culminated on Memorial Day with an event widely attended by members of the public and government at the Laos Memorial at Arlington Cemetery.
These veterans are often unknown to the larger US public, yet they played extremely important roles in the Vietnam War, fighting alongside US troops, and in the CIA’s secret war against communists in Laos during the Laotian Civil War.
On May 14, 1975, the last American CIA workers withdrew from Laos, paving the way for their Hmong counterparts to journey to the United States to escape persecution. Over 100,000 fled to the United States and have since received expedited pathways to citizenship thanks to the Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act of 2000. Fresno, California alone is home to over 20,000 people of Hmong descent.
In 2016, both Wisconsin and Minnesota dedicated new memorials to Laos and Hmong veterans to highlight their sacrifices and their importance. Minnesota is home to the largest Hmong population per capita in the United States. In January 2018 it also elected Ms. Sophia Vuelo as its first Hmong-American judge.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.