BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

April 14, 2019
by blogwalker
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Stories Matter – California AB 1393

“I was born on a mountain.

I tell my story to my daughter.

I tell her write it down.

I want her know how hard I work.”

Iu Mien refugee, Folsom Farmers Market, April 2019

Last week, I joined a group of Laotian refugees on the west steps of Sacramento’s Capitol building. We were there to march for CA Assembly Bill 1393.

Photo of Lao community gathering on steps of Capitol

A year ago, California legislature unanimously passed and signed into law SB 895 (Nguyen), a bill mandating the inclusion of the “Vietnamese refugee experience, the Cambodian genocide, and Hmong history and cultural studies in pupil instructions.”

The Hmong are the largest Laotian ethnic group to emigrate to the United States. But they are not the only ethnic group. SB 895 is missing other groups, such as the Lao, Iu Mien, Khmu, Phutai, Tai Lue, Tai Dam, and Tai Deng, who, like the Hmong, also supported American troops during the Vietnam War. Assembly Members Shirley Weber and Joaquin Arambula have addressed this oversight by introducing AB 1393. The bill would require the state’s Instructional Quality Commission, which develops and recommends curricula to the state Board of Education, to develop a curriculum that includes the history of Laotian refugees.

In my school district, we have almost as many Iu Mien students as Hmong, along with a significant number of Lao. I’m proud that my district recognizes the importance of documenting their stories of coming to America, starting with the role they played in the “Secret War in Laos,” a little known chapter of the Vietnam War. Thanks to district support, and in partnership with the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC), I’ve had the privilege of co-directing our Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project and expanding it to include a growing archive of Hmong and Iu Mien interviews (with more Lao and Cambodian interviews to come).

When I arrived at the capitol at noon on Wednesday, organizers Khonepeth Lily Liemthongsamout and Pida Kongphouthone gathered us together for some photo opps and then went over the plan for the afternoon. Pida talked briefly about the importance of this event as an opportunity to communicate why Laotian Americans are part of the American fabric. Lily added that the process of advocating for the bill would probably take the rest of the day.

March organizers Pida and Lily

We entered the Capitol with the possibility that we would be there till 5:30 pm. That was not the case. As we made our way through the crowded hallways to the doors of the Assembly Chamber, the news arrived that AB 1393 had just passed the Assembly Committee and would soon be moving onto the floor for a vote, as early as next week. Approximately 15 minutes later, we exited the building with lots of smiles, handshakes, and more photo opps.

Lao-American teacher Christie Jackson

Exiting the Capitol with fellow educator Christie Jackson.

A highlight of the event was time I spent with Christie Jackson, a Lao-American teacher in my district,  getting to hear about the trip to Laos she and her father will be taking in February. This will be her first time to Laos and her father’s first time back since the war. He joined the U.S. Forces as a child soldier. He survived not only the war, but also the challenging times after the U.S. pulled out. Christie and her dad will visit his village and then retrace his escape journey through the jungles and across the Mekong River to the refugee camp in Thailand, where he stayed until coming to America.

I should probably mention that I was actually the only non-Asian who came to support AB 1393. As I was leaving the Capitol, one of the women reached out to me and gave me a hug. Her English was limited, but she thanked me for my support. The hug spoke volumes.

Iu Mien women, survivor of the Secret War

I thought of her this morning, when I stopped by a booth at the Folsom Farmers Market, run by a young woman and her mother, to buy strawberries. When I asked the daughter if they were Iu Mien (based on the last name listed on their banner), her face lit up as she shared how much it meant to her that I even knew who the Iu Mien were. When I told her about AB 1393, she said how much she would value her children learning about their history, something she had never read about or heard mentioned in her school years.

Her mother then spoke up. In four sentences (listed at the start of this post), she confirmed the rationale laid out in AB 1393 for documenting the first-hand accounts of those who witnessed and survived the Secret War in Laos. Through these oral histories, our students will have access to the “complete and accurate history of the Vietnam War.”

Yes. #StoriesMatter.

May 7, 2018
by blogwalker
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Shoutout to PBS for “Secret War” Documentaries and More

My school district is in south Sacramento, an area that includes the hidden neighborhood of Florin. By “hidden” I mean it’s wedged between the two booming cities of Sacramento and Elk Grove, yet little, if any, construction or restoration is happening in Florin. Vacancy rates are high, with many buildings in disrepair and no longer habitable. Florin does not even have a post office or its own zip code. But hidden neighborhoods have hidden histories and stories.

442 soldier visits his mother at Florin farm.

Before World War II, Florin was known as the “strawberry capital of the West Coast” and was home to a small community of Japanese Americans, who farmed the strawberry fields, often two generations, or even three, working the fields together: Issei, Nisei, and Sansei. In the weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all persons of Japanese heritage were removed from the West Coast, virtually changing overnight and forever the history of Florin. Few would return to reclaim their farms or businesses.

Florin businesses for sale. Photo from UC Berkeley Calisphere

Thanks to the support of Bob Fletcher, a Caucasian neighbor/upstander who looked after their farm and paid their property taxes, Al and Mary Tsukamoto and their young daughter Marielle returned to their Florin farm.

Over the past 15 years, through my friendship with Marielle, I have had the privilege of learning about the internment years and their impact on the Florin community. With the reality that each year there are fewer WWII survivors left to tell their stories – and with the support of my district and the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC), we began the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project (TOR). The 16-minute video below will introduce you to a number of our interviewees (including Marielle), provide you with a quick tour of Manzanar, and remind you what can happen when a nation fails to uphold the Constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens.

Today the strawberry farms of the Florin-Elk Grove region are farmed primarily by Hmong and Mien families, refugees from a hidden chapter of the Vietnam War: the Secret War in Laos. During the Vietnam War and amid fears that Communism was spreading from North Vietnam into Laos, the United States sent the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) into Laos to disrupt the spread. Over 40,000 Hmong and Mien were covertly recruited to fight in the Secret War. It was the largest CIA operation ever undertaken. Hundreds of thousands of Laotian civilians were killed in the fighting or in retaliation for their support of American troops.

Strawberry fields of Florin now farmed by Hmong and Mien refugees.

As typically happens with refugee or immigrant families, the parents may arrive not speaking English. The children often put much energy into assimilating into their new homeland and communities – and consciously separating themselves from their native language and culture. Once again, hidden histories from Florin-Elk Grove neighborhoods, those not included in history books, could disappear if we do not document them.

Thanks again to the support of my district and our partnership with SECC, Kathleen Watt (TOR co-director) and I have produced a short documentary to introduce you to our newest Time of Remembrance section: The Vietnam War.

In addition to preserving the hidden histories of the Florin-Elk Grove region, we also want to build an archive of primary source documents and accompanying curriculum that teachers can bring into their classrooms. Even if adopted textbooks do not include or reference the Secret War in Laos, or include stories from the Hmong and Mien cultures, teachers can address that void by using the growing TOR resources. For a second grade unit on folk tales, for instance, teachers can introduce our Forbidden Treasure hyperdoc lesson, which features a folktale from local author See Lor and even includes a snippet of See reading her favorite passage.

We are currently seeking more Secret War resources for secondary grades. Kathleen and I looked forward with much anticipation to the recent airing of Ken Burns 10-part documentary on the Vietnam War. We wondered if he would be including a section on the Secret War. He did not.

But we have some exciting news: Adding to their long, long list of outstanding documentaries, PBS has added two recent documentaries: The Hmong and the Secret War and America’s Secret War: Minnesota Remembers Vietnam.

We were thrilled to see independent researcher and historian Tua Vang (whom we have interviewed for TOR) and author Gail Morrison (whom we met during her CSU Sacramento presentation) both featured in The Hmong and the Secret War documentary. We are also thrilled to have two more powerful resources to add to our Vietnam War section.

A shoutout to PBS for continuing to delve into tough topics and to create invaluable classroom resources that make hidden or undertold chapters in history accessible to teachers and students. Last month I blogged about the amazing PBS series directed by Anne Curry: We’ll Meet Again,  which featured Reiko Nagumo’s painful memories of her family’s removal from their home – and Mary Frances, the childhood friend who crossed the playground to stand up for her. Next month, as part of the Crossing Lines Seminar, in addition to the above-mentioned documentaries, I will also be sharing/showcasing PBS’s: Defying the Nazis: Sharps’ War, Violins of Hope: Strings of the Holocaust, Children of the Camps, The War at Home, and Ghosts of Rwanda.

I cannot think of a more valuable resource for helping all of us, young and old, understand the causes and impact, whether hidden or front page news, of major world and national events. With almost 50 years of bringing high-quality programs into our homes, PBS – and my local KVIE – are treasures. #ILovePBS #ILoveKVIE

November 9, 2015
by blogwalker
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Veterans Day Question: How can you be a refugee and a soldier at the same time?

Oct 31 dinner with Daniel Clune, US Ambassador to Lao PDR

Last weekend I had the privilege of joining Daniel Clune, U.S. Ambassador to Laos, for a Saturday night dinner with 300+ guests (mostly Hmong, Mien, Khmu, and Lao refugees from the Secret War), followed by a less formal, more intimate Sunday brunch. The dinner ignited a conversation and invitation for Sacramento’s Laotian community to give back to Laos by contributing to its much needed economic development.

Oct 31 dinner with Ambassador Clune. Photo Credit: Foom Tsab

 

Many of the people who attended the Sunday brunch had also attended the Saturday evening event. I think having a second get-together so close to the first encouraged guests to ask more personal questions. A common thread during Q & A  was the emotional pain shared by the in-between generation, who were only children when they and their parents escaped from Laos to Thailand and then made the life-changing journey to the U.S.

Ambassador Clune at Nov 1 brunch

Many who stood up to ask Ambassador Clune a question choked back tears or had trouble putting into words the sacrifices their parents had made and the enormous obstacles they faced to make a better future for their children. They referenced the courage of their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers, who put their lives on the line when they supported and fought along side U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. Because these veterans were classified as refugees, not soldiers fighting on behalf of the U.S., they have not been eligible for VA (Veterans Affairs) Benefits, including medical assistance.

As we head into the November 11 national celebration of Veterans Day, I recommend watching Vietnam War photographer Galen Beery’s powerful 12-minute documentary on how it is possible to be a refugee and a soldier:

I am deeply grateful to Elk Grove City Councilman Steve Ly for sending me the link to Galen Beery’s film, for including me in many special events within the Sacramento community and across the state, and especially for inspiring and supporting the Secret War in Laos Oral Histories Project. It feels as though the journey into researching and documenting this missing chapter in our history books is just beginning.

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May 25, 2015
by blogwalker
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Kent State 45, Hmong 40

“The legend has become hazy, a half-remembered war story known only to a few veterans of Vietnam … Yeah, I remember. The Ravens – a weird bunch of guys who lived and fought out there in the jungle in the Other Theater somewhere. Hell, what was the name of the country?”  ~  Christopher Robbins, (Prologue) The Ravens – The Men Who Flew in America’s Secret War in Laos

This month marks the 45-year anniversary of the Kent State shootings, an event not likely to fade from my memory for a long time to come. At the time, I was completing my credential program at the University of Oregon.  President Nixon’s April 30, 1970, announcement on national television that the United States was invading Cambodia and would need to draft 150,000 more soldiers set off massive protests on campuses throughout the country. In Ohio, the governor dispatched 900 National Guardsmen to the Kent State campus. It seemed unthinkable that soldiers would fire at unarmed students. The outcry across the nation was instantaneous and exponential, 67 Shots that pierced the nation.

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40 Year Commemoration

As I have mentioned in a previous post, this month also marks the 40-year anniversary of the “Secret War in Laos.” Friday evening I headed to the steps of California’s State Capitol to take part in a candlelight vigil to commemorate the Hmong and Mien soldiers who lost their lives fighting to support our nation’s Vietnam War efforts.

When I joined the anti-war movement, my concern was to bring home American soldiers, many of whom were college or even childhood friends. In 1970, I knew nothing about the CIA’s covert operations in Laos and the many ways the Hmong and Mien supported the U.S. soldiers.

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Salute to flag during singing of National Anthem

The candlelight vigil opened with a young woman taking the microphone and beautifully leading us in our National Anthem. As I watched two rows of soldiers saluting our flag, I wished I knew then, 45 years ago, the high price these soldiers and their families would  pay for their alliances with our troops.

I am very grateful to Elk Grove City Councilmember Steve Ly (Elk Grove’s first Hmong councilman) for organizing this event – and for providing me with the opportunity on this Memorial Day weekend to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War years and to thank those who served our county and came back home and to those who served and came to a new home.

“The least goddam thing somebody could do is come back and say, ‘I’m sorry.”  ~ “Pop” Buell, The Unconstitutionality of the Secret War in Laos

 

May 10, 2015
by blogwalker
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NWP 20, Hmong 40

Twenty years ago, I started on an amazing, ongoing professional development journey by applying for the Area 3 Writing Project’s Summer Institute (SI). I knew from the opening day that my SI experience would provide me with exceptional best practices in teaching writing and, equally important, with an incredible professional learning community. But in 1995, I certainly had no idea of the life-changing connections that would come my way as a result of my joining the NWP community. I’d like to share one of those connections.

At the close of the SI, A3WP director Jayne Marlink invited our group to a celebration at her home. As I entered her hallway, I was completely drawn into an elaborately decorated wall hanging. The intricate embroidery depicted groups of people clearly fleeing an area and attempting to cross a river. Soldiers were everywhere. That was my first time to see a Hmong story cloth. It was a gift, Jayne explained, from a former student, a Hmong student whose family had fled Laos after the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War.

I grew up with the Vietnam War. It was in the news during my high school years. By college, the war dominated the media, with an escalating protest movement on and beyond campuses. So I thought I knew about the Vietnam War, including its extension into Cambodia. But I do not remember any news coverage from Laos. The Hmong story cloth hanging in Jayne’s hallway was a new chapter for me. Over the years, I continued to “read” about the Hmong migration from Laos, mainly at Sacramento area farmers’ markets, where Hmong often sell story cloths along with their produce.

In 1998, I transferred from a small, semi-rural school district in the Sierra foothills to the Elk Grove School District, a rapidly-growing district in the south Sacramento area.  Prior to World War II, the Elk Grove-Florin area had been home to hundreds of Japanese-American families who farmed the region’s strawberry fields. When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of all citizens of Japanese heritage from the West Coast, the history of this community overnight and forever changed. Few were able to return and reclaim their farms.

The Elk Grove USD annually commemorates the forced removal of its Japanese-American citizens through its Board Resolution 33: Day of Remembrance. As a technology integration specialist for the district, it has been my privilege to help document the internment stories through the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project.

History does have a tendency to repeat itself. Two wars later, the strawberry fields of Elk Grove-Florin are primarily farmed by Hmong and Mien. They are refugees of the “Secret War in Laos.” This year, 2015, marks the 40-year anniversary of the Hmong and Mien migration from Laos and Thailand to the United States. During the Vietnam War, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency formed a secret alliance with the Hmong army to fight Laotian communists and the North Vietnamese. Shortly after the U.S. military abandoned Laos in 1974, the communist group Pathet Lao announced plans to wipe out both the Hmong and Mien. Their only option for survival was to flee Laos.

Yien Saetern: Elk Grove strawberry farm

It is through the vision and support of Steve Ly that have I become actively and deeply involved in researching and documenting the stories of the Secret War refugees. Steve’s family fled Laos when he was four. Thirty-eight years later, he was elected to the Elk Grove USD School Board, the first Hmong member. In his tenure, he introduced Board Resolution 59 to commemorate the critical role the Hmong played in supporting the U.S. during the Vietnam War, to celebrate relocation of over 100,000 Hmong to the U.S., and to encourage teaching students in grades 7-12 about the Secret War (in alignment with California AB 78). Forty years later, Steve now serves as the City of Elk Grove’s first Hmong City Councilman. Through text messages, emails, and phone calls, he keeps me in the loop on upcoming events in the Sacramento area, such as a recent CSU, Sacramento, presentation by author Gayle Morrison, or a local hosting of a Hmong Story 40 celebration.

Steve Ly: Thai refugee camp

To commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the Hmong and Mien exodus from Laos, my colleague, the very talented EGUSD graphic designer Kathleen Watt, and I have been developing and curating a new section on the TOR website: the Vietnam War. We currently have completed interviews with 10 Hmong and Mien refugees and are in the process of annotating each interview so that teachers can easily locate and share specific parts of the interviews. We’ve posted snippets of several interviews, and should have complete interviews available within the next few months. Thanks to Steve Ly, we’ve even connected with and interviewed five Ravens. Ravens were the U.S. fighter pilots used for forward air control in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency during America’s Vietnam War. The Ravens provided direction for most of the air strikes against communist Pathet Lao targets.

From my first foray into the Secret War in Laos via Jayne Marlink’s Hmong story cloth, I now have on my night stand a small but growing collection of publications on the Secret War: The Latehomecomer; Tragic Mountains; Hog’s Exit, Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA; and The Ravens: The True Story of the Secret War. Kathleen and I connect almost daily to discuss “Secret War” updates to our TOR site and its accompanying TOR Talks site. Twenty years later, I could now confidently and enthusiastically provide a guided tour of Jayne’s story cloth, enriched by stories shared during our interviews.

It is through Writing Project networks that I’ve come to understand the value and importance of telling our stories. It is through the support of my department (EGUSD Technology Services), in partnership with our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium, that I’ve been able to digitally document community stories from two separated yet connected wars.

As California commemorates the 40-year legacy of the Secret War in Laos, through projects such as Hmong Story 40, I eagerly anticipate expanding the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Archive and facilitating discussions on the TOR Talks site. Your input is warmly invited.

 

 

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