MSU Bias Busters project highlights Hmong Americans, still struggling for recognition half a century after the Vietnam War

Click this cover image to visit this new MSU Bias Busters book’s Amazon page.

Hmong Americans disagree with a U.S. Census classification

By JOE GRIMM
Director of the MSU School of Journalism Bias Busters project

Nearly 50 years after their evacuation to the United States from Southeast Asia in significant numbers, Hmong Americans are still fighting for an accurate portrayal by the U.S. Census.

Hmong people, who fought in the CIA’s Secret War, were hurriedly flown to the United States and fled to refugee camps when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam. Today, they are fighting for proper recognition of their origins.

In March—as the Associated Press reported—the U.S. Office of Management and Budget announced several revisions in the way the census categorizes people. It plans to classify Hmong people as East Asians, according to one Associated Press article. Representatives of the group say this is a misclassification that ignores their history and amounts to an erasure of their ethnic group. It can also perpetuate the Model Minority Myth.

The issue is keenly sensitive to Hmong people, whose history has left them without a homeland, in part because of the way they were treated in China.

A second Associated Press article explains the problem. Hmong people say the federal government has incorrectly decided Hmong people originated in China. the big player in East Asia. However, Hmong origins are older and farther north than their years in China. The nomadic Hmong people are asking to be recognized as coming from Southeast Asia, where they settled and fought for the U.S.

The East Asian classification stings because their trek through China led to persecution. Their written language was banished. They were not allowed political standing. They kept searching for a home and fled south into Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia—places in Southeast Asia. Having never had an opening to establish a homeland of their own, Southeast Asia is the closest thing Hmong people have to one.

The issue is about far more than history and identity, which are important in and of themselves. Given the way the U.S. government uses Census data to allocate federal resources there is a practical reason to be correctly classified. According to the bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, income among Hmong people in the United States was about $26,000 per person. For East Asian Americans, it was almost double that. Being put into the East Asian category buries this important disparity and could cost Hmong people opportunities once again.

In AsAmNews, Valentina Lewis quoted Southeast Asia Resource Action Center Executive Director Quyen Dinh: “One of the biggest harms is the mistrust that now exists within the community from the youngest generation to the elders, who don’t even want to be counted in the next census 2030.”

The Census Bureau reports it is reviewing decisions about how Hmong people will be classified by the 2030 census.

100 Questions and Answers About Hmong Americans: Secret No More,” will be available on Amazon on July 2. It addresses many questions tied up in Hmong identity and history and the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision. The guide is published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism as part of its Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence

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