the past two years Collinsville has been gaining a growing population
of people who speak Hmong as their first language. Most of us had never
heard of Hmong until now. Who are the Hmong? Where did they come from?
Why did they suddenly appear in Collinsville?
The Hmong are a minority ethnic group from Eastern Asia. Historical records place the Hmong along the banks of the yellow river in China over 5, 000 years ago. In the 18th century, several thousand Hmong migrated to Vietnam, Burma (now Myanmar), Laos, and Thailand. Most of the Hmong in the United States today are descended from the group that migrated to Laos.
During the Vietnam conflict, there was another less known battle being fought against communism in nearby Laos. This is commonly known now as the "CIA Secret War in Laos". At that time, the Hmong were farmers living in the hills dividing Laos and Vietnam. The U.S recruited the Hmong first for intelligence, and later trained them to fight. When the U.S pulled out of Laos in 1975, thousands of Hmong who had helped the United States were left behind. Many were killed, others became refugees. They then made their way to refugee camps in Thailand to await resettlement in western countries.
In 1975, the first wave of Hmong immigration to the United States began. They first moved to the towns of their sponsors, mainly church groups. Later they began to move closer to family and clan members forming large communities, most notably in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. This explains why so many of the Hmong here now are from Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Fresno.
In 1990's another pattern of migration began. The Hmong began to move to the southern states and to poultry farms in the Ozarks. The climate in the southern states is much closer to what they were used to in Laos. Poultry farming gave them the opportunity to work for themselves. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, by Chao Xiong, by 2003, roughly 1,000 Hmong families had moved to the tri-state area.
Now in 2007, many families are moving into the Tulsa area. They have been drawn by economic factors in Tulsa, and the rural lifestyle available in Collinsville and the surrounding communities. This new generation is much more culturally assimilated than their parents. Most of the families here now were educated in the United States and speak English very well.
The first Hmong local real estate agent, Yer Salina Lee with ERA John Hausam Realtors, told me her family moved here from Ft. Smith because there were more job opportunities in Tulsa. "The pay was lower than Minnesota, so we went into real estate." According to Mrs. Lee, there are currently approximately 30 Hmong families now living in the Collinsville/Owasso area, most of them related in some way. Among these are five real estate agents, a mortgage lender, an insurance agent, two Hmong groceries, two restaurants, and two Laundromats. Many Hmong owned businesses have also been opened in Tulsa by people who have recently moved here from out of state. Others have found employment with local businesses in Tulsa. The president of Nordam even gifted the Hmong community with a church building in Owasso, now the Hmong Alliance Church.
As word spreads about the opportunities and lifestyle here, we should expect our local Hmong population to experience continued growth.
|Check back later this summer for an "Oral History" interview by Danielle Johndrow. She talked with Ray & Peggy Henshall of Collinsville for another NSU assignment. -- Ted Wright|