In almost every Paj Ntaub story cloth that tells the story of the Hmong in Laos, you will see an airplane in the top right and three soldiers from the Communist Lao Army, wearing forest green uniforms, pointing guns at the Hmong –who are wearing their traditional signature black clothes with blue and pink trim.
In the middle you will find a river -The Mekong, and at the very bottom of the story cloth is Thailand, on the other side of this vast river that separates and connects Laos to Thailand.
There are Hmong men, women and children who swim across, ride on rafts and makeshift floats, in the direction of Thailand.
There is a lot of chaos in most of these story cloths, almost like there is no rhyme or reason.
The reality is that thousands of Hmong people swam across this river to escape persecution in Communist Laos, in the 1970s. Many have experienced and know this story first hand, including my own parents.
My father wasn’t the best swimmer but he was strong. He managed to swim across, bringing along my older siblings and my mom across this river.
Did you know the Mekong is wider than the Detroit River? If my Google Map calculation serves me right, the distance between Laos to Thailand is about 2375 feet wide (0.45 Miles long) and the distance between Detroit to Canada is approximately 2000 feet wide (0.37 miles).
Can you imagine swimming across the river in the middle of the night while bombs and guns are going off? I often wonder how much strength and perseverance my parents had to have had in order to endure this long and terrifying trek!
This is an illustration I did that is based on these story cloths and real life stories. When I look at this with my own children, I can explain to them the complex and difficult history of their grandparents in such a simple illustrative format.
As a first generation refugee, I can share with them my very own story so that they never forget where we came from and how long we have come as a people.
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