Skip to main content

The future outside of borders and empires

By Lisa Yang

From an early age, I’ve often heard HMoob adults going through deep sadness, mourning the fact that HMoob tsis muaj teb chaws, or how HMoob don’t have a country. This saying is integral to growing up HMoob as stateless people. Statelessness constantly reminds us everywhere we go of our displacement and subjugation. In this College Paj Ntaub study, a HMoob participant, Ryan, discusses his experiences as part of a people without a country: 

“… I did get questions of people asking me like, “Oh, what are you?” and “what kind of Asian are you?” And when I would tell them, like “Oh, I’m Hmong.” They wouldn’t know where that is. They’d be like, “where is that?” And I told them, “Well, we don’t really have a place like how Chinese have China and Japanese have Japan.” And it was kind of a harder concept for them to grasp, which kind of made me feel a little like… little more excluded. Like, “Okay, so now, I know you can’t… even, as a fellow student, you can’t… you can’t follow where I’m from…” So, that kind of belittled me a little bit more in high school.” 

Unlike China and Japan, HMoob is not a place on maps. Yet, without a country on maps, HMoob still exist as a people. The participant was rendered illegible, unable to be fully understood as a whole person by his non-HMoob peers. Their inability to grasp that groups of people can exist without ties to a country made him feel excluded and belittled. Ryan, like many of us who grew up HMoob, feel the ostracization and humiliation of being stateless.  

The connection to a nation-state seems like for stateless people the only way to gain legitimacy. That is why many still hold onto this idea of a HMoob country. Some HMoob have even fought for veteran status, with the hopes of having HMoob fully incorporated into the United States. I, for example, remember sifting through photo albums in the basement of my home, where I found a picture of my dad taking us to a protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol. I imagine these men in the picture had rallied their families in lines holding American flags, in hopes of proving our allegiance to the United States. With the HMoob’s subjugation by multiple empires throughout our history, many are still searching for a country that could finally protect HMoob people’s interests and rights. 

And now, the conversations around nation-building are as pressing as ever. This is with the contentions of Israel’s right to exist and Palestinian displacement all unveiling on the global stage. For HMoob, we understand the violence of displacement and not having rights under nation-states. However, many of HMoob Americans, like the American public, have been indifferent, as we watched all of this unfold on the global stage. On the other side of the coin, if not indifferent, many of us fear these groups that are propped as enemies against the United States and its allies.  

As consumers of American media, we are taught to believe the same propaganda tactics that hid the United States involvement in our own displacement. For example, growing up as a HMoob American citizen in post-9/11 America, I felt little to no connection to myself, as the news portrayed the Middle East as a faraway warzone with extremist religious leaders and in need of United States intervention. Similarly, in 2023, the media portrayed Israel as a state defending itself from Hamas, painting all Palestinians as terrorists and deserving of the violence enacted onto them. These same propaganda tactics were done when the American news media participated in previously villainizing Vietnamese people, justifying the violence the United States was committing in Southeast Asia. The mainstream media hid the fact that the United States was bombing Southeast Asia, including Laos, a supposedly neutral site, and committing other war crimes. The United States wars in Southeast Asia were only unveiled to the public by journalists and photographers documenting the atrocities overseas. This unveiling shifted many opinions, leading to protests across the United States. The people united were able to urge the United States to cease their crimes overseas. 

Now, creators on social media have shifted the decades long mainstream support for Israel. They continue to amplify the Palestinian struggle for freedom from a genocide by the Israel occupation with the support from the United States. From these documentation on social media, people witnessed the horrors, such as soldiers degrading and murdering Palestinians, medical aid workers, and journalists. People see daily the onslaught of carpet bombings, killing and disabling people in Gaza. Palestinians on the ground show us the starvation and siren sounds being used to torture people in Gaza for months, and much more imagery. From these unveilings, a large portion of public view has changed. Many are learning that none of Israel’s claims, including weaponizing Jewish oppression or saving hostages, justifies Palestinian destabilization and genocide. 

Israel has decades of forcibly displacing Palestinians from their homes and maintaining a brutal police-state towards Palestinians. As an empire, Israel has now contributed to the genocide and displacement of people across the globe, such as peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Israel has also trained United States police forces, aiding in the police-state here against Black people and other marginalized people. The United States and Israeli Empires repeatedly infiltrate and destabilize communities, creating irreversible violence onto people whose freedom stand in the way of their nation-building projects. And their violence comes with almost no consequences. These unveilings call on everyone to confront our own apathy and silence. In turn, we are also challenged to take a stand with these communities.  

Specifically, for HMoob Americans, this moment on the global stage challenges our desires for inclusion within empires like the United States. As HMoob, we have our own history of unspeakable oppression under multiple empires. In our history, HMoob people seeking a HMoob nation were coerced into a “secret war” to do the imperial bidding for the United States. We perpetrated violence against other ethnic groups in Laos, including our own. We have suffered under empires, have been continuously been displaced, and were forced to assimilate into every nation-state we exist in. Empires have been responsible for HMoob people’s displacement, and still continues to oppress stateless people globally. For all people living under empires, we must be critical of the narratives by empires we consume. 

Understanding empires and our own complex histories remind us that we are connected to all people who are under today’s imperial violence. We are connected past the borders that confine us, from Laos to China, to Congo, to Palestine, to the United States. Knowing this, there is a way forward to honor our ancestor’s and our people’s hopes for safety, community, and belonging without aligning ourselves with empires who conquer and exploit. In solidarity, there can be a future for all of us outside the oppressive borders created by nation-states, if we fight for justice.