The Hmong people are an ethnic group originating from the mountainous areas in the south of China. Their name comes from the dialect they speak. There are significant populations in Southeast Asia and the United States in addition to their Chinese homeland. The Hmong are severely persecuted today in Laos because of their anti-Communist role in the Vietnam War, and the American government's reluctance to help them met with much controversy beginning in the 1990s. Luckily, this led to the repatriation of many Laotian Hmong to the United States and other countries, but genocide against this group continues in Laos to the present day.
According to linguistic and genetic evidence, the Hmong have lived in southern China for at least 2,000 years. References to the Miao, the larger ethnic group to which they belong, can be found in Chinese literature dating from the first century CE. Miao is considered derogatory by many non-Chinese Hmong, though it is still in common use in China, as the syllable for the name does not exist in standard Chinese. Controversy also exists over the use of Hmong itself, as one of the largest subgroups does not use voiceless nasals (the "hm" sound) and is therefore more properly called Mong. Some believe that the use of name as a blanket term marginalizes the Mong, while others feel that the distinction is unnecessarily divisive.
In the 18th century, large numbers of Hmong migrated to Southeast Asia in response to the oppressive Qing Dynasty ruling in China. Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand still have some of the largest populations after China. During the Vietnam War, beginning in 1960, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited Laotian Hmong to defend against Communist forces. In 1975, US forces withdrew and Communists gained control over Laos. The Hmong were heavily persecuted, tortured, and killed, and many fled to the mountains of Laos or to Thailand.
The situation of the Hmong in Southeast Asia became a hot issue in the 1990s, when large numbers were forcibly relocated from Thailand to Laos with the support of the United Nations and the Clinton Administration. The repatriated Hmong suffered renewed persecution, and many were relocated to safer countries, including the United States, as a result of the ensuing controversy. Today, many live in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, as well as in France and French Guiana. Sadly, those in Laos and Thailand often continue to suffer persecution.