On the eleventh day, we boarded a jet destined for America.: Becoming Minnesotan

See Lee and family, Laos, 1970s.
  • Name - See Lee
  • Age at interview - 80
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 01.23.2000
  • Family arrives in a U.S. airport.  Photo courtesy MayKao Hang.
    Yang family with their Lao sponsor, walking out of the airport in Milwaukee.

    The Journey

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    Essential Question

    Coming to America: What did coming to America symbolize for this person?

    The Journey: How did this person get to the U.S.?

    Words to look for

    refugee camp

    Background Information

    When the Americans withdrew from Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, the Hmong people were in great danger.  During the war the Hmong had fought with the Americans, so the Vietnamese Communists and Communist Pathet Lao were sure to go after them as punishment.  Many Hmong fled to Thailand where they lived in refugee camps.  Knowing that they could not go back to their homeland, a large number of them sought refugee visas to come to the U.S.  There have been four major waves of Hmong resettlement in the U.S. between 1975 and today.  If selected, each family would be placed in a specific place in the U.S. where they had a sponsor to accept them and help them find jobs, housing, and other services to get settled.

    To learn more about Hmong history and culture, visit our Hmong Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download See Lee 1
    0:35 Minutes | 0.56Mb


    Note: Original interview was conducted in Hmong.  Excerpt is read in English by MayKao Hang.

    Narrator: See Lee (SL)

    SL:  They did not allow us to move out of the refugee camp. They did not want us to cut trees for firewood. We just stayed in the refugee camp. We stayed in the camp for six months. On the eighth day, we heard from the Immigration office that we have been cleared through and we will be coming to America. We stayed overnight in Bangkok for two nights. On the eleventh day, we boarded a jet destined for America. I don’t remember the city name when we got to America but we were delayed for two additional days. It was the sixteenth day before we finally reached my son.

    Related Glossary Terms

    refugee camp

    Noun:  A temporary settlement where those fleeing political persecution, war, or natural disaster can live before returning home or permanently resettling elsewhere.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 476