Made into cold-war castoffs when the Communists won that proxy war in 1975, more than 100,000 Hmong (pronounced MONG) refugees were resettled around the world in places like St. Paul; Fresno, California; Thailand; France; Australia; and — quietly, but successfully — this former prison colony on South America's northeastern hump.
Since arriving more than 30 years ago, the Hmong, who account for only about 1.5 percent of French Guiana's 210,000 people, have thrived. Once penniless, the refugees and their families produce up to 80 percent of the fruit and vegetables sold in this overseas French department, which must import other food at a high cost from mainland France or Brazil.
The first time I met Hmong was in the farmer's market in Missoula, Montana, while attending university there. The IHT story reminded me of the ties that are created by diaspora, but also of the scant coverage given Asian minorities in Latin America. When I cover the Chinese in Mexico, my students are generally very surprised. Unfortunately, some of my students from Mexico (well, maybe fortunately considering the confessional way in which it happens) disclose that most of the really offensive racial jokes they know and freely tell are about Asians - and the class usually agrees that such jokes about Latinos would result in big trouble. Nobody laughs when we discuss Chinese hanging from the lamp posts of Torreon, however.
The level of respect we have cultivated for some groups far out strips that developed for others. I think that perhaps for the Hmong it has been some sort of producer ideology driving acceptance as opposed to the "money changer" position that the Chinese have had in the Pac Rim world (think Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawai'i, Mexico, etc.).
Anyway...Hmong in French Guiana...I imagine there is a dissertation in there for some grad student.