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Hmong war widows forgotten by new law

BY: Mai Neng Moua - July 11, 2000, Tuesday

I am the angry Hmong woman from your July 6 article "Hmong confused over new citizen eligibility." I would like to explain why I am angry.

I thought the recently passed Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act would cover Hmong widows such as my mother. At the community dialogue sponsored by the offices of Rep. Bruce Vento and Sen. Paul Wellstone, the Immigration and Naturalization Services told me this was not so. So imagine how I, the daughter of a Hmong war widow, am feeling as I think about the deaths of my father, the 11 men in my extended family, and three of my four maternal uncles who were all soldiers in the U.S.-backed "Secret Army" and died in Laos. All the men in my life who are supposed to be here to take care of me and to guide my little brother into manhood are dead.

Finally, after a decade of hard work, America owns up to its role and responsibility in Laos by passing the Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act, which will make it easier for Hmong veterans to become U.S. citizens by waiving the English language requirement. Except that my mother and all the other widows won't qualify. This is absurd. Are their contributions and sacrifices not as valuable as those of Hmong men who fought and survived the war?

Intentional or not, the effect is the same.

This patriarchal act, which recognizes living Hmong veterans as heroes, does nothing for my dead father and uncles. In addition, it is a token gesture that does not effect justice. For justice to be served, Hmong widows must be eligible to apply for the Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act. There is no just reason why this act should not apply to them.

Last Thursday night, when I saw my mother at her farm, I could not get myself to tell her about the act's exclusion of Hmong widows. I did not know what to say to her. When I go to Hmong elders to tell them about this new law, I will tell the Hmong widow who lost four of her sons and her husband not to apply because she is not eligible. She will ask me why she has been left out, and I will not know how to answer her because it makes no sense to me. As I watch her cry, I will not be able to give her an explanation that is just.

Mai Neng Moua. Public policy & advocacy coordinator, Institute for Education and Advocacy, Minneapolis.