Iu Mien Americans

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Iu Mien Americans
Total population
40,000 - 50,000
Regions with significant populations
California, Oregon, Washington
English, Mien, some Lao, some Thai, some Chinese
Related ethnic groups
Laotian American, Chinese American

Iu Mien Americans are Americans, primarily Indochinese refugees, of Iu Mien descent, a subset of the Yao people.[1] This group arrived from Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand in between the late 1970s to the early 1990s as the last wave of refugees post-Vietnam War, settling primarily along the West Coast of the United States.


Iu Mien originated from China to Vietnam, migrated to Laos, Thailand, and then to the United States. The Iu Mien scriptures and stories were told that Yao people were from a place called “Qianjiadong”, the homeland of the Yao or Iu Mien people. For generations the legend of the “Qianjiadong” was told that there was only one way in and one way out of this peaceful beautiful place through a cavern. This homeland of the Yao, was told that it is very beautiful, has surrounding waterfalls and rivers, and that it is secluded from the outside world. As many years has passed people started to doubt and thought it was just a myth, until, recently Gong Zhebing discovered this homeland of the Yao/Iu Mien.

Iu Mien Americans descend from migrants who arrived in Laos from Southern China during the late 1600s to 1800s. Reasons for this migration remain controversial, varying from political to socio-economic ventures. Many Iu Mien American elders were involved with the United States CIA during the "Secret War" in Laos in an effort to block weapon smuggling via parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. When the American operation pulled out in 1975, hundreds of families were forced to seek refuge in the neighboring country of Thailand. Hundreds died during this journey on foot through the deep jungles of Southeast Asia. In the next few years, thousands settled in Thailand refugee camps. Through programs from the United Nations, roughly 60,000 were sponsored to western countries such as the United States, France, and Canada.


Approximately 50,000 Iu Mien settled along the western coast of the U.S. in states of California, Oregon and Washington. Approximately 10,000 or less have settled in other parts of the country, in states of Alabama, Alaska, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina and other states. This ethnicity group has yet to be included in the United States Census and consequently, current population numbers have been skewed anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000. Since resettlement in America, historical contacts have been and continue to be made, between Mien Americans and Mien in China and Vietnam. Many Mien American relatives still remain in the countries of Laos and Thailand.

As a people from ancient, isolated farming societies, first Iu Mien American generations struggled through obstacles of language, acculturation and more as they resettled in bustling, modern cities. As younger generations Americanize, they face generational gaps, loss of language, loss of culture, lack of identity and more. Community-based organizations formed among communities in Washington, Oregon and California to provide direct services, catering to resettlement issues.

They celebrated their 31st anniversary in Sacramento, California, on July 7, 2007. Achievement awards were given to Mien American military service members, doctors, educators, scholars, leaders, and others.

There are approximately 50,000 Mien in the US as of 2012, with 15,000 of those in Sacramento, and 13,000 in the East Bay.[2]

Iu Mien people have settled all across continents of the world. There are Iu Mien who settled in the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Laos, Myanmar, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, and Vietnam after or during the "Secret War."

There is a large population of Iu Mien Americans that have settled in the city of Sacramento, California, as well as in Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, Merced, Visalia, Stockton, Fresno, Yuba City, Oroville, Gridley, and Redding. In Oregon, most of the Iu Mien populations are resided in Salem and the greater Portland area. In Washington, most of the Iu Mien population are living in the King County of the greater Seattle area.

The "Secret War"[edit]

Mien people (rebel alliance) were very involved in the CIA's Secret War between U.S and Vietnam. Beginning in 1964, the U.S. army began to train Mien people to provide their intelligence, surveillance, and armed manpower during the Secret War. There were three Iu Mien important figure soldiers to fight alongside the United States: Colonel Chao Mai Saechao, Colonel Chao La Saechao, and Captain Vern Chien Saechao. In Laos of 1967, Colonel Chao Mai died by either heart attack or stroke. His younger brother Chao La Saechao was promoted to Colonel. Chao La passed in 2005 in France at age 82. Captain Vern Chien Saechao resided in Richmond with his family, where he passed early 2009.

In 1975, the Lao People's Democratic Republic or the Communist government was established. In efforts to escape political persecution for supporting the CIA, many Mien people fled on foot through the jungle and across the Mekong River to the refugee camps in Thailand. Organizations, like the United Nation, provided food, water, and shelter for many living in the camps. The United Nation could only help so much that they started providing insufficient amount of resources for the people sheltering in the camps. After the Lao Civil War also known to be the Vietnam war, the US accepted Iu Mien refugees to America for resettlement as any of the war torn country.


From 1976 to 1979, the first wave of Mien families began to arrive in the United States. Mien people have faced numerous[weasel words] obstacles in resettlement.[3]

They were forced to move from a non-industrial, slash and burn economy, to an industrialized, post-modern economy. Lack of exposure to formal education and paid labor has led Mien refugees to find resettlement difficult.

Problem existed in all areas, from language and customs to religion and power structures. Since their arrival, the Iu-Mien language has been slowly disappearing. A majority of third generation Iu-Mien are fluent in English but cannot converse in Mienh. Many Iu-Mien have abandoned the Taoist/Animist religion and converted to Christianity. Gender and power relations are in flux, as authority is no longer centered around the oldest male in the family. Many changes have taken place during the last 25 years. It has been argued that "traditional" Iu-Mien culture will disappear in a matter of decades and ethnic identity will slowly diminish through generations.[4]


In traditional days, Mien communicate by singing and telling folk stories. It was a way of philosophical communication and a way of teaching by passing on stories in profound songs generations after generations. Singing and reciting by doing noble ritual offerings to the ancestors from the "Book of Death", burning incense "Tao / Dao" was a way to keep the roots educated and benevolence performing peaceful harmony in ceremonies. "The Book Of Death" is very much the same as the Tibetan "Book of the Dead", and the Three Bardo Thodol. In this Book of Life and Death are the names of ancestors from birth to death, family lineage pass down by generations. The rebirth of the new generation is believed to be in the mixture of Hip-hop, Pop and R&b and some can be found very articulate, powering and political. Nowadays, Mien people usually write their own songs or they translate Thai and Lao songs into Mien.


  • Language: Mien
  • Ethnicity:the pronunciation of Yao people in Chinese;however the real pronunciation by Iu Mien as Iu Mien.

This group is also under the "Yao" classification in China because that is how it is pronounced in Standard Mandarin, the official language of China. It has become apparent that the term "Yao" is no more than a longstanding name used by host Chinese. These peoples traditionally do not call themselves "Yao" and not all "Yao" are Mien.

The Republic of China made the name "Yao" official in 1945 by classification for government purposes. The classification associates minorities that may or may not have related ancestry. Although they share festivities of the same creation story, pan hu (Pien Hung), it is hard to determine what relations are beyond that fact. Through recent contacts, some spoke the same language as Mien Americans while others did not, with unintelligible conversation, clearly distinct cultures, food, dress and more. There continue to be various names under the "Yao" classification for these differences, named by the Chinese, such as: Bunu, Dongnu, Panyao, etc.

It is extremely difficult to find history behind Mien origins when the term "Yao" is used. So many sources (both Western and Chinese) describe the "Yao" history, yet the particular language and people is never defined.

Traditional dishes[edit]

Mien traditional dishes/ diets consist of vegetables, chicken, pork, beef, fish, and rice. Authentic dishes are mien pork-sausages (pork - with mien herbs/seasoning), ah-won (pork-stew), Klang Phen (rice flour that is cooked, complemented with spicy bean paste and sour broth.), steamed or boiled pork, chicken, or beef with Tofu, Ka-Soy, rice noodle and meat salads, fermented pickled mustard greens (ly-seawea), fermented MIEN bean paste (thop choi/ thop zhay), roast/ baked fish wrapped in banana leaf (modernly wrapped in banana leaf as well as foil) and banana-leaf wrap roast/steam ground-pork, beef, or chicken. A traditional condiment is Mien pepper sauce Fuhn-tsu.

Other influences include Tum Som, also known as papaya salad (originally a Thai/Lao dish), and Larb (a Thai/Lao dish).


Moving Mountains: The story of the Yiu MIen [3]. Produced by Elaine Velaquez

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yeung, Bernice (September 5, 2001). "We Are the People: The History of the Iu-Mien". SF Weekly. 20 (31). Retrieved 18 October 2008.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ PBS, Death of a Shaman. The Film
  4. ^ [2] Archived 2015-02-14 at the Wayback Machine, Iu-Mien History, Iu Mien Community Services

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°46′00″N 22°42′00″E / 52.7667°N 22.7000°E / 52.7667; 22.7000