If you haven’t caught it already, The Independent‘s latest dispatch from the jungles of Laos is well worth a read. It’s an eye-opening look at life for the Hmong tribespeople who decided to remain in Southeast Asia after the end of the Vietnam War, rather than take the CIA up on its offer to resettle them in America. (The full background on that drama here.) These Hmong continue to be hunted by their former Communist foes, and thus live in abject circumstances while on the run. It is a brutal way to live:
Frequent attacks force the groups to change camp every two weeks and break up into small numbers to avoid large-scale offensives by the Laos army. This leaves the community no chance to farm food or forge a proper way of life. With no other choice, boiled tree shrub has become their daily diet and at times they are lucky if they can catch a jungle rat or monkey. The lack of nutrients has left the group visibly malnourished – both young and old have swollen abdomens.
Eating the tree shrub leaves them starving, so like animals, women and children take to the surrounding hills to dig on their hands and knees. Outside the camp, they claim that many women and children have been killed by the Laos army and the “lucky ones” have bullet wounds to show.
What makes this piece all the more startling is the obvious contrast that pops to mind: How much these lives differ from those of Hmong who chose to take Uncle Sam up on his resettlement offer. In the mid-1970s, the thought of going into overseas exile must have seemed absolutely terrifying to Hmong refugees, who certainly had no inkling that the Communists’ vendetta would last for another 35 years. But those who gambled on immigration have largely reaped tremendous rewards, including a growing measure of political power. And there is perhaps no surer symbol of that prosperity than the annual Miss Hmong International pageant, an event that could only occur once significant prosperity had been obtained.
The clip above features Nkauj Mog Mim Hawj, the reigning Miss Hmong International; we’ve got it cued up to the most salacious part, which is still about 100 times tamer than anything you’ll see at Miss America. (It’s all about her calves, not her curves.) We do like the fact, however, that the young lady also has her ardent critics. No beauty pageant can be truly American until it includes some mean-spirited sniping, after all.