Revisiting the Hmong of French Guiana

I recently saw this France 24 video on the Hmong of French Guiana. I haven’t written about this much here on this blog, but I actually did some of my Ph.D. research with the Hmong in French Guiana years ago (here’s an article I published in the Hmong Studies Journal). It made me nostalgic to see the village again, as well as some familiar faces. My research assistant, KaLy Yang, and I were treated very well by the people in the two main Hmong villages (Cacao and Javouhey), and I think of the people there often.

French Guiana (or Guyane) is certainly one of the more unusual endpoints for the Hmong diaspora. As refugees from Laos, many Hmong resettled in the U.S., Australia, and France, after the Vietnam War, with lesser numbers in Canada, Germany, and Argentina (in fact, I met one Hmong man who originally resettled in Argentina before moving on to Javouhey). When people first learn there are refugees from Southeast Asia in the Amazon rainforest, it usually elicits a powerful reaction, either confusion or amazement. But then you learn the history, and it makes as much sense as any diasporic endpoint in a small, interconnected world where migration (voluntary or not) is common.

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Breaking through barriers

Hmong children playing on a tractor in Javouhey

The Hmong in French Guiana are a interesting population – refugees from Laos who earn a living by farming and selling their produce in the urban centers of what is essentially a French colony in Amazonia (technically, it’s an ‘overseas department’). I’ve not been back there for a while, but miss it and think about it often. One memory has been on my mind lately: a young couple¬† (√Čtienne and Marie*) that my research assistant, KaLy Yang, and I met in the village of Javouhey.

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