Who Are Hmong Americans?

U.S. gymnast Suni Lee made headlines when she won gold in the women’s individual all-around event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Yet her win did much more than demonstrate her athletic prowess—it shined the spotlight on the most marginalized Asian community in the United States: Hmong Americans. As the first Hmong American Olympian, she represents a little-known, often underserved community that has made significant contributions to the country.


Who are the Hmong people?


The Hmong people are an ethnic group that traces their roots to southern China. Today, the majority of them live in southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar. Other countries with significant Hmong populations include: the United States, Australia, France, and Canada.


Much of their migration throughout Asia and the West has been motivated by persecution, genocide, and war. As a result, many people of Hmong descent speak the language of their adopted homeland as well as or instead of Hmong, their heritage language. In addition to Hmong, many people speak Chinese, Thai, Laotian, French, English, or Burmese.


A Brief History of Hmong Communities in America


As of 2019, approximately 327,000 people of Hmong ancestry live in the United States. However, despite their small numbers, they’ve made an outsized impact on the country’s history.


In the early 1960s, the CIA Special Activities Division recruited, trained and led Hmong soldiers in Laos against the invading North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War. This “Secret Army” was organized into several mobile regiments and divisions, including various Special Guerilla Units.


After the Vietnam War ended, thousands of Hmong escaped to Thailand, where they lived in refugee camps. About 90% of them eventually resettled to the U.S. The rest resettled in Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Australia.


U.S. Metropolitan Areas with the Largest Hmong Populations


Like Suni Lee, the majority of Hmong Americans live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota metropolitan area. However, there are several other large Hmong communities throughout the U.S. Below is a list of the ten largest:


  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN: 81,000 Hmong residents
  • Fresno, CA: 35,000
  • Sacramento, CA: 27,000
  • Milwaukee, WI: 11,000
  • Hickory, NC: 8,000
  • Stockton, CA: 7,000
  • Detroit, MI: 7,000
  • Merced, CA: 6,000
  • Wausau, WI: 6,000
  • Sheboygan, WI: 5,000


Compared to other Asian American groups, Hmong are typically poorer and less likely to be proficient in English. Roughly 17% of Hmong Americans live in poverty compared to 10% of all Asians and 13% of Americans overall. At the same time, 68% of Hmong Americans report that they’re proficient in English, compared to 72% of Asian Americans overall.


Language Services for Hmong Communities


Given the large minority of Hmong Americans who aren’t proficient in English, language barriers pose a major challenge for these communities. Fortunately, remote interpreting options makes it easier than ever to connect with a Hmong interpreter who can assist with everything from healthcare to legal and social services.


With the Boostlingo interpretation platform, you can connect with an interpreter in minutes either over-the-phone (OPI) or video remote (VRI). All you need is a high-speed internet connection and a computer or tablet with a webcam for video calls. Plus, you’ll gain access to our Boostlingo Professional Interpreting Network (BPIN), which supports less commonly spoken languages, including Hmong, Laotian, Burmese, and Thai.


Think Boostlingo is right for you? Contact us today to start your free trial!