ST. PAUL, Minnesota (WCCO) – True Thao stood at the Minnesota History Center dressed in traditional Hmong clothing, adorned with beads and coins. He shared his trip to America 45 years ago.
“I remember our flight from Laos to Thailand was quite traumatic,” Thao said. “We had to leave in the middle of the night because it was difficult to cross. We paid a Laotian to take us in a small canoe to the side of Thailand.
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Thao’s family escaped Communist forces and eventually moved to the United States in 1979. Thao’s brother was a communications technician for the United States CIA, so escaping was the only choice they had.
“And I didn’t speak a word of English. Out of necessity, we had to learn English quickly. After six to seven months, we were able to speak a minimum, ”Thao said.
The suffering of leaving their country and having to assimilate American culture fueled Thao’s inspiration to be a mental health advocate, mentor, and founder of his own counseling services.
“We are seeing people who arrive with refugee status quickly integrate into their communities and start contributing,” said Rachele King, of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
For five years, the state has recognized refugees like Thao. Twenty people were honored during the ceremonies on Monday. Half of those refugees were named last year, but due to COVID the event has been pushed back to this year.
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“It’s important for the strength of our future economy,” King said. “Immigration and refugee resettlement allows our population to grow and meet labor needs in the future. “
Ku Mo was among the 10 nominees last year. Mo’s family fled Burma as it faces the world’s longest civil war. Mo is a Minnesota student and community supporter. Mo opened up avenues and resources to help other immigrants settle.
“It means a lot to me, but at the same time it really means a lot to my Karenii community just to be recognized,” Mo said.
“I hope that with this kind of recognition, refugees will not be judged by our skin color, but rather by our hearts and what we bring to the state,” Thao said.
Since 1979, more than 100,000 people have resettled in Minnesota. Last year, the state hosted 291 people from 11 countries; half of these people were children. The UN reports that nearly 760,000 refugees entered the United States in 2020.
“To be eligible for refugee status in the United States, you must have fled persecution. It is persecution based on something that is fundamental to who you are based on race, religion, political affiliation or membership of a particular social group, ”King said.
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The highest percentage of refugees in 2020 came from Burma, Somalia and Ukraine.