For immigrants to the U.S., the business they’re in can be crucial, not just for economic stability, but for identity as well.
When Hmong people first started migrating to the country in 1975, fleeing the communist takeover of Laos, many could find only jobs in unskilled labor: things like factory or custodial work. It was a long way from the skilled farming they had practiced in their homeland. But increasingly, the Hmong have found niche areas of the economy in which to thrive. As a New York Times article reports, the immigrant population has found success opening Asian restaurants in Michigan, running flower businesses in Washington State, and, in California, cultivating marijuana.
The Hmong is an ethnic tribe that spread over areas of China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, many Hmong people joined forces the CIA to try to repel Communist actors in Laos.
Among the crops Hmong had most success growing back home were poppies in an area of Southeast Asia known as the Golden Triangle. In Northern California, many have settled into what’s locally called the Emerald Triangle, a region long known for its production of high-quality cannabis.
The work and the rural setting are more familiar to Hmong immigrants than industrialized society, according You Ping Vang, a second generation ethnic Hmong and cannabis company founder, who says that many Hmong people like the cannabis trade because of its “independence of free living” where “you can live off the land.”
“This is the life that they left. They love it,” he said.
However, as regulation looms over California’s marijuana industry and larger industrial farms, often sponsored by venture capitalists, move in to compete with smaller operations like the ones operated by Hmong people, the future is less certain. The costs for attaining and keeping licences are likely to go up while large-scale cultivators drive prices down.
Vang is hopeful that the state will grant Hmong people the permits that will allow them to make the area a more permanent home. “If they allow us to grow, the Hmong will stay,” he told the Times.