Hmong Collection and History

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, a flood of Hmong refugees were hounded out of their homes. Some of those refugees would eventually find a new home in Decorah. From 1975 through the early 1990s, Hmong refugees would make their way to Decorah from the mountains of Laos and Vietnam. With the help of local churches through the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services as well as federal laws in the form of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act or CETA of 1973 and the Job Training Partnership Act or JTPA in 1982, the Hmong refugees acclimated to their new life in America.

The Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program Appropriation Bill of 1978, the Iowa Refugee Service Center, and the Northeast Iowa Refugee Coordination Services (NEIRCS) also provided ways to help the Hmong in their transition to life in the U.S. ESL classes were provided by Northeast Iowa Community College. These programs also served to help other refugees, many from southeast Asia, as well as some from Poland.

Sponsors, however, were one of the primary resources the Hmong refugees had in adapting to life in America. When they had questions about society or about how they were to pay for things, the refugees could turn to sponsors for help.


While in refugee camps in Thailand and then also once they arrived in the U.S., the Hmong made quite a few textiles. Images of many of the textiles that were given to Luther are available in the ethnographic collections.

See everything in the Decorah Refugee Resettlement Collection.

Take a look at Hmong bags and their decorations or story cloths, which typically detail the journey that the Hmong took to flee and the obstacles in the way. Some also show images of cultural importance, such as the process of a marriage ceremony or scenes from folk stories. The Decorah Refugee Resettlement Collection also contains hmong ornaments, jewelry and clothing, with intricate details and varied colors.


The Decorah Refugee Resettlement Archives also have quite a few materials associated with the Hmong and the organizations associated with them. They have a number of newspaper articles that detail personal stories of the Hmong refugees on their arrival in Decorah. There are also articles on activities that they have been doing in Decorah. In addition to these articles, there are a number of letters to the editor in which people express their opinion about the Hmong refugees--both positive and negative. Some of these letters to the editor were written by the Hmong refugees in response to the opinions expressed by townsfolk.

There are also papers that deal with the training and preparation of sponsors to help the Hmong refugees acclimate to life in Decorah as well as committee records from the churches associated with the sponsors.