>The People Without a Country

>When I was eight years old (1959) the U.S. created a pact with Vang Pao and the Hmong people after North Vietnam began carving the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the jungles of Laos to send its soldiers and spies southward. In the final days of the Eisenhower administration, the CIA began shipping weapons and military materials to the Hmong, the mountain tribe whose members were an isolated minority in Laos. Gen. Van Pao’s army grew to some 39,000 Hmong guerillas over the next eight years. This is a picture of him in 1961. Thousands of Hmong died throughout the 60s. This remains one of the least-known chapters in the story of the Vietnam War.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been completely ignorant of all of this until this past year, when our son, Jason, began dating a Hmong woman in Denver. And now she’s my daughter-in-law. Her story will be a significant part of my grandchildren’s history some day, and I’m eager to understand it and share it with others.

You can read an in-depth story about this in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine. (which also has an interesting story about what sports are doing to young women….)

I’m not well enough informed to figure out whether recent charges against 78-year-old Vang Pao, indicting him as a terrorist, which resulted in his imprisonment, and even house arrest following his release, have any legitimate foundation. The indictment charged that “Vang Pao led a conspiracy aimed at the overthrow of the existing government of Laos by violent means, including murder, assaults on both military and civil officials of Laos and destruction of building and property.” It might take a year or more before the case comes to trial… but meanwhile, Hmong people in the U.S. see this as an attack on them, and many are frightened.

A young Hmong musician is putting the story into rap music so the younger generation will learn about it and try to help their people who are still trapped in Laos. At one point on the video, he collaborates with his grandmother, who teaches him a form of Hmong oral poetry which he combines with his rap music. You can watch it here.

Reading all this and commenting on it makes the other things I was going to share today seem unimportant. But I’m leaving for New Orleans early tomorrow morning, and I did want to share something a little more upbeat before leaving. One of the agents I’ve queried about my memoir asked to see the full book proposal today (yes!) so I’m about to put it in the mail to her. She requested more sample chapters than I’m ready to send, so I plan to do lots of revising while I’m on my trip.

My husband and I are often seen at our “dueling computers” … sitting back to back in our tiny office… him working on medical lectures or articles, and me working on essays or my memoir. Yesterday he was reading the Sunday comics and started chuckling aloud. He handed me one of our favorites, “Non Sequitur.” It was so apropos, I decided to share the entire comic strip here.

Why Non Sequitur? I looked up the definition and found two, that kind of explain it, together:

An inference or conclusion that does not follow from the premises or evidence.

A statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it .

So, I tried to cut and paste the strip, but it’s so tiny, but if you click ON THE COMIC a larger version will appear, or you can CLICK HERE to see it full size on its web site.

But then I started thinking about the memoirist in the comic strip, and about the chapters I need to revise in my own memoir, and a quote by Oscar Wilde came to mind:

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

I’ve heard that criminals copy the shows they see on television, and that people tend to become emboldened to pursue behaviors they might not have otherwise, when they read about them in a book. So, maybe those are negative aspects of life imitating art.

But for me, personally, good fiction, and good narrative nonfiction (like memoirs) both imitate and reveal life. They show people at their best and their worst, struggling with their beautiful, flawed humanity, to find meaning and purpose in life. And sometimes forgiveness and redemption.

Hopefully I’ll send some posts from New Orleans this week. I haven’t been there in about 25 years, so it will be a journey of discovery. One of my favorite blogs is “A Good Blog Is Hard to Find.” A recent post by Kimberly Willis Holt is called, “Escaping to the French Quarter.” Reading it got me in the mood for New Orleans! Kimberly has several published books–her first was My Louisiana Sky. I’ll be looking at that sky tomorrow afternoon, God willing.

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