According to the New York Times, an increasing number of Hmong Americans have been moving to northern California to “take advantage of the growing marijuana trade.” The New York Times features Mai Vue, the chairwoman of Conscious Cannabis Resources, who “estimates that more than 1,500 Hmong live in Trinity County, (California,) which has a population of about 13,000.”
Even though marijuana is legal to grow, sell and use in California, the migration west remains a secret in the Wisconsin Hmong community.
With the Hmong community well-known to be tight-knit, I reached out to my father, Kao Xiong, to connect with some local Hmong Madisonians directly affected by this trend. Over a dozen phone calls later, I was connected with Madison locals Niam Hlob Thong Thao and Chong Pao Xiong.
Niam Hlob Thong Thao states that she’s heard rumors about Hmong people from the midwest moving to California to participate in the marijuana farming industry, but that adamantly denies knowing anyone who has moved to farm marijuana. “I don’t know (anyone) at all!” she says. “I only have friends in California and I ask them how their farming is going and they say they’re sick and they’re growing (marijuana) for medication.”
Chong Pao Xiong says he knows about ten Hmong people from Wisconsin who have “(talked) about (farming) it, and then [they] moved” to California. However, Xiong isn’t one hundred percent sure if the people he knew had become marijuana farmers. His biggest concern about this migration is that “they don’t really move the whole family. People move down there, they don’t take their kids, they don’t take their family… They just worry about money. They don’t worry about the family.”
Kao Xiong confirms that Hmong people “are leaving their children in Wisconsin and Minnesota and going to do marijuana (farming), and they (even) go back and forth and have two homes.”
Kao Xiong claims to know twenty to thirty Hmong people from Wisconsin and Minnesota who have migrated to become cannabis farmers. He shares that his relatives and friends who have moved have all invested in property for farming cannabis. “They move for business,” says Xiong. “I talked to a friend of mine in Minnesota. He said each family that moves to do that spends about one hundred to two hundred thousand (dollars).”
If Kao Xiong was positive that all 20 to 30 people he knew who migrated to California became a marijuana farmer, then how was it possible that Niam Hlob Thong Thao knew no one, and Chong Pao Xiong knew a few people but was unsure if they became cannabis farmers? Isn’t the Hmong community famous for everyone knowing everyone? Why are Hmong people so afraid to talk about the Hmong migration to California? What’s with the secrecy in simply talking? Niam Hlob Thong Thao’s declaration of “I don’t know”s do pose questions such as these.
“The reason Hmong people are scared is because they’re scared of being sued, and getting their homes searched by the police for marijuana,” says Kao Xiong, “They won’t talk to anyone!”
Legalized marijuana is a $5 billion dollar industry just waiting for professional farmers to swoop in, and the Hmong are taking advantage of their farming history to get a piece of it. However, as Kao Xiong says, if you ask them anything about their business “they’ll claim they don’t know.”
This piece was produced by a student journalist in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more and to support our education programs, visit madison365.org/academy.