Opportunity. It’s a recurring theme when you ask people why they choose to live in northeastern Wisconsin. Good jobs, affordable homes, quality schools and safe communities in which to raise families have drawn people to the region for generations and kept them anchored here. Those same considerations are behind the eye-opening increase in the region’s racial and ethnic diversity as documented in the 2020 U.S. Census.For some, learning that minority populations significantly outgrew the white population over the past decade may have come as a surprise. For others, the census simply put numbers to something they’d already observed at work, in schools or at the store. This year, we’ve been exploring the stories behind those numbers — what that growing diversity means to the region, why it’s happening and how it’s contributing to the vibrancy of our communities.
…The first group of Hmong refugees arrived in Wisconsin in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
Much of their history is well-documented. As allies of the U.S. in the war in Vietnam, they faced persecution and death as a result of the role they played fighting the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao in what came to be known as the Secret War.
The stories we heard of how Hmong families fled Laos, first to refugee camps in Thailand and, later, to the United States and other countries, are a vivid reminder of the sacrifices they made, the hardships they endured and a tenacious will to build new lives in a foreign land.
Pao Lor, of Kimberly, recounted how his father was assassinated and how his mother drowned during a dangerous crossing of the Mekong River as the family fled Laos.
Lor was 5 years old.
He lived in refugee camps before arriving in California and then moving to Green Bay, where his uncle had settled, and began to learn to navigate the new land that had become his home.