Minnesota lawmakers are poised to create a new state holiday recognizing Hmong veterans who served in the Vietnam War.
A proposal tucked into the House and Senate state government budget bills would designate May 14 each year as Hmong-Lao Veterans Memorial Day.
It would honor those who fought in support of the U.S. in the Secret War in Laos, a covert CIA operation that supplied and supported Hmong citizens to act as soldiers in the conflict. For their contributions, the United States promised veteran status and citizenship.
May 14, 1975 was the last day of an airlift evacuation of soldiers and their families from a covert headquarters in Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand. Tens of thousands of Hmong soldiers lost their lives in the Secret War.
Freshman Rep. Tou Xiong, DFL-Maplewood, said he hopes schools would read a passage about Hmong history or read from the state statute in classrooms to observe the holiday. If the proposal passes, businesses would have a choice of whether to give employees the day off; the flags at the Capitol would be flown at half-mast for the holiday.
"It's really for the future generations so we don't forget the sacrifices that our elders and those before us made," he said. "We remember the privilege of being here in America and being American."
A similar bill was introduced over the last several legislative sessions, but it never made it to the final round of budget negotiations. Xiong said veterans of the conflict are dying, and it's important to pass something as soon as possible.
"Every other weekend we hear of another funeral of a veteran that just passed away," he said. "I thought, let's try and rally one more time and see if it will go through."
The Alaska House of Representatives passed a similar bill earlier this year. Minnesota has one of the largest populations of Hmong Americans in the nation, totaling more than 65,000 people.
Xiong is one of six Hmong members of the Minnesota Legislature, a historic high watermark. Together, they formed the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus to advocate for Hmong Minnesotans and the broader Asian Pacific community in the state.
"We hope to have this bill in law and shed some light on this war," Xiong said. "And let people know why Hmong Americans are here."