Hmong People in the Ozarks

A film by Judy Luna and Steve Sevic

A film about the Hmong people of the Ozarks, and why they moved there.

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Background

From approximately 2002 to 2006 there was an influx of Hmong people to the Ozark Mountains of NW Arkansas, SW Missouri and NE Oklahoma. Mostly they came to purchase chicken farms. In the years since then some have succeeded and are still in the poultry business. Others have not and have lost their farms to bankruptcy and foreclosure. They are now doing other things. Some work in factories such as the McKee (Little Debbie) plant in Gentry, and many have begun raising produce for the NW Arkansas farmers' markets. Others are teachers, nurses, and other professions. In the short period of time they have been here, they have integrated seamlessly into the NW Arkansas society.
At present it is estimated that there are about 3500 to 5000 Hmong people in the Ozarks, but few people know who they are. They look at a Hmong person and see an "Asian-looking" person who might be Chinese or Vietnamese or other, but they're not. The Hmong people are a people without a country. They have been persecuted, taken advantage of, attacked, and shuffled about throughout history to the present day. They are one of the few ethnic groups who have immigrated to the US, not for economic reasons, but because they were forced to be refugees by their support of the US government's policies in their country during the Vietnam war. But they are also very resilient, hard-working, adaptable and optimistic people. A mountain people, they pride themselves on their independence and self-sufficiency. They came to Arkansas primarily because of geographic and climatic similarities to their mountain home in Laos, to get out of the cities and cold weather of more northern states where they were first resettled as refugees almost 30 years ago, and to pursue their dream of returning to an agricultural lifestyle.
Many of the Hmong who came to the Ozarks appear to be of the "middle" generation—that is, they arrived as children or teenagers to the US and were largely educated here. But their dream of getting back to their agricultural roots US-style isn't a simple process. The subsistence type of farming that was practiced in Laos, where the whole family worked to produce food for the family larders, is not practical here. And in the Ozarks a farm usually means a chicken farm, which requires a contract with a poultry company, technological knowhow, and lots of money not only to purchase it, but also to maintain it. The results have been mixed—some of those who arrived have thrived and done quite well with their poultry farms. Others found it more difficult than they expected and ended up in bankruptcy or foreclosure. The downturn in the economy has also been a major factor in what the Hmong experience has been.

The Film

The purpose of the film is to introduce people in the Ozarks and elsewhere to this remarkable group of people. After a short historical look at who the Hmong are and how they came to the US, the film will explore some of the issues described above: why they came to the Ozarks, what their life is like now, what their contributions to the area have been, and what challenges they face, including the loss of their unique culture as the younger generation assimilates into US life.
The intended length of the film is ½ hour, and it will be non-commercial in nature. It is being made principally for graduate credit in the Journalism Department at the University of Arkansas. However, the filmmakers hope that it will be shown on Public Television in Arkansas and intend to submit it to film festivals. It may also be shown in the public schools locally.
People interviewed for the film include a farmer's market produce vendor, poultry farmer(s) and their wives (to get the women's point of view), a local realtor who sold many of the Hmong their farms, the manager of the Fayetteville Farmer's Market, a counselor for Hmong people facing bankruptcy, young university students, and a representative of the "older" generation. Present-day images will include scenes in the Ozark Mountains, a produce farm, poultry farms, the Fayetteville Farmer's Market, the colorful Hmong New Year celebration, a Hmong Association meeting, etc. The historical section will show file images of life in the highlands of Laos before the Vietnam war, war scenes from the so-called "CIA Secret War" in Laos, the Thai refugee camps and relocation to the US. The filmmakers have already obtained permission from two filmmakers who shot such images back in the 70s: Ken Levine, producer/director of Becoming American, and John Willheim, whose images of General Vang Pao, The Early Years, were shown at the recent funeral of the general. Other archival images have been obtained from the National Archives in Washington, DC and from the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University. Ultimately, the hope is to create a vignette which will introduce the Hmong to a wider audience in the hopes that they will be accepted as the increasingly important part of the fabric of life in the Ozarks that they have become.

The Filmmakers

Judy Luna and Steve Sevic are seasoned broadcast television professionals who have turned to the documentary film as a medium of expression and are participating in a graduate level course in the Department of Journalism at the University of Arkansas toward that end.

A graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in film and photography, Judy Luna worked for many years as film editor for television commercials and industrial films for production companies in Minneapolis. From 1978 to 1980 she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America, preparing audio-visual materials for training medical personnel for the Ministry of Health of Honduras. Upon return to the United States, Judy was one of a core group of people who in 1981 began the national news program in Spanish for Univision, the principal Spanish-language television network in the US. As chief editor and head of post-production, she worked there for almost 10 years in Washington, DC, and Miami. She also worked for ABC News in Washington, DC. From 1991-1993, she worked for the USIA, a US-government agency, as a video editor for TV Marti, a Voice-of-America-type news broadcast to Cuba. She has also taught introductory video production on the college level as part of the Communications Department at the University of Arkansas.



Website: SteveSevic.com

A media producer with over 14 years of experience. Steve Sevic produced primarily television commercials, training videos and materials, provided technical support for computer systems at nuclear power plants, and tried to be near his daughter as she grew up in Arkansas. In 2005 Steve and family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas to act as Production Manager for Equity Broadcasting. Now he works for Nexstar Broadcasting at KNWA/KFTA in Fayetteville doing graphics, studio cameras, and editing and going back to college at the University of Arkansas.
Feeling the need for a creative outlet, a change in career, and to make some films that need made: He is now concentrating on film and more creative aspects of media production and broadcasting journalism, with an emphasis on providing social commentary.