Article Prejudice

NebrHogger

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While posted to Cam Lo, I stood daytime watch occasionally and had a good view of the goings on around that place mostly related to the open air market. Besides the Vietnamese who lived in Cam Lo, a few km away was a community of H'mong. I'm by no means an ethnologist, but they were clearly a separate ethnic group from other Vietnamese. Much higher cheek bones for one thing.

They seemed to be a very close knit community not unlike a tribe. They all dressed in similar fashion - women wore a turban and a long wrap around skirt that reached from their waist to their ankles. By way of individuality, they wore such jewelry around their necks & in their ears and nose as each deemed stylish.

Also around their waist was a cord or light strap used to hold their small machete. I don't recall if they wore any kind of sandals... I don't believe they did. The memory that they went bare breasted clearly remains, though.

Also common to the women was the small clay pipe they held in their mouth with the bowl upside down. As well as I know, they smoked the vile-smelling weed that passed for tobacco in that part of the country.

The men worked as mercenary scouts - mostly for American special forces. Their usual dress was cast-off uniform bits with little regard where it originated. They were most often gone, leaving the women to raise income by cutting brush which they made into charcoal they sold at the open air market.

North of Cam Lo and north of Rte 9 was a "free fire zone", meaning anyone seen was fair game to be shot on sight. But while on patrol if we saw H'mong women chopping brush, they weren't fired upon because their presence was a good sign the enemy wasn't around.

They would chop brush for most of the day, and each woman would carry an impossibly large bundle back to their village for conversion to charcoal. When they had a sufficient quantity, that would be carried to market in immense burlap bags... carried on their backs.

It was quite a sight to see the women trudging along, stoically bearing their load and smoking their small clay pipes. Even what appeared to by young girls smoked. Actually the crowd enroute the market was predominately young. I imagined the older women remained behind to watch the camp and occasionally stir the rice.

Also watching the procession were Vietnamese children of the village, but they weren't interested in cultural differences - they were out to start trouble. For some reason there was a lot of racial tension between the Vietnamese and H'mong.

When the H'mong women reached Cam Lo within sight of our post, the Vietnamese kids would begin heckling them - mostly by cursing and racial epithets. (calling them monkeys was a popular insult) Being used to such things, the women methodically plodded along, largely ignoring the young boys.

Hoping to further anger the women, the boys would also spit at them or throw rocks.

This was when things got interesting. Many of the boys seemed interested in having the rocks they threw strike one of the women or girls on a breast which was no doubt painful. If so struck, the women would occasionally respond by throwing rocks at the boys... which could turn into quite a brawl with Vietnamese mothers joining in.

On one occasion I noticed a girl who appeared to be a teen ager walking on the side of the road closest to the hecklers. Barefoot, she carried a large burlap bag of charcoal which had her bent at the waist to keep her balance. I don't know if one of the boys - who didn't appear to be a teen ager - meant to snatch the skirt from her waist to impress watching Americans or steal her machete, but he darted toward her with arm outstretched.

With the reflexes of a cat, the girl caught the boy's arm, holding so tightly he couldn't pull away. She then shrugged off her load of charcoal, threw the boy to the ground and began beating him.

And I mean it was an unmerciful beating! Pinning both his arms to the ground with her knees, she fiercely struck every part of his face with her clenched fists. The other women had stopped to gather around her, calmly smoking their pipes and appearing to offer advice on how best to cause the little idiot more pain.

One must have suggested she put a finger in his eye because that's what she seemed to do. The boy's reaction of screeching like a branded monkey also indicated that. With such pain and that the girl was becoming tired from administrating the beating, the boy was able to squirm free and dashed away like the proverbial 'pin striped primate'.

Other boys must have gone into the village to report the matter for here came several mothers, and then the fight was on! Hearing the commotion, our Lt came out to see what was up.

"No matter what happens, do NOT interfere!"

Village police soon appeared to sort things out, and it took a lot of time to restore calm. Eventually, the H'mong girls shouldered their bags of charcoal and on to the market they went.

I didn't stand day watch too often and don't know what happened the next day. I have heard of such brawls that ended in gunfire when H'mong men appeared to even the playing field.

To this day I've no idea what caused such racial animosity.
 
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Excellent post NebrHogger. Excellent.

I lived in San Diego for 26 years. Many Asians call San Diego home. There are a lot of Vietnamese and H'mong living there. Seems to me the two groups despite having similar ethnic backgrounds never mixed. I have a niece that went to High School with a lot of H'mong and she said everything these kids did was seperate from other Asian students. Many were involved in gangs mostly to counter the Vietnamese and Filipino gangs.

Sad but true.
 
I found pics to illustrate the narrative above. They were under the heading "Montagnards" rather than H'mong. I'm not able to say which term is right, so call them what you will. Notice the woman with a pipe also has back teeth and gums from incessantly chewing betel nut.

Make no mistake - these are hard women and would cut your throat faster than you could say ouch!

Also shown is what I believe to be a Montagnard mercenary in loin cloth. Notice he carries an M3 "grease gun" with extra magazines. A true warrior.

Since this is how they were attired every day, I don't feel the pics are inappropriate, but front office folks have the final call on that. Apologies in advance if these violate forum rules.

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