|The author has travelled to approximately one-half of the countries in the world, done business in roughly twenty percent of the countries in the world, and lived in a host of places from childhood. Therefore, it is baffling that any form of prejudice exists in what has become an increasingly small planet. Admittedly, the first day as the only paleface in a country in West Africa or even a small village in an Asian jungle can be a bit unusual. However, by the next day I am one of them and never think a thing about it. There are some people I like better than others but that is preference and not prejudice. Therefore, it was interesting that a recent issue of The Economist featured a story about H'hen Nie, a Vietnamese model, who was the first minority woman in the country to become Miss Vietnam. She went on to place in the top five in the Miss Universe pageant.
Ms. Nie is a member of the Rade ethnic minority group, one of the tribes from the central highlands that were collectively grouped by the French in the colonial days as the Montagnards -- mountain folk. During the Vietnam War era, the Hmong mountain hill tribe people in Laos, as well as the Hmong in Vietnam, served as mercenary fighters for the U.S. in an unnecessary war. Obviously, they felt no identity to their host country as they suffered continued discrimination at the hands of their uncaring rulers.
In Vietnam there are 53 official ethnic minority groups which represent some 15% of the population. The remaining 85% of the population are Kinh people with lighter complexions and an undercurrent of Chinese heritage. Of the minority ethnic groups, 45% of them are poor compared to the majority Kinh where only 3% are impoverished. The minorities have their own languages, customs and predominantly darker skin color which set them apart from the majority Kinh folks. Strangely, if you scratched the skin of a Thai, you would find a Chinese as the Thai hill tribal people intermarried with Chinese who settled in the country. The various Hmong ethnic tribes in Vietnam, as well as Laos, characterize themselves by the predominant color in their various native costumes. You would not be surprised to learn that the Hmong people shown below are Red Hmong.
The remoteness and subsistence life of the hill tribe residents in Vietnam hampered efforts to educate them or draw them into the mainstream of the internationally recognized country in which they lived. Education detracts from the labor time required by their families to survive. Moreover, the Central Committee of the Vietnam Communist Party would look upon these people as security risks as they did fight for the other side. However, H'hien Nie learned Vietnamese as a teenager, though one-third of the minority groups never do. They are not unlike the Thai hill tribes including the Khui people in the elephant village supported by The Elephant Story. Perhaps the Vietnamese Government is propelling H'hien Nie to become the role model for the integration of the society of Vietnam for enlightened security reasons.
In actual fact, the people of Thailand can be just as discriminatory as their Vietnamese neighbors from the north who they fought against in the Vietnam War. Most of the different ethnic groups in Thailand have been given derogatory Thai names as compared to their own native identities. Just to point the finger, The Bangkok Post recently published an article entitled Battle for Hmong Heritage which addressed Hmong people in Vietnam struggling to maintain rights to their land which is something out of the American Indian land claims. In actual fact, the Hmong people often practiced slash and burn agriculture to create an open space or swidden to grow crops or opium poppy.
Unfortunately, erosion in the mountainous area of the Hmong required frequent moves to new places to repeat the process of slash and burn. However, in the northern part of Vietnam approaching the Chinese border, the Black Hmong occasionally built permanent residences. Several have returned to reclaim and rebuild their native homes though the Vietnamese authorities claim there are no title documents to support their ownership. However, the Hmong can be strong people as evidenced by the image below of a Hmong rebuilding his birthright land claim while ignoring the reaction of the Vietnamese authorities.
In the most remarkable of coincidences, The Viet Nam News published an article on the same date as that in The Bangkok Post entitled Hmong People Quit Drink and Improve Their Lives which is reminiscent of the characterization of the old days of the American Indian drunkards. By the way, all of these people generally share DNA signatures with the Mongolian people which speaks to the exploits of Genghis Khan. However, there is no need to defend the biased commentary of the Party-controlled press of Vietnam. Remember press freedom in Vietnam is only one step above that of North Korea.
So why do most people behave like the observations described above? Let's take a shot at it-the people may look different, they may have a different skin color, they certainly do not speak the same language as we do and, therefore, we feel uncomfortable in their presence. Accordingly, it is the insecurity of the majority that fears the minority.