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Child of War

Sitha Thor’s mom Seng Vang Thor is an herbalist in the Hmong community. She is the mother of 10 and the grandmother of 17. Her garden, host to many of her “green medicines”, reminds her of the home she left more than 25 years ago. When she brings out the tools of her trade – roots, bark, herbs – she smiles, remembering a happier past in a place that exists now only in her memory.

as told to Tom O'Connor

When the North Vietnamese came, they killed people. We would hear a lot of gun noises, and we would run the other direction. I was scared. Everyone was scared. We were constantly moving around. A few times we slept in the woods because they normally raided the villages at night. We knew the Vietnamese would come at night so we would only go back to the villages during the day. We did this frequently. All of us on the run were searching for a means of escape. 

Seng Vang Thor 
Seng Vang Thor, Sitha Thor's mother.

I was 12 when we heard there would be airplanes that would relocate us. When we arrived at the location to be picked up by the plane, we were told we would be on the 7th plane. We waited for our turn to leave and then all of a sudden the North Vietnamese found us. Everyone had to split up into the forest while the Vietnamese shot down the remaining planes. We fled with kids and their crying was too loud and risky, so we used some special herbs as a sedative so the children would cry less.

We were separated from my brothers and my sisters. They barely had any food. They only had a handful of rice. Whenever they were hungry, they would just eat two pieces of rice for a meal. Along the way to find help, many people died. Our grandfather was with them. One day he just said, “I can’t continue anymore.” He died immediately after that. While moving on, trying to find safety, my grandmother stopped. She was too hungry. She was broken, but she still had two very valuable things on her, two bracelets. She gave one to the people that continued on. She saved one for herself. She said, “If there are people who pass by, I’ll hire them with my last bracelet, to help me continue after you. If it takes you a day trip to see people in villages, come back and get me. If you takes more than that, don’t come back.” It took my brothers and sisters three days before they saw people in villages. They did not go back. 

I was a farmer in Laos. As a farmer, I would walk hours to farm the land, hauling my equipment with me every day. Now I am free of the working part of my life, but I will never forget the poorness and the tired and the fatigue.

I was 27 when I found out that I was pregnant by observing my unusual big belly size and estimated that I was three to four months pregnant with a child that would have been older than Sitha, but he died before being born. I, then, got pregnant with Sitha. We had managed to get to Thailand, where I gave birth to Sitha. We made it to America at the end of July 1986, first staying in Seattle, before moving to Wisconsin in early May of ’97. 

I am happy I have not died yet and I am here to see my children grow and the ones who went to college have a degree and the ones who haven’t gotten a degree yet are in the process. What I wish and hope for is that for each and every one of the kids to get done with school and get a job to survive the daily economy, and that will make me happy.