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Pa Lor, Hmong American community, illegal animal parts
Associated Press
Clouded leopard cubs

Minnesota Woman’s Conviction for Smuggling Wildlife Highlights Hmong’s Culture Shock

January 16, 2009 12:03 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A Hmong shaman has been sentenced for illegally importing and selling animal parts into the United States, but her lawyer argues that her traditional beliefs are to blame.

Woman Found With Endangered Animal Parts

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Oakdale, Minn. resident Pa Lor, an 86-year old woman, was discovered with more than 1,300 pieces of smuggled wildlife. The parts included those of protected species such as serow, douc langur, Asian elephant and clouded leopard, which she planned to sell at a local market, some for hundreds or thousands of dollars. A U.S. district judge sentenced her earlier this week to two months in a halfway house, three months in home confinement and two years’ probation.

According to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, the arrest is part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s ongoing efforts to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade in immigrant communities. Federal agents say that over the past few years they have discovered a wide variety of illegal animal products such as those containing gecko, antelope, seahorse, tiger and snake at Asian markets in the area.

Lor became a shaman after learning from her relatives how to treat sick people using animal parts in Laos, and attorney Andrea George said that the case illustrated the difficulty in “protecting exotic animals and protecting this very long tradition and history of the Hmong culture.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Inspector Linda Benson conceded in the agency’s press release that most violators are not aware of laws prohibiting the smuggling of illegal wildlife. “People simply don’t know they can’t bring some wildlife items into the U.S.,” Benson said. “In fact, some people often don’t make the connection that what they have is wildlife. They claim jewelry, clothing or medicine on their Customs forms and are genuinely surprised when I inform them that they actually are importing wildlife pieces.”

But another agent for the agency, Midwest Region Special Agent Gregory Jackson, said that Lor and her daughter, who was also convicted of conspiracy to smuggle wildlife, “knowingly exploited endangered and protected wildlife purely for personal profit.”

Hmong-Americans, most of whom are refugees from Southeast Asia, have gotten into trouble with authorities more than once for offenses related to their traditional beliefs.

Related Topic: Past cultural clashes and the Hmong

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” a book released in 1998 by Anne Fadiman, chronicles the cultural misunderstandings that resulted between Western doctors and a Hmong couple when their three-month-old infant was hospitalized. The parents’ efforts to treat their baby with traditional remedies often conflicted with the mainstream care advocated by doctors.

In 2004, Chai Vang, a Hmong-American hunter, was arrested for shooting eight hunters in northwest Wisconsin. The incident left many in the Hmong community afraid of a backlash from their neighbors. Vang, who was eventually sentenced to life in prison, says that he acted in self-defense after one of the victims used racial slurs and fired at him.

The 2008 movie “Gran Torino”, starring Clint Eastwood, highlights the conflict and friendship between a Korean War veteran and a Hmong-American family in Michigan.

Historical Context: The Hmong in the US

Many of the Hmong sought refuge in the U.S. after collaborating with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency during what is known as the “secret war” in Laos during the Vietnam War. Some of their relatives back in the region continue to face persecution by the Communist regime in Laos.

“The story of the Hmong has been a story of neglect and betrayal,” wrote Michael Johns for the National Review in 1995. “Though they were paid and encouraged by the United States to resist the advance of Communism in Southeast Asia, most of them were left to a precarious fate when the Laotian domino collapsed in 1975.”

Last year, human rights groups criticized the Thai government for sending 800 Hmong refugees back to Laos. The refugees had been residing in a refugee camp in Thailand. Thailand has long been the home of Hmong refugees avoiding persecution by the Laotian government for aiding the U.S.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 209,866 Hmong-Americans in 2006, most of whom lived in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, Washington, Oregon and Florida.

Reference: The Hmong

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