Editor’s Note: Refugees face unique challenges building lives in the United States. Cha Deng Vang fled Laos in 1987 after fighting as soldier in the US-backed forces. As part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we hear from 68-year-old Vang who has found that a community garden for Hmong refugees at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries has helped him build community and relieve stress. Chong Vang and Sam Chang helped to translate his story.
By Cha Deng Vang
On this side we are growing Hmong pumpkin. They’re very round and very big compared to the American version.
Growing up my parents taught me how to garden and farm. As soon as I turned 18, I became a soldier, and that was basically my entire life.
When I first came to America, I had no education. I couldn’t find a job which equals no money to help my family. So with no financial support, it was a lot of stress on the entire family. And on top of that we also had a lot of illness in the family, which also caused a lot of stress on me as well.
When I come to the community garden and I start doing hard labor, like digging and fixing things, it makes me sweat and it releases my stress because it cools my body down at the same time.
When I have anxiety, I come here and it relaxes me. It also helps with my health. Due to a lot of the injuries I’ve had as a soldier, this helps me with exercise. So, it’s basically what helps me get through the day.
Since 1975, roughly 200,000 Hmong refugees have left Laos — 90 percent of them have resettled in the US.
The majority of the people that utilize this community garden are older like me and are using Social Security Income. So, the garden also provides fresh produce for my family.
In Laos, everything was very green and lush. And coming here during the summer, everything turns yellow.
When I come here to the community garden and I see all the corn and all the beans and everything’s so green, it just helps relieve all of that stress and it helps clear my mind. So, I absolutely love it here.
This story was reported by Sasha Khokha.