♪ TINA MARTIN: Many of us grow up and move away from our families and our communities.
How do the new places become home?
XONG XIONG: I was born in a refugee camp.
You couldn't really call that your home.
HANNA SIZEMORE: I definitely still have that sense of straddling two worlds.
EVARISTO MIRELES: I feel like I fit in somehow.
MARTIN: From KQED and World Channel-- States of America: Relocation on Local, U.S.A. ♪ ♪ MARTIN: Americans move-- a lot.
We come in from other states and from all around the world.
What makes us decide to put down roots somewhere?
States of America is a series of documentaries exploring this question, featuring one person from each state.
In today's episode, we explore five of these stories, from the farm country in Wisconsin to the Nevada desert.
XIONG: For Hmong people, we live so close to the earth and to the natural environment that dates and times don't exist.
Only the moon and the sun and the seasons exist as part of our lives.
♪ I was born in a refugee camp in 1979 in Laos.
Three days after, my mom crossed the Mekong River to the safety of the refugee camps in Thailand.
It was called the secret war because the C.I.A.
went into Laos and recruited Hmong people to fight for the United States secretly.
My parents are war refugees.
They fought for the United States during the secret war.
The refugee camp was a mile radius, and it had 20,000 people living in just close quarters, and so there were a lot of diseases, and a lot of just bad things that happened-- drugs and prostitution.
But for me as a kid, it felt really safe.
I mean, I could play all day and not do anything.
You couldn't really call the refugee camp your home.
It was just a temporary thing.
The U.N. was gonna close down the camp, and we didn't really have a choice.
And so my dad was, like, "Well, we couldn't go back to Laos, because the folks that went back to Laos disappeared."
And so he decided that we should come to the United States, and we came to Wisconsin.
♪ I remember landing at the La Crosse airport.
I remember just seeing the amount of lights that were on, and I was just, like, "How could there be this many people on this planet?"
I remember just being, like, "What kind of reality am I part of?"
There was a lot of racism, a lot of discrimination against Hmong people in this area, and we were considered a huge wave of refugees, because the camps were closing down.
It felt awful-- you didn't have a home, even though you have a house and everything, but you're completely lonely.
When I was an undergrad, I had the opportunity to travel back to Thailand, to go home, or what I thought was home.
Going back, even into Laos, it just didn't feel like home.
People talk about their home, and they use such nice words to describe it, and it didn't feel like that.
And it wasn't until years later that I reflected on it, and that I realized that I wanted to come back to this part of Wisconsin, because it is my home.
♪ For Hmong people, we're gonna lose who we are within a couple of decades.
In some districts throughout the United States, only about 50% of our kids graduate, and there's huge amount of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as domestic violence and sexual violence that happens in our community.
And it happens because of the trauma our folks have been through.
The war, it really tore Hmong families apart.
It really destroyed the root, what it means to be a Hmong person, our identity, and what it means to be part of a community.
I'm the executive director of the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association.
It's really important that we do the work with the elders, and so our kids can really learn about who they are, and to rebuild their identity of what it means to be a Hmong person in this part of Wisconsin.
Today, we're gonna explore another part of what it means to be a Hmong, okay?
We learn a lot of stuff about the environment, and being out in the woods, and what that means.
When your parents do it, it's not cool, but when you do it with other people your age, it's pretty cool.
I feel like I'm really part of Wisconsin, and I'm part of making the state better.
Our elders would say that this area of Wisconsin, it feels like home because of all the bluffs, and we have this way of saying that the way in which the landscape plays its part in our lives is really important, and our elders even say that it brings life, that you feel more alive in a certain area, and this area has all those sacred aspects of what it means to be alive.
We believe that all those things are alive, and we have to respect those things, because if we take care of it, it in turn will take care of us.
♪ MOHINDER SANGHA: I am first Sikh, East Indian guy, first one in Whatcom County.
When I move here, nobody, first year, buy fruit.
I don't know why.
♪ You feel better to do you farming.
It's like nature to grow, to sell.
Then I move here in Washington.
1983, I start farming.
I'm live here for hard work, I living pretty good here, myself.
Last 30 year, I'm do farming, good life.
Evening time, take a shower and go to change the irrigation.
Me feel good all the time, and living farming.
With berry farming, when I came here, Washington, me brother, he told me, "Better grow raspberries.
It's good for farmer, good income."
And last five, six years now, lot of blueberry in this area.
I think good for the health and also the medication.
And that's why I think people growing a lot of blueberry.
♪ ♪ (machinery whirring) Difficulty is, when I start farming, 1983, I can't have place to sell.
The people who buy fruit don't take me fruit.
I think that I am new here and a different color.
I buy same place me fertilizer, all the chemical, the same spray, whatever I need.
But I told them, everybody, "Hey, I do same thing."
That difficulty first year, that's no money, I spent all the money.
Till my neighbor help me.
He said, "Oh, no, no, next year, don't worry.
I can help you."
It's good people.
Good people, give everybody opportunity.
♪ This area, last 35 year, I buy over 40 to 45 property.
Buy farm, buy house, buy land to sell.
I'm pretty deep here now, this area.
♪ '93 or '94, we're gathering one day, we need a temple.
'94, around about 30 Sikh people around here, this area.
We buy five acre land in here.
We started '99, we built a temple here.
And I am first one to start that.
(man singing) ♪ SANGHA: Now, there are about 100 East Indian Sikh farmer.
Our guru and our teacher, they all the time explain to us that God is make everything for you.
That's why I'm pray when I eat, pray for everybody.
Not for us, pray for everybody.
♪ Our temple once a month take food for the poor people on the street.
♪ It's not a Sikh community, different community, no.
It's all one community.
I'm not see any different each other.
Looks me, everybody same.
I don't say that I'm leader this community.
I'm a hard worker for this community.
This is our area, this my country.
This our people live in this area-- all of Whatcom County, all America.
That's our people-- not any different.
Everybody have different culture.
I have a different culture.
But I am same in the, all the people.
My living here this area.
I don't see any different each other.
MIRELES: I born in Guanajuato, Mexico.
I probably didn't brought very much of Mexican heritage.
I feel like I don't have a lot left of that, if I ever did.
You know, I'm over 40 now.
So most of my life, I live here.
Man, I don't have another place to be, right?
No other place you can call it home.
♪ I feel like I'm pretty isolated person.
I have friends from the little bit of business, because that's the people that I know and that's the people that I relate with.
I guess that make me kind of boring person.
(laughs) Actually, my wife say, why did I choose farming?
I say I don't know.
I just, I just liked it.
I've been doing this for the last 15 years.
At the time, I was working eight hours a day for a guy here in Gooding.
And I ask him, "Hey, can I buy a machine and run it here with yours?"
Soon after that, I was able to buy a tractor.
A little more money and I bought another one, and pay it off, and then another one.
And it was getting more and more and more.
And pretty soon, there was a little too much.
I have a hard time working eight hours for him, and after the eight hours in the day, go out there and start doing the jobs that I had to do.
I was working for weeks about 20 hours a day.
I did nothing for fun.
I didn't have nobody to give me a ride from one place to another.
So I take the baling tractor to the one certain field that I was gonna do.
(engine starting) If the alfalfa, it was not quite right to bale right then, I had to wait.
I don't know, an hour, maybe two hours or something.
And in the meantime, I just curl up in the seat of the tractor and take a nap.
And when I fall asleep, I have a hard time waking up.
And I'm trying to move, I'm trying to wake up.
But I couldn't.
It got to the time that I was afraid I never wake up one of these times.
To stay awake in the middle of the night when you're already so tired, working so many hours, you are getting where I couldn't do much more.
So I've been through a lot to get what I got, or to be where I'm at right now.
I never dreamed but to have what I have right now, one thing after another, and get the opportunity to get it, and to live better.
People tell me that I actually like to kill myself because I work so much.
But I feel like I need to.
Not to say that the work's killing myself, but I was doing just because I needed to do it to feed my family.
And I want them to have something better than I did.
My dream was just to be in, in this country, but not to have what I have.
Idaho is my home.
I feel like I, I fit in somehow.
Over 20 years here in Gooding.
So that's the last 20 years that I've been here, I've been here in Gooding.
Most of what I know now I learn here.
♪ The relationship I got with the farmers and stuff like that, you know, they make me feel like that's where I'm supposed to be.
I don't remember nobody treating me differently, you know, just because I'm a Mexican, or, you know, different race.
I don't know where else I could fit better than around here.
GREENLAND: I know firsthand.
It could go bad that quickly.
You gotta respect life and you gotta work with what it's given you.
And you gotta give back to it.
♪ Nevada is just, it's so different than what I've always been in.
Out here, it's just, I take it as it comes.
Aside from when people drift over on the highway out there, and you hear that (imitates buzzing)...
It took a while to get used to.
When I first pictured Nevada in my mind, I just pictured a flat desert with a cactus here and there, you know?
And it wasn't anything like that when I got out here.
Worked in the oil field and the welding industry and stuff for a long time, and thought that was gonna be my big life, and then was in a automobile accident in, in 1982, and that turned my life around.
Wound up in a hospital for about eight months, and got out and moved in with my nurse, and we had a, a son.
And then we got married and got divorced.
And I got interested in medicine and I decided, "Yeah, I'm gonna be a paramedic.
I wanna learn how to help people."
I worked out in the street, in the mud, in the blood, and the guts.
You know, there's nothing like waking up at 3:00 in the morning to go who-knows-where to find God-knows-what laying in a ditch in a car upside down, you know.
It just, it was a thrill that you got addicted to it.
It was just so fun to be able to help people.
♪ My son, he was in college at Middle Tennessee State University.
And he had joined the Army, and from all things I saw, was ready to go.
But my phone started ringing off the hook, and, you know, we're not supposed to have our phones on while we're at work.
And the supervisor come up, and he said, "You might have to go home and find out what's going on."
And so I thought, "Am, am I being fired?"
And he said, "No," he said, "Just go home."
"Just go home," he said, "We got it taken care of."
And I got home and my roommate's standing there with a cigarette in both hands.
(laughs) I walked in and I said, "Well, what's going on?"
And he said, "Call Diana."
And when he said that, I knew something was wrong.
I mean, as many times as I've had to go up to people and inform them that their family member or someone didn't make it, they never trained us how to deal with it when it was our own.
Mmmm, you know... That's why, why I say I try to make up... (exhales, sniffles) Thinking that he didn't know what was gonna happen if he pulled that trigger.
(metal detector buzzes loudly) (buzzing) I went into a bad depressions.
I just had a bad feeling about how come I couldn't save my own son, and coming out here, I wanted to run away from his death.
I was real paranoid.
I was afraid, you know, people wouldn't like me, and I've always wanted to be a person that someone could like and trust and depend on.
Once talking with them and learning about everyone, it's great.
There's always something I can do around here, even if it's just going over and walking her dogs.
Taking care of the stray cats and stuff around here.
Cats are my, they're my buddies.
Well, you scarfed it down so fast, how'd you even take a time to get a breath?
There's probably not a person in this park that can't say that they haven't helped me in one way or another, or I haven't helped them with something.
♪ Yeah, these two have... Evidently the ones that didn't make it.
They must not have been able to fly when they got out of there.
Well, you don't know what's gonna happen to you the next day, you know?
Nevada is my home now, and it's gonna be my home until Nevada kicks me out.
♪ SIZEMORE: West Virginia, it's an essential part of my identity.
My whole sense of self comes from here.
I definitely still have that sense of straddling two worlds, the old one and the new one, 'cause I came from the old one.
♪ Green Bank is very unique, 'cause it's right in the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone, so we're protected here from all kinds of radio transmissions: television, cell phones, and, in the immediate vicinity of the telescope, even wireless internet.
So that kind of steps you back to a slightly different era that's been lost everywhere else.
I always have a wonderful feeling when I leave Dulles and I'm headed back to the mountains, and I know I'm gonna cross that line where the phone doesn't work anymore.
Both my husband and I work at Green Bank Observatory.
I study planets based on data from spacecraft that are actually there.
We decided to come back to West Virginia when our kids were just a few months old.
We have nine-year-old twins.
Two full-time jobs and two infants in day care in Silicon Valley makes for a very unbalanced budget, so we decided to rearrange our lives.
♪ I grew up here in rural West Virginia, in a state park.
My father was a superintendent there, so we lived in a public residence on the park.
I spent most of my time as a kid just playing in the park in the woods.
We would go out and build dams across creeks, or saw down saplings and try to build little log cabins in the woods all day.
♪ And we didn't think it was odd.
I remember I thought that the world was a big wilderness with cities in certain places.
I thought, you know, the forest here in the High Allegheny just kind of rolled out over the central plateau of West Virginia, and then that kinda started to break up as prairie got more open and the trees got more sparse out to the Mississippi, and then you had grass all the way to the Rockies.
I was terribly disappointed when I actually saw that there were people everywhere.
♪ Deer-- nice big buck and a doe.
I had already decided a long time previously that I wanted to study planets, particularly Mars.
So, you know, I applied to five or six colleges.
I ended up at Western Massachusetts, and then I went to California to do a postdoc at NASA Ames, right in the heart of Silicon Valley.
There was a whole world out there waiting for me.
I thought I would leap into it.
It was interesting, I was so thrilled to be out in the world where not everyone was white and Protestant.
At the same time, I immediately saw what I'd loved here, what I missed here, what I couldn't have back out there, and what urban people didn't understand about the world, having never lived in a rural place.
I think one of the biggest challenges living here for me has always been some philosophical differences with chunks of the community.
There are steep, steep gradients in income, in class, in awareness of the outside world.
And it's difficult, because there are many of my neighbors who I identify with deeply-- I feel like we have a great deal in common, as Appalachian people with similar mindsets and pragmatism, and then I'll find that we're talking across this gulf of different political and world views.
How do you handle that graciously, particularly when people will say things casually that you find utterly abhorrent, but you still value them as neighbors, as human beings, and as people who are struggling with a lot of challenges here?
♪ But I definitely feel like I belong here.
Coming back here kind of turned down a little tension and unhappiness that I hadn't even known was there in all the years that I was living an urban life.
And I was welcomed back so warmly.
♪ MARTIN: The five short documentaries we just watched are part of States of America, a series featuring one film for every state in the country.
View all the episodes on World Channel's YouTube, where you can also go "Beyond the Lens" with our filmmakers to learn more.
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