Chukou Thao: National Hmong American Farmers

by Wendy Jewell from The My Hero Project

The short film "CHUKOU THAO" is a finalist in the "Professional Portraits of Organizations" category in the 8th annual MY HERO Film Festival.
Chukou Thao (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
Chukou Thao (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

Chukou Thao is the Executive Director of National Hmong American Farmers (NHAF), a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of Hmong farm culture. The organization promotes economic development, training and other resources to create effective community change.

Chukou says in this short film that "Farming is a big part of our life, we grow up doing it, not even realizing we're passing on that gift of farming."

Chukou Thao and his family came to the US from Laos when he was 8 years old along with thousands of Hmong people who were granted asylum after helping American forces during the Viet Nam war. In the early 1980's Fresno was known as the Hmong capital of the world due to almost 80,000 Hmong immigrants living there. Most came to farm but due to a lack of speaking the language they soon fell prey to discrimination from distributors who defrauded them.

As Chukou grew up and helped his own family on their family farm, he witnessed recurring injustices taking place around him.

The Hmong people flee Laos after the Vietnam war. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
The Hmong people flee Laos after the Vietnam war. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

Time passed, Chukou became an adult and went on with his life. But after realizing his people were being mistreated and taken advantage of, Chukou left a lucrative, secure job to become an organizer/activist for the Hmong farming community. He says in the film, "No one else can speak about our issues better than those of us who live it."

Thao has helped grow the NHAF from a small group of farmers in Fresno to an organization with 4,000 members and offices in California and Washington, DC. He says, "NHAF is an organization based on economic development and advocacy." As seen in the film, they help people like MaeYer Vue access money from Federal Grants for green houses so she can grow different crops all year long.

Thao speaks to fellow Hmong farmers. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
Thao speaks to fellow Hmong farmers. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

Thao explains, "We help farmers get to the next level." They give them the tools to be able to be innovative with their crops as well as finding new markets for their crops. This way they can bypass the distributors who mistreated them in the past.

Many Hmong farmers now take their produce to the ever increasing number of farmers markets in San Francisco and elsewhere. They are also taking advantage of the mutually beneficial association with local restaurants who are taking advantage of the explosion of consumers who want to eat locally grown organic produce.

An early Hmong farmer in Fresno Valley. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
An early Hmong farmer in Fresno Valley. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

Chukou's passion for his work representing the Hmong Farmers evolved out of his understanding of what a farmer goes through. He said, "I have dirt under my nails because I grew up on my parents farm. I know what it's like to be out there when it's a 115 degrees and you don't have a choice.

It's important for young people to get involved. Embrace the things that happen in front of you and make it better. You can't complain if you're not out there contributing. Other leaders in other venues and other groups, see me as an outspoken leader in the Hmong community. I don't see myself as a leader, I see myself as a person who sees things and wants fair and equal treatment across the table. When you see someone working so hard and getting so little you think, what's wrong with this picture."

Hmong farmers (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
Hmong farmers (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

Chukou Thao is truly an extraORDINARY person who is making the world around him a better place by organizing for fair practises, human dignity and equality for all. Do take a few moments to watch this inspiring film about his life.

Page created on 11/13/2012 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 11/6/2019 6:08:45 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

National Hmong American Farmers - National Hmong-American Farmers (NHAF) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote economic well-being among Hmong-Americans, small and minority farmers in Fresno County, California. NHAF is committed to making a profound difference for the farming community. Its goals include: Preserving the culture of the farmers, Hmong or otherwise; Providing viable economic development that sustains the community; Creating social and economic development programs to create self-sufficiency; Providing health education, leadership training, and participation in events and issues which affect the daily lives of the Hmong and other ethnic minority farming groups; and Becoming a recognized provider of effective community change.
Chukou Thao (This short film is a FINALIST in the MY HERO FILM FESTIVAL) - Thao, executive director of National Hmong American Farmers, immigrated to Fresno, CA with his family at age 8, after Laotian citizens were granted asylum in the US after the Vietnam war. Many of the first Hmong farmers suffered from discrimination, so Thao left his
Unity Lab extraORDINARY People - extraORDINARY People are defined by personal choices that have inspired others to join in tremendous collective achievements. Watch their videos to find out how you can apply their tools for change in your own life.
Champions of Unity -