A quiet second home


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Think this is somewhere in a Southeast Asian country? Completely false. This picture is set in French Guiana.

The only French-speaking region in Latin America with a population of no more than 250,000 people, French Guiana is a hodgepodge of various ethnic groups, ranging from Indians, French, Africans, native Indians, Han Chinese, Arabs, Brazilians, mestizos, and most recently, and most under-reportedly, ethnic Hmong.

Once penniless back in their home country, the Hmong, thanks to their decades of perseverance, have achieved considerable success in the brand-new region they adopted. With a tropical setting tantamount to that of Laos, they found themselves easier to adapt to life here, compared to their counterparts who encountered more difficulties in adjusting to life in United States, Australia, or any other developed countries. Representing only 1% of total population, or approximately 2,500 people, Hmong in French Guiana reportedly control 70% of the region’s agricultural industry, giving them disproportionate amount of wealth.

Most of them are concentrated in a small town named Cacao, one that gives any visitor a bizarre atmosphere as though they were transported back to Laos.

Read the full article on The New York Times.

Excerpt:

The first Hmong arrived from France in 1977 and were greeted with protests from the Creoles, an ethnic group descended from African slaves, who chafed at what was viewed as preferential treatment for a new ethnic group in an impoverished area. French authorities initially gave each Hmong a few dozen francs a day on which to survive.

The settlers pooled those payments to buy fertilizer and tractors. Slowly, after years of labor, the Hmong became self-sufficient. They now grow large quantities of previously scarce vegetables, like lettuce, and tropical varieties of fruit like cupuaçu, which is oblong, has a white pulp and is found in the Amazon basin.

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