Kia Lor’s first day of work was the first day of shutdown on March 16, 2020. The new associate director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC) wasn’t new to campus however. Lor earned her master’s degree from the Graduate School of Education in 2016, specializing in intercultural communication. A high-achieving first-generation, low-income (FGLI) student, she had recently realized that she could make a career out of intercultural work, which she had done her entire life as a first-generation immigrant.
Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Lor is one of six children, the eldest daughter on whom domestic responsibility falls, Lor says. Her family is Hmong, a “minority of minorities” in Southeast Asia and southwest China. The Hmong people fought alongside the U.S. military in what was supposed to be a covert anti-communist operation and later snowballed into the Vietnam War, Lor says. In exchange for their participation, the Hmong people were offered premier refugee status, which Lor’s mother wanted to use. Her father refused to come to the U.S., preferring to return to his homeland in Laos after the war, while her mother “wanted a better future with more opportunities for her children in the U.S.” Lor says.
Her mother waited until her husband was out of town and marched up to the United Nations Refugee Agency, saying, “My husband died in war. I need to go to America, to this place called Minnesota,” where she had family, Lor says. “The only thing that my mom knew about an airplane was that it’s this bird, this metal bird, and you get inside the bird and it goes into the cloud, and it just disappears. You don’t know where it goes, but hopefully it takes you to the land of freedom.”