Sisters Mai Lo Lee and Beth Lo grew up in a large Hmong family on a ginseng farm in Wisconsin. But their story dates back to the American War in Vietnam. 

Originally from Laos, the Lo family fled persecution after the country fell to communist forces in the mid 1970s. The new regime declared the Hmong people enemies of the state, as they’d fought alongside the U.S. against the communist government.

The Lo family in the Ban Vinai Holding Center, Thailand, in 1980. Photo courtesy of Mai Lo Lee.

The Lo family crossed the Mekong River, which borders Laos and Thailand, and spent years in the Ban Vinai Holding Center—a refugee camp in Thailand. In 1980, six months after Mai was born, they immigrated to the U.S. and resettled in Wisconsin, where the parents found work as ginseng farmers.

Beth and Mai Lo with their father, Sai Vue Lo, in Wausau, WI, circa 2018. Photo courtesy of Mai Lo Lee.

At StoryCorps, the sisters reflected on their family’s struggles and survival, their Hmong heritage, and how a rice steamer became a family legend.

Top Photo: Beth Lo and Mai Lo Lee at their StoryCorps interview in Appleton, WI on August 20, 2023. By Delilah Righter for StoryCorps.


This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired June 21, 2024, on NPR’s Morning Edition.