Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in law enforcement were highlighted in May – an honorary month for AAPI.
Sergeant Chue Lee Thao, who immigrated to the United States in 1982 at ten years old, was the first Hmong officer to serve in the Appleton Police Department in Wisconsin, and has been doing so for 25 years and counting.
“I decided to go to law enforcement as a way to continue to do the right thing, continue to serve people, continue to contribute to the community and also for my family,” said Thao.
The Hmong people are the largest Asian ethnic community in Wisconsin according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. They came to the US from Laos and Vietnam as refugees fleeing persecution from the communist regimes coming to power in both countries.
Thao’s father died soon after coming to the US, forcing him to take on greater responsibility as the eldest sibling. He worked hard in school to catch up and learn English, and eventually obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Thao said, “And so with no knowledge of English we all began our ABC and 123’s, in middle school for me, and that just propelled me to try to do the right thing as an example for my brothers, my family and try to in essence pursue the American dream.”
The veteran officer remembered his early memories after the Vietnam War, and said it shaped his outlook on life.
“After the war, we immigrated to Thailand in a refugee camp living surrounded by barb wires and so I remember vividly crossing rivers, crossing jungles and getting to the camp,” said Thao. “And those life experiences just give me the gratitude of being able to immigrate to the United States here and try to seek a better life.”
Sergeant Thao told We Are Green Bay that he believes everyone should get involved to build a stronger community and to push back against racial incidents directed against Asian Americans recently.
“When we look beyond the skin, beyond the hair color, we are all the same and I think it’s unfortunate that those things happen I think because of misunderstanding,” said Thao. “For those who want to look for the difference they may find one or two but for those who want to find that we are really similar in a lot of ways, we have a lot more common than different.”