Concordia St. Paul News

April 6, 2018

CSP Hosts 7th Biennial International Conference April 6-7

Concordia University, St. Paul is hosting the 7th Biennial International Conference on Hmong Studies April 6-7.The purpose of this conference is to provide opportunities for emerging and established Hmong and non-Hmong scholars to share their research on Hmong/Miao related topics, to inspire and motivate students to engage in scholarly research, and to recognize distinguished scholars for their work in the field of Hmong/Miao Studies.

Concordia’s own Paul Hillmer (historian) and Megan Johnson-Saylor (librarian/archivist) will be talking about a collection of materials related to the Secret War in Laos (which occurred at the same time as the Vietnam War but out of the public spotlight) created and collected by a most remarkable man – Vinton Lawrence.

Vinton (“Vint”) Lawrence was an art history major at Princeton who was recruited into the CIA and sent to Laos in 1962.  He spent four years there, mostly living with Hmong soldiers at Long Tieng and serving as an advisor to General Vang Pao and a conduit between the general and CIA operations in neighboring Thailand. Lawrence later left the CIA and became a widely successful artist and political caricaturist.

Hillmer interviewed Lawrence on 2006 and the two maintained a friendship thereafter.  

​”As an unknown academic from a small, Midwestern school, I had no expectation of ever seeing or hearing from Vint again,” Hillmer said. “It is one of the great joys of my life that this remarkable gentleman took an interest in me and my work for the rest of his life. He was one of a small group of great role models and mentors who influenced me greatly.”  

When Lawrence died in April 2016 his wife, highly respected international journalist Anne Garrels, sent Hillmer all of Mr. Lawrence’s Laos-related effects. These include three photo albums, over 6,000 slides, audio tapes containing messages home, diary entries, and Hmong and other ethnic people telling stories and singing folk song. Also included were over three years of detailed correspondence between Lawrence and others in Laos and CIA supervisors in Vientiane and Udorn Air Base in Thailand. Johnson-Saylor has led the efforts to preserve and digitize the collection while Hillmer has focused on digitizing and interpreting the CIA correspondence.

Ms. Garrels, most widely known for her courageous reporting for National Public Radio in the days leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003,​ will be receiving an honorary doctorate from Concordia at this spring’s graduation ceremony for her outstanding and inspirational ​journalistic career. She is also the author of two books, Naked In Baghdad and Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia.