Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins once described his city and its immigrants as a “gorgeous mosaic.” It’s true of our nation as well. The mosaic includes the Hmong people of Laos, hundreds of thousands of whom fled to this country in 1975 seeking refuge from the communist Pathet Lao government. One of those refugees was a 7-year-old boy named Paul Chapao Lo.
Lo recalls that when he was 7, he walked through the jungle with his parents and about 20 other relatives to reach Thailand. The family made its way to the United States.
Along with those thousands of others, he found a new life in the California Central Valley. Lo learned English and attended Tokay High School in Lodi. His first career choice was psychology so he could help fellow Hmong struggling with social disorientation in America. But a counselor waved him off and told him what his people really needed were lawyers.
He graduated from UC Davis, with a degree in economics, and UCLA Law School and started practicing law in Merced.
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In Laos, the Hmong legal system was paternalistic and hierarchical; a council of elders meted out justice. No English common law, no Napoleonic Code, just a loose amalgam of justice. In Merced, Lo helped Hmong residents navigate a new language, and a legal system that was completely alien to them.
Gov. Jerry Brown recently appointed Lo to the Merced Superior Court. Now 45, Lo is the first Hmong ever appointed to a Superior Court in the United States.
Lo’s appointment is a moment of pride not just for the Hmong people, but for all Americans. It’s an illustration of the American story. You come to the United States, you work hard, you give back, and you make good.
It’s all part of the gorgeous mosaic.