In a Post article about the adjustment problems that recent refugees face in America {"Asian Un-Success Stories," Outlook, Dec. 27}, David Whitman singles out the Hmong for special attention. While it is true that the Hmong have had more than their share of problems, Whitman selects the facts that fit his thesis, ignoring recent evidence of Hmong successes. He wrote his article to puncture the perception that all Southeast Asians are "honor students, flourishing entrepreneurs and well-bred and industrious workers."

But it is not news that the Hmong have problems in the United States. Nor is it surprising. On the whole, the Hmong have less formal education, speak less English and are less familiar with Western life than other refugee groups. (They also tend to have larger families, which often makes welfare with its guarantees of medical insurance a more attractive option than a minimum-wage job with no medical benefits.) What is news is that there are now signs of Hmong success -- even in Fresno, which has the biggest Hmong community and the highest Hmong welfare rate in the United States. While it is true that nearly 70 percent of the Hmong in Fresno are on welfare, it is also true that that figure represents a 20 percent drop from a welfare rate of nearly 90 percent two years ago.

In his article, Whitman quotes Ernest Velasquez of the Fresno county social services department: "What we have here are 16th-century people thrust into 20th century life." Whitman uses this quotation to support his statement: "So far money does not appear to have done much to help the Hmong become self-sufficient." In doing research for an article on the Hmong, I also talked to Mr. Velasquez. He made two points: the Hmong have problems but things are getting better. His final words to me were: "There is no question in our minds that someday the Hmong will be assets to the community. They just need some time and some help."

To some extent, the problems of the Hmong in Fresno are particular to that area, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, caused in part by a farm crisis. In other communities in the United States -- in Rhode Island, Texas, North Carolina, Nebraska and Georgia, to name a few -- the Hmong are proving that when the conditions are right they can achieve self-sufficiency. A community of Hmong in Morganton, N.C., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, serves as a model of Hmong success. Almost all of the families are self-sufficient; half have bought their own homes.

According to a recent study conducted in San Diego, future generations of Hmong may achieve a lot more than just self-sufficiency. The study found that Hmong secondary school students, who had been in the United States on the average only five years, had higher grade point averages than whites, blacks, Hispanics, Cambodians, Laotians or Filipinos. The only groups with higher grades were the Vietnamese and a few other Eastern Asian groups. Hmong students had the lowest school dropout and juvenile delinquency rates.

Sociologist Ruben Rumbaut, who coauthored the study, recently recalled the reaction to a discussion of his research by a group of Hmong leaders. "After I was through talking, they all gathered around me, asking questions," Rumbaut told me. "They were so excited -- all they had heard up until now was how the Hmong can't make it in America. This was the first good news they had heard."

As Whitman points out in his article, the Hmong are preliterate -- until recently, they had no written language. Like many people with no written history, they remember their experiences through stories and songs. Many of the stories that Hmong refugees in Thai camps tell are about their experiences fighting in the 15-year, CIA-sponsored war that killed them at a rate 10 times that of Americans fighting in Vietnam and turned most of the survivors into refugees. When we calculate the cost of resettling the Hmong, we should remember the price they paid for their alliance.

Donald A. Ranard

Donald A. Ranard, who has worked in refugee projects in the United States and Asia since 1976, has been writing about the Hmong for several years.