More than 400 people gathered on May 12 for the first annual Hmong-American Day celebration in St. Paul. Among those in attendance: community leaders, politicians, distinguished guests, and veterans, as well as families and children. The celebration was hosted by Lao Family Community after the State of Minnesota officially proclaimed May 14 as Hmong American Day. The date was chosen because May 14, 1975 was the day that General Vang Pao fled Laos and made the United States—and Minnesota—the home to hundreds of thousands of Hmong.
Those in attendance enjoyed the opportunity to listen to Hmong instrumental music, partake in family cultural activities, listen to stories of Hmong history, and nibble on Hmong cuisine.
The celebration featured not only a family friendly program, but also encouraged kids to get to know their histories with cultural activities such as paj ntaub (Hmong traditional needlework) and rhia yaas (Hmong rubberband jump rope). The event also featured multimedia experiences with one corridor featuring an exhibit of never-before-seen photos of Hmong soliders as well as a darkroom dedicated to a slideshow of rare photos from General Vang Pao’s personal collection. The First Annual Hmong American Day also partnered with over 25 Hmong and non-Hmong organizations in efforts to support and raise awareness of the day and provided evening entertainment by having the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT) host one of their popular open mic nights.
May Kao Hang, President and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, who gave the keynote address, stated that the Hmong community have gone a long way to secure their futures: “One of the strengths of the Hmong community is the ability to unite over time, “ Hang stated. “Every problem has a solution and we all value that we all have something to contribute.”
Hmong qeej (traditional instrument) playing
“We must ask we can we do in order to help our futures,” said Kevin Vang, President of the Hmong 18 Clan Council. “We have the power to change this. The U.S. is our country, our homeland now and we must share in the civil responsibility. We must invest in our education to provide for the future of this country.”
Hmong folk singing and traditional ball toss
Congressman Keith Ellison addressed the growing commitment that the Hmong have for their future via their pasts and the present: “[At this event] Hmong children are learning about Hmong history. Older people are remembering the good and bad times. We can’t allow our kids to forget who they are,” he acknowledged in a speech, “but you should know that those of us who aren’t Hmong have great respect for the Hmong community. I’m not saying there aren’t challenges but [the Hmong] are offering their leadership all over Minnesota. They inspire the Hmong community. This is a day for celebration and remembrance. This is a day to be inspired and educated. I’m looking for the first Hmong president of the U.S. It can happen, but it will have to come from the histories. Now is the time to tell your stories!”
Echoed St Paul City Councilmember Melvin Carter III: “History books often skip over the experiences of non-Europeans. Every time a child knows their past a little better, they become better. Our—and I say ‘our’ because I consider myself a part of it—future is in our hands. I’m excited to have been a part of the story with you and writing the rest of it with you.”