Hmong Women: Forgotten Heroes

For much of my own cultural heritage and recent history, heroes were men in military uniforms who fought to save people and bring forth peace. War defined heroism and created leaders, and this also divided able-bodied men from women, children, the disabled and the elderly. To think of who was a protector, it is easy to think of the Hmong veterans and leaders who were mostly, if not all, men. These are the people who directly took part in shaping recent Hmong history and deciding what is meaningful in our historical narrative. I grew up learning about the Vietnam War, learning about General Vang Pao and the sacrifices that were made, and seeing the decorated veterans during every Hmong New Year celebration. Continue Reading

Six reasons why Hmong Americans should vote this year

Historically, the Hmong community has had one of the lowest voter turnouts, but with outreach campaigns there have been considerable advances made in increasing a Hmong voting bloc in Minnesota.While Hmong Americans have faced cultural perceptions that voting makes no difference in the past, the Hmong population in Minnesota has the potential to make a large impact on elections this year, and could greatly benefit the Hmong community, given high voter turnout. So, here are six reasons why Hmong Minnesotans should vote this election year. 1. Minnesota is home to the second largest Hmong population in the U.S.It’s no secret that Minnesota has a large Hmong population.According to 2010 census data, 66,181 Hmong Americans reside in Minnesota, putting the state second behind California for largest Hmong population in the United States. That also means there’s a large potential for the Hmong community in Minnesota to be an important voter bloc for local politicians, but the keyword above is “home.”The Hmong narrative has majorly been about their involvement in the Vietnam War with the C.I.A. and repatriation of refugees to Laos or Vietnam. This common narrative has shaped the structure of Hmong organizations, clans, culture, and leadership in the U.S.But despite the strong connection to Laos and Vietnam, especially from elders and leaders, the Hmong community in Minnesota is here to stay; it is now their home.Recent college graduate Selue Kazoua Yang said she believes that voting is very much a part of the past struggles of the Hmong community. Continue Reading

THE EQUITY LENS | College party theme: Willful ignorance

Student leaders and allies at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University (CSB/SJU) in Saint Joseph are currently dealing with the ongoing offensive party themes that were created to commemorate the graduating senior class. To commence this year’s graduating seniors at CSB/SJU, the Fourteenth Annual Mandatory Senior Appreciate Keg (FAMSAK), a private Facebook of seniors, has gone out of its way to be ‘creatively’ offensive. Who would be surprised? This is the fourteenth year of this tradition hence the “Fourteenth” in the title. In other words, like any other year, the celebration goes on even if other students are hurt and against it.With themes like “Pig Tails and Pedophiles” and the ever classic Mexico theme: “Cross the Border into the Quarters,” there are bound to be “overly sensitive” students at the college.The FAMSAK students say it is not harmful. Continue Reading

THE EQUITY LENS | No driver’s license, no employment

In the conversations about unemployment and poverty, “personal responsibility” and “self sufficiency” are loaded words thrown around to suggest that the unemployed and the poor should take control of their life, get a job, and pay their fair share of taxes, rather than “freeloading” off the state.  While I disagree with the language used and assumptions that simplify the plight of the poor, I would have to agree that employment is important and essential to economic empowerment. Ask the poor what they need the most, and the answer is not “more benefits,” but “a job.”Job Growth and OpportunitiesThe Department of Employment and Economic Development Department (DEED) reported that 9,500 jobs were added in December, bringing total job gains in the state to 45,900 in the past year. Of the industrial sectors, the construction industry is up 6,500 jobs from a year ago, a 7.5 percent growth rate that is more than triple the U.S. growth rate of 2.2 percent in that industry.It’s important to note that the construction industry pays particularly well ranging from an hourly wage of $15 to $30, way above the minimum wage. We often see the poor stuck in low paying jobs with little to no chance of career advancement, but an industry like construction allows for promotion, where the hourly wage/ salary can increase, and is a felon-friendly job field. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Saint Paul Impound Lot: Working class city with high priced fees

Calling in to the impound lot on Caitlin Street near the State Fairgrounds, a staff member told me that on that Wednesday, because of the Snow Emergency Alert, over 1,000 cars came into the lot. One of those cars was actually mine. While, my brother drove us there, I announced “No one’s getting a gift from me this year. Merry Christmas.” I needed my car if I was ever going to be able to afford a gift for anyone.As I arrived to pick up my car, the line of people, who also didn’t get the memo about the Snow Emergency Alert in Saint Paul, had started from early morning and circled from inside the impound office building to outside, pass the parking gate. “Thank goodness, it’s not too cold today,” a young woman said to me as we waited in line. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Reflections of an Annoyed Millennial (or Entitled Brat, Narcissist, etc)

On Thursday, I enthusiastically signed up to volunteer to help and inspire College Possible students by speaking to them about my college and application experience.I woke up at 8:30 AM on Saturday, tossing and turning in my bed, contemplating if I should drive all the way to Brooklyn Park to speak to these students. I immediately conduct a cost and benefit analysis, thinking, almost getting up, and then going back to lay down. I conclude that this drive was going to cost me more than what I would get out from it. Gas is like gold these days, and I certainly couldn’t afford to drive half an hour.I go anyways. As you see, I’m not always the most rational person.“So, how did you choose your major?” said a shy student who looked younger than her actual age.“Well you don’t have to declare your major right away, take your time to see what you really enjoy learning, and…” and then I realize my feelings towards these liberal arts majors were quite complicated.I am a Millennial. Continue Reading

PHOTO ESSAY: Celebrating Hmong New Year in St. Paul

This year marks the 38th Annual Hmong New Year in Saint Paul. Prior to the Hmong arrival in the United States, the New Year’s celebration was held after the rice harvest. The tradition continued as Hmong people made Minnesota their home.The event is open to all, and includes entertainment, pageant competition, food, arts and craft, and dress.Want to learn more about Hmong New Year? Here’s a 2010 article by Phyllis Louise Harris, originally written for Asian Pages and republished in the TC Daily Planet, and a Wikipedia article.The photos below were captured during the three-day Hmong New Year celebration at St. Paul’s River Centre.Neng Lee, Hmong New Year Program Coordinator giving a speech to welcome community members.Local Hmong artists about to perform a song “All This and More” by Chael Young and PK Yang. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Hmong culture: A questioning of values

We are entering into a cultural reformation in our community, where our values today don’t quite align with our culture. For quite some time now, our values and our culture have clashed, which has created social upheaval and alienation in the Hmong community. “What does it mean to be Hmong?” seems to be the the question that every Hmong American goes through; it’s a rite of passage for those growing up in two seemingly opposing cultures. With the majority of the Hmong population now made up of youth, this questioning of the Hmong culture is inevitable. Why are things the way they are? Why has it always been done this way? Continue Reading