COMMUNITY VOICES | Hmong 18 Clan Council Conference: Hmong bridal price policy

From October 18-20th, the Hmong 18 Council 1st Annual National Conference was held at the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) building. This effort was organized by the Minnesota Hmong 18 Council (H18C), which consists of Hmong leaders who represent one of the eighteen last names, and was sponsored by a variety of groups and organizations such as Hmong Village and Hmong American Partnership (HAP). The purpose of the conference was to bring “all community members throughout the nation to discuss many topics, including preventing and stopping poverty in the Hmong community by making decisions to standardize two important economic impacts in the Hmong community: Hmong funerals and bridal dowry.”  Although the idea of this conference was to include different leaders in making these important decisions, when it came to the content of the conference, it was nothing but confusing and contradicting.Bo Thao-Urabe, who has extensive experience in community engagement which includes serving as the Executive Director for the Women’s Association of Hmong and Lao in Minnesota and Hmong National Development in Washington, delivered an informative and inspiring presentation about inclusion and the state of the Hmong population in the United States. As a young Hmong American woman myself, it was a relief to see that women were able to present views and perspectives that challenged that old structure that governed entities like the H18C at the conference.But the next session, right after Thao Urabe had spoken, would provide testimony to the sexism and inequality that stills exists in the Hmong 18 Council and in the Hmong community.In the Hmong Bridal Price Policy session, which was chaired by H18C’s Culture Chair of Minnesota, Cha Yeng Cha, a 20 page document of the bylaws of the bridal dowry was passed out with the council saying that they would take suggestions; 20 minutes later, the Culture Chair announced that they would be voting on it that very day. With the majority of the conference participants relatives, friends, and supporters of H18C, it was no surprise that the initial vote for the first dowry price was approved 94 to 5, with many abstaining to even raise their hand to vote. Continue Reading

Lao Family Community of Minnesota: A struggle in the right direction

A well known organization in the Hmong community has been undergoing a large change since March 2013, and it’s being spearheaded by a group of six young Hmong women who just recently graduated from college. Under Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC), the Hmong Higher Education Scholar Program (HHESP) was developed to encourage educational attainment and leadership in the Hmong community. Not only does this signal a change of direction for the organization, but a change of leadership.Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC) is a 30-year-old organization that was founded in 1977 to lift the Hmong refugee community, coming from Thailand and Laos, up by providing social services, educating the Hmong population on American culture, and also providing cultural activities. Today, youth make up the bulk of the Hmong population, gender norms are changing, and refugee issues are no longer ‘issues.’ But in recent years, instead of being known for its leadership or community activities, LFC has come under fire for charges of corruption, clan politics, election fraud, and struggles to maintain relevance in the Hmong community.“I guess from the beginning I didn’t know we had an option to work with Lao Family,” said Ka Lia Lor, a member of HHESP. “It’s never really been that kind of community organization where you just walk in and contribute your ideas. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Ordway Center’s Miss Saigon: The show must go on

On September 22, 2013, the Ordway Center hosted a Cultural Conversation about their up and coming musical Miss Saigon, which is about a young vietnamese prostitute falling love with an America G.I. during the Vietnam War. This conversation was moderated by Hamline professor Colleen Bell, and education and programming staff of the Ordway Center. The purpose of this community conversation was to “provide a framework for understanding conflict in the arts.” Throughout the conversation, the facilitator directed the conversation to different topics such as the value of Miss Saigon, education, and responsibility as viewers. It was a great conversation that the Ordway Center organized for the community. The only problem was that the community was nowhere to be found.With the Asian American community hurt and angry about the Ordway Center’s decision to continue showing Miss Saigon,  you’d think that the Ordway Center would do its best to reach out and invite Asian immigrantsor Asian American leaders or organizations to their ‘community conversation.’ But as I walked into the room, I quickly realized that out of the 50 or more people that were there, I was one out of five Asian Americans/ immigrants present. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Miss America win, not a win for me

This past week, Nina Davuluri won the coveted Miss America title. Being the first Indian American to win in a historically racist and exclusive pageant, Nina’s win sparked racist tweets and backlash because she was deemed “un-American.” In online conversations, the topic that has been brought up quite a bit is that this is a sign of progress for women of color. Many of my friends believe that this Miss America win for Davuluri is a win for all of us, but how and why would we look to a pageant to indicate progress for all of us? Yes, she is the first Asian Indian woman to win, and surely little girls around the US can say “Hey, I can be exactly like her when I grow up. I can do it too,” but does this exactly signify change for women of color or empower us?No. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Hmongtown Market drug raid: Not an issue of culture

On June 13th, authorities seized hundreds of pounds of cyanide, steroids, opiates and other mislabeled or unlabeled drugs from more than 15 vendors at a Hmong market in St. Paul. While some of the drugs were out in the open, they also found pills, syringes, and other drugs under curtains, inside baggies, and in unmarked containers. For years, the Federal Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI) warned these vendors, but they still continued to sell these illegal drugs. Not only did this investigation make headlines in Minnesota, but the drug raid that happened at the Hmongtown Market this mid-June put into question the issue of the Hmong culture and legality in the United States. Continue Reading