The section where University Avenue runs through Frogtown is an interesting place with the assortment of Asian restaurants, the local owned stores, and the other cultural icons scattered every couple of blocks that give this part of the Twin Cities a soul of its own.
However, lost in the haze of buildings and store signs is one of the most important Hmong destinations here in Minnesota, Hmong Archives.
Founded in 1999 by Marlin Heisse and Yuepheng Xiong, Hmong Archives recently celebrated its 10th year anniversary on February 14th at its newest location, 298 University Ave. in St. Paul.
As its bylines say, Hmong Archives was created to “Preserve the Hmong Heritage”. After ten productive years and thousands and thousands of items later, Hmong Archives has achieved just that.
Among the items that Hmong Archives collects are movies, books and newspaper articles. They have even gone through the trouble of saving significant house-hold products such as old pots and pans from Thailand and Laos.
“If your family has clothes that they kept from the old country, we might want to save it here,” explained Marlin. “It might not seem very significant to those who are donating it, but we want to preserve those kinds of materials for the future.”
Marlin Heisse displaying old furniture saved from Thai refugee camp. (Photo: Hmong Today)
The Hmong Archives’ movie collection includes about 500 total movies ranging from documentaries about the Hmong people to Hmong-made movies and Hmong-dubbed movies.
In the process of cataloguing the movies, Hmong Archive volunteer Kou Xiong actually sat down to watch nearly each and every movie that has been collected.
“I would say the quality of Hmong movies has greatly improved over the years,” Xiong recalled of his three-years-long project. “Actually, some of the older classics are not that bad either!”
Hmong Archives also collects books written about the Hmong people and books written by Hmong artists.
Delicately dusting off a book cover, Yuepheng Xiong gleams with pride as he revealed one of the most rare artifacts that the Archives has been able to obtain, a copy of “Conquest of the Miao-tze” which was published in 1810.
“When I saw this book on the market, I immediately snatched it up because it’s so rare to find any older Chinese books that mention the Hmong, or Miao.”
Hmong archives also collects Hmong-produced magazines and newspapers, like Hmong Today, and it also collects local and national stories featuring Hmong people.
“When someone Hmong is featured in local and national stories, we will collect the articles and file it under their name, so someday, they can come back and see what they’ve done or their children can see it,” said Marlin Heisse.
When asked why he thought Hmong Archives was important, long time contributor Vang Tou Xiong said, “You know, life is fast. You hardly even have time to keep track of your life. Everything you accomplish now you don’t think about because you keep looking towards the future trying to get things done, and you’re trying to let go of things and you go so far away; sometimes it’s good to come back because it reminds you of where you came from and who you are.”
If you’ve never been to Hmong Archives I recommend going, it’s very educational. You might even find you have articles under your name.
If you have any Hmong movies that you don’t need or plan to throw out, any articles, papers or artwork done by you or someone Hmong that’s no longer needed, please donate it to Hmong Archives. Keeping records has never been a Hmong strong suit, let’s try to change that.
For more information about Hmong Archives, please go to: www.hmongarchives.org