The economy and education were the two main issues raised at a forum for the Hmong community held on the east side of St. Paul October 9 with gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. Hosted by the Hmong American Partnership and sponsored by Take Action Minnesota, the forum drew nearly 200 people from the Hmong community to hear Dayton’s responses to questions and concerns raised by members of the audience.
Zer Vang, an American-born Hmong resident of St. Paul’s east side, wanted to know if Dayton would support a state-wide implementation of Hmong history taught in the public schools. St. Paul Public Schools has approved a plan to teach Hmong History to middle school aged students.
Dayton’s response was that cultural education should reflect the ethnic groups residing in different parts of the state. “The same question has been asked of me from people from the Latino community, the Somali community. The exact same curriculum would not be fit for every single different part of Minnesota. In St. Paul and Minneapolis where there are Hmong communities, that would be very important and I would support that as I would support teaching the other areas of the state and those people who come from other different countries and nationalities.”
Dayton was less specific when asked about job growth, reforming the criminal justice system and the question of veteran status for Hmong soldiers who fought with the CIA in the secret war in Laos during the 1970s. However, he vowed to sit down with veterans and other Hmong leaders to learn more about their concerns if he is elected.
House candidate Rena Moran (District 65A) and state Senate candidate John Harrington (District 67) also appeared to seek support and answer questions. The two seats they are pursuing are being vacated by Cy Thao and Mee Moua, the only two Hmong seats presently held in the state legislature.
Moran suggested government assistance or deferment if there is a disproportionate rise in property taxes along the University Ave light rail while Harrington voiced the need to swap high transportation costs for the public schools in exchange for a greater focus on classroom resources, staff and safety measures on a neighborhood level.
Throughout the morning, Hmong leaders encouraged the audience that voter participation is essential in November. Outgoing State Representative Cy Thao emphasized the importance of voting for others such as Mark Dayton as they would a Hmong candidate. Bao Vang, executive director of Hmong American Partnership said, “We’ve been here for thirty-five years. We are not refugees any more. If you want to improve life in the community, you have to participate in the democratic process.”