AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (May 26, 2012) — A conference on topics related to Hmong American women today continues to evolve as more than 200 participants of all ages attended the May event at the University of Minnesota.
Hmong women ranging form as young as junior high school to the elder pioneering refugee generation were in attendance. Organizers said the conference has evolved from a networking event for young female professionals to a conference that is focused on issues of all Hmong women.
“The objective of the conference was to empower Hmong women and celebrate the strengths of our culture and hear the stories of successful Hmong women from our culture,” said Choua Her, an original planning committee member who is still active with the event today.
The attempt to effectively reach a diversity of women throughout the Hmong community was apparent as conference themes were quite varied and spoke to the issues facing Hmong women today. Her said conference topics included education, leadership, domestic violence, the judicial system, health, and healthy marriage.
“In addition, we had two successful single moms talk about resilience after a difficult and unexpected divorce,” Her added.
Lee Yang, a program supervisor at Hmong American Partnership, said that a conference highlight was guest speaker Dr. Pang Foua Yang-Rhodes.
“She talked about the importance of a healthy relationship and what elements are needed in a healthy marriage,” said Yang. “The key messages that she touched on are different from the traditional Hmong expectations of a life partner.”
The value of the conference was in the selection of the themes relevant to the issues facing today’s Hmong women, said Yang. The Hmong community continues to evolve, and she said there are always new opportunities as well as challenges.
The changes in family dynamics within the Hmong family are studied by this group. She said family members are spending less and less time together when closeness was a pillar of Hmong culture and families until recently.
“In the past, one parent would work and the other would stay home,” Yang said. “Today, both parents are working and spending less time in the home.”
More Hmong women are working now, whereas traditionally Yang said the men were expected to hold the jobs.
“I recognize that because we are spending less time in the home, our family values are not the same as our parents, who are more traditional,” she said. “Another important issue facing the community is the growing rate of broken families. Divorce and separation affect the parents, children, extended families and community as a whole.”
Participant evaluations will be used to determine the planning for next year’s conference, as well as understand which topics are of greatest interest to the participants. Organizers are mindful of not going over the heads of the varied audience.
“Our goal is to empower Hmong women all over the US and to have this conference so that Hmong women can continue to be inspired by their Hmong sisters,” said Chu Her. “We want this conference to be a place where Hmong women’s successes are highlighted and shared with other Hmong women. One thing that is unique about our conference is that it is for everyone including ordinary women.
The conference allows women of all backgrounds and not just academics or professionals to participate and contribute, Her said. It is designed to be receptive and not intimidating with pure research and the terminology.
“It’s a conference for Hmong women to celebrate their accomplishments and learn about issues that are affecting their lives,” Her said. “Events such as this should continue to pave a healthy future for Hmong women.
The conference gives testament to the progress of Hmong American women, as the participants are living proof there are far fewer cultural barriers they face today than they did in their homeland or the early years in America.
The conference seeks out the remaining cultural barriers that still linger and Hmong women are needed to identify and express how they are pressured.
The conference is a collaboration of the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, and Concordia University’s Hmong Culture and Language Program. Chayia Lee and Song Vang served as the event’s Mistresses of Ceremonies.
The planning committee had nearly 20 members in addition to numerous volunteers. Committee members and volunteers represented many different organizations and well as a large contingent of students, faculty and staff from Concordia University.
More than 30 individuals and businesses contributed to the conference, some of the major sponsors were Vang Dental, Panera Bread, Hmong Women Achieving Together, and Elite Home Care Inc.