BY KIM HWANG
AAP staff columnist
ST. PAUL (May 12, 2013) — University Avenue, in St. Paul, Minnesota is home to an eclectic mix of human services and privately owned local businesses. Upon arriving at the, “First Annual Hmong Celebration” at the Hmong Lao Community Center, it was evident that St. Paul’s rich and ethnically diverse populations have grown. Among many, privately owned businesses by people of color and Asian community members, restaurants and non-profit organizations, The Hmong Lao Family Community Center, resides conveniently on the 300 block of University Avenue. The goal of the community center is to provide support, academic and family resources and hold special events for the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area Hmong Community.
On Sunday afternoon, May 12th, a wide array of high profile leaders within the Hmong community attended, “The First Annual Hmong American Day.” Included, were those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. The day was held to honor Hmong Americans in Minnesota who continue to make substantial and impressionable contributions to the citizens of Minnesota and the United States of America.
Along side special guests, Hmong Community members and City leaders, U.S. Sen. Al Franken attend this historic and special event. Franken commemorated and honored Hmong American soldiers who fought along side the United States Military in Laos in the mid 1970’s, as well as those Hmong American military who continue to serve now.
Franken, among other city officials gave heartfelt speeches, which communicated deep gratitude to the Hmong community, Hmong soldiers in the United States military and Hmong/Laotian families for their heroic efforts during the Vietnam War.
The Senator also made valiant efforts to thank Hmong Americans for their ongoing sacrifices and hard work, since arriving in the United States. Hmong Americans in the Twin Cities are working to bridge culture chasms by working with St. Paul’s community resources. The goals of the Hmong community center are to maintain the rich heritage they had prior to coming the United States and to build positive relationships with everyone in the community.
Franken began his speech by thanking Hmong Americans who currently serve in the United States Armed Forces for their dedication. He went on to underscore Hmong American military and civilian efforts to create better lives for themselves, their families and children, despite racial and ethnic barriers. Senator Franken emphatically stated that immigration legislation needs further examination and reforms need to be implemented in order to reunite Hmong families together. Franken does not believe that Hmong Laos family members who remain in Asia, should be separated from family members who live in the United States. Families should be able to stay together.
“Immigration reform must include efforts to reunite family members from war torn countries along with their families and relatives who were brought to the United States,” Franken said. “We owe it to these families to bring them together based on all that they’ve done for the United States. Immigration reform must include the reunification of Hmong families so they can live together.”
Over five-hundred people attended the annual celebration kick off, such as: MayKao Y. Hang (President/CEO of Ameherst Wilder Foundation), Senator Al Franken (United States Senator for Minnesota), Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman, Saint Paul City Council Member, Melvin Carter, Former Colonal, Tub Fwm Vaj (Special Guerilla Unit Veteran), Chupheng Lee (President of the Hmong/Lao Community Center), Paj Xab Vang (Minnesota Hmong Lao Memorial Committee, Kevin Vang (President of Hmong 18 Council), May Chong Xiong (Take Action Minnesota), Kazoua Kong-Thao (Former St. Paul Public School Board Member 2005-2009 running for City Council/Ward One), Chue Vue (Attorney at Law and St. Paul resident who is active in education).
While the list of, “Who’s Who?” in the Hmong American community is not exhaustive, the community members who attended represented Hmong Americans who continue to work collaboratively with politicians to maintain their rich cultural heritage within a variety of important contexts.
Another issue addressed at the celebration was education. Tables of literature communicated strong desires that Hmong elders have to ensure that their young people are highly educated. Parents, children and grandparents spoke with me about the importance of education within the Hmong Community. Parents were passionate about connecting with schools and becoming more involved. They stated that they want their children to become lawyers, doctors and academics.
In addition, a group of Hmong adolescent dancers performed beautiful dances, which included gymnastics and synchronistic choreography. Children were dressed in traditional outfits. The Hmong dance performers emulated pride in their culture, through creative and engaging dance. Elders watched with pride and the community observed the performance with joy.
There was an abundance of activities, literature, performances and speakers to boldly point out that Hmong Americans are here to thrive. In speaking with the elders, I was told that they are continuing to organize and collectively increase opportunities for Hmong American citizens, families and children. Senator Frankin supported their goals with a commitment to help aid efforts that will result in Hmong Americans achieving goals each citizen should be entitled to.