Toua Xiong, developer of Hmongtown Marketplace, is the 2010 recipient of AILA’s Immigrant of Distinction Award. (Photo courtesy of R. Mark Frey)
Bloomington, Minn. (May 7, 2010) – In response to the often contentious debate over the merits and costs of immigration to the United States, the Minnesota-Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association emphasizes that this is a great nation built from the contributions of generations of immigrants – and that its continued greatness requires the continued influx of immigrants.
The local AILA chapter has presented Toua Xiong of St. Paul with its annual 2010 Immigrant of Distinction award in part to recognize the accomplishments of immigrants and how they benefit the communities in that effort. Mr. Xiong was presented with the award at the Upper Midwest Immigration Conference on May 7, in Bloomington.
Xiong fled persecution in Laos with his family and then lived seven years in a refugee camp in Thailand. Arriving in the U.S. as a teenager, with a wife and two children and no English skills, he quickly recognized the importance of education to the American Dream and pursued degrees in business and accounting.
Laid off after supporting his growing family for several years in low-paying jobs, he decided to work for himself and purchased a small grocery store from a friend in St. Paul. Within a year he sold the store and opened a much larger restaurant/market in the same area, developing it into a Hmong meeting place.
He later moved the market to its current location on Como Avenue, and after several years it developed into International Marketplace, supporting over 200 vendors of unique Asian produce and products. Defying the recent recession, Xiong purchased the property last year making it the first such Hmong-owned and operated market in the Midwest.
Now renamed “Hmongtown Marketplace”, the mall provides employment to over 600 people – 99 percent of Hmong ancestry – and attracts consumers from across the region and of all backgrounds.
While the story of Hmongtown Marketplace by itself is remarkable – the AILA states that it has become a vibrant center of Hmong cultural and social activity and a shining anchor improving an otherwise economically-stressed sector of St. Paul. Xiong is credited for striving to contribute to his community in many ways – including as a founding member of the Hmong Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
AILA states that Xiong encourages community integration and has donated space to neighborhood community groups, and cares for those unable to care for themselves by donating food to local organizations.
Xiong recognizes the role of education in his own life and its importance to building a successful community. He ahs sponsored Hmong students on educational field trips to Thailand and giving generously in support of education in the Twin Cities. He also supports new immigrants with integration support that includes citizenship drives and by encouraging civic participation.
In his passion to succeed Xiong has not forgotten his own heritage, and regularly hosts national Hmong festivals and soccer tournaments. Most recently, Xiong founded Hmongtown Connections, a non-profit organization through which sponsors cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Southeast Asia. He also promotes community and neighborhood revitalization in St. Paul, and has helped to establish a Hmong museum to preserve and promote Hmong culture.
AILA states that Xiong is not merely an embodiment of the American Dream, achieving personal success, but, perhaps more importantly, he is an example of how an immigrant becomes a member of the American community, embracing American values and making America a better place.