ST. PAUL, Minn. (Dec. 8, 2015) — This past Sunday afternoon a group of concerned Hmong Americans participated in a community vigil hosted by Minnesotans for Syrian Refugees and Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria outside of the Governor’s residence in St. Paul.
“In light of the recent Paris shootings and the national conversation as well as polarizing rhetoric regarding the Obama administration’s decision to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, we stand in solidarity with our Syrian refugee brothers and sisters who seek a safe haven in this country, and in the state of Minnesota,” said Fue Lee, 24, a graduate of Carleton College and a local Hmong American grassroots activist leader who organized the Hmong American group. Lee was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came to the US when he was 1 year old.
While Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton has made clear he will not join the more than 30 states to refuse resettlement of Syrian refugees in their state, he told the local press, “I wouldn’t say we would welcome, but I trust our churches and nonprofit refugee organizations to make the determination about what’s appropriate and the social costs involved with bringing in people who are indigent refugees.”
In a letter to the Governor two weeks ago, Minnesota House GOP Speaker Kurt Daudt called for a halt to accepting Syrian refugees to the state.
“Most of us are here in the U.S. today because of the refugee resettlement policies back in the 70s and 80s, thanks to leaders like Vice President Walter Mondale. Imagine if these restricted measures were put in place then, our parents and grandparents wouldn’t have been able to come here to escape the certainty of capture, torture and even death due to their roles in helping this country in the war in Southeast Asia,” Lee continued,
Today, Hmong Americans make up the largest Asian Pacific American population group in Minnesota, numbering 66,000, according to the 2010 Census. Since the first Hmong family arrived in Minnesota this month in 1975, many Hmong American refugees have become a permanent fixture of the larger Twin Cities community with their own shopping malls, health clinics, law offices, non-profit organizations, places of worship, and cultural centers and events to serve the needs within their own community and at large.
Jay Xiong, 32, who was born in St. Paul to refugee parents from Laos, said, “Hmong Americans, once refugees, have also established a growing list of Hmong Americans who have been elected to public office, including six who are currently serving as a school board member, city councilmen, and a state legislator.” Xiong was formerly a Minnesota legislative aide, co-founder and the former Executive Director of Asian American Organizing Project, and currently a specialist for the Office of Family Engagement & Community Partnerships of the St. Paul Public Schools.
Among the more than 100 supporters who attended the vigil was St. Paul’s first Hmong American City Councilman Dai Thao who spoke to the crowd about the Hmong refugee experience. He urged Minnesotans to “stand fearlessly to fight for our Syrian brothers and sisters.”
“I am the son of Hmong refugees. I cannot turn my back on Syrian refugees,” said Cheng Zeng Vang of St. Paul. Vang is a student at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.