Monday, November 8, 2010
Khoua Yang, 28, of Wausau, enters his vote during Saturday's Hmong elections at the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association in Wausau. (Xai Kha/Wausau Daily Herald)
Wausau resident Khoua Neng Yang was among hundreds of Wisconsin residents who made history Saturday.
Yang and the others cast ballots in the first ever democratic election to select a new cultural leader for the state's Hmong community. The winner of the weekend election will lead the Hmong 18 Clan Council, a governing and leadership group, for the next four years.
"For me it's very important to vote for someone who has the same thinking and understanding about the problems that the Hmong community is going through," the 28-year-old Yang said. "If you want to see things happen, you can't just sit back. You have to be able to vote for the person who will represent you."
Election officials announced Saturday evening that Wa Meng Yang of Milwaukee won the election with 553 votes across the state. The other two candidates, Txoua Xiong of Green Bay and Sivblong Vang of Green Bay, came in second and third, respectively.
John Vang, one of the election coordinators in Wausau, said the new election process drew many to vote at the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association.
In the 35 years since the Hmong came from the Southeast Asian nation of Laos to Wisconsin, this marks the first time that the 18 Clan Council president was elected, rather than chosen by cultural leader Gen. Vang Pao. Much like in American general elections, Hmong candidates traveled across the state to campaign and speak with residents. They also participated in a debate on Hmong radio, Vang said.
Election officials expected a bigger turnout for the weekend elections.
"I don't think the message got through to everybody," Vang said.
Of the estimated 6,000 Hmong residents in Wausau and surrounding communities, only 153 showed up ready to vote, according to election results.
Yang Xiong, a Wausau resident who volunteered at the polling location, said the election drew few young voters.
"It's been more of the older generations because of the media where they have been advertising," Xiong, 25, said.
Yang, who arrived to Wausau from Laos as a 5-year-old in the early 1980s, said the most important issues that he expects the new president to address are domestic violence, higher education for Hmong youths and underage marriages.
He said the importance of addressing such issues is more relevant now that he has a 2-year-old daughter and a newborn son and he thinks about their future.
"As I get older and I have family now, I see that these things do affect me," Yang said.