Hmong: Heritage Month Starts This Weekend In Marathon County

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thirty-five years ago this month, the first Hmong family arrived in Marathon County. In the following years, hundreds of other families followed and settled into the community.

Now, there are more than 5,000 Hmong who call this area home. Every year in April, they make it a point to celebrate their journey and life in America.

A small group of people have been working hard for months to coordinate several events that revolved around this year's Hmong Heritage Month theme, "Spring Into Health."

Here are the following programs planned throughout April:

* Kickoff -- 3:00 - 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 2 at the Marathon County Public Library Wausau Headquarters. Program includes guest speakers, cultural performances and trivia. Free and Open to public. Contact Vong Lao at (715) 701-0822.

* Healthy Hmong Cooking Demonstration -- Session 1 from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. and Session 2 from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 9 at Boys and Girls Club in Wausau. Registration required. Contact WAHMA at (715) 842-8390.

* Storybook Hour with Miss Hmong Wausau Blia Lee -- 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 16 at Marthon County Public Library. Free and Open to Public. Contact Sharyn Heili at (715) 261-7200.

* Reflecting on the Past, Targeting for the Future-Hmong Health -- 8:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 at Horace Mann Middle School. Registration required. Contact Zoua Yang at (715) 701-0822.

* Luncheon -- 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 29. Program includes networking, cultural performance and lecture by author Paul Hillmer, "A People's History of the Hmong." Contact WAHMA at (715) 842-8390.

* Family Fitness Day and Springing to Health: Resources for Better Living -- 9 a.m - 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 30 at John Muir Middle School. Program includes fun family team-building exercises and games and a health resource fair. Contact Bao Vang at (715) 370-7812 or Peg Allen at

The committee is also awarding prizes to active participants throughout the month with an event tracker. It tracks each event you attend and for those who attend most to all programs will be entered into a drawing for big prizes. More information will be available at the Kickoff event Saturday, April 2 at Marathon County Public Library. The drawing for prizes will be held on Saturday, April 30 at John Muir Middle School.



Hmong stories woven into art in Groton show

Detail from a Hmong story cloth, among the works on display at the Groton Public Library, 99 Main St., through April 16. (Thao Kong)

When the narrative nonfiction work “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down’’ by Anne Fadiman was chosen for the annual Groton Reads program, organizer Cheney Harper asked Deborah Santoro, curator of the Owen Smith Shuman Gallery at the Groton Public Library, to plan an art exhibition that would complement the literary selection.

Since the book focuses on the story of Hmong immigrants who settle in Central California and their struggle with cultural differences, particularly in relation to Eastern versus Western medicine, Santoro knew right away where to turn. She and Harper met with Judy Thao, director of the United Hmong of Massachusetts, a Lowell-based organization, to ask for her advice. The result is “Hmong Story Cloths and Textiles,’’ on display through April 16 at the library, 99 Main St. in Groton.

The Hmong are mountain people in Laos who aided the United States during the Vietnam War. Many left as refugees when Laos fell to the communists in the mid-1970s.

Compared with their numbers in California and Minnesota, the Hmong population in Massachusetts is “a small pocket,” said Santoro.

According to Thao, the state’s largest Hmong community is in the Leominster and Fitchburg area, where there are 60 to 70 families, followed by Springfield and Brockton, each with 20 to 30 families. In all, she said, there are approximately 2,000 Hmong living in the state.

A few of the pieces in the Groton show are traditional Hmong dress, such as a white apron donated by the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, but Santoro also opted to include a number of story cloths, a craft that developed in recent decades in the refugee camps.

Absent their usual farming and household responsibilities, the men and women in the camps found themselves with idle time and started stitching images meant to narrate their stories onto large pieces of cloth.

One of Santoro’s favorites, on loan from the Mariposa Museum & World Culture Center in Peterborough, N.H., is an 8-by-14-foot story cloth that includes images of Hmong people doing everything from working their fields in Laos to enduring attacks by soldiers, to arriving in the United States, with its cities, airplanes and immigration officials.

Visitors to the Groton library have been fascinated by the exhibition, which opened March 7, said Santoro. Many have read Fadiman’s book and find it interesting to see some of the history it described reflected in the needlework on display, she said, and craftspeople are amazed at the quality and complexity of the artistry.

The gallery is open during regular library hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. For more information, call 978-448-1167 or visit


Local school tries for Hmong dual immersion

Thursday, March 24, 2011

By fall, Sacramento's Susan B. Anthony Elementary School may be the first public school in California and the second nationwide to implement a Hmong/English dual-language program.

The only thing that may prevent such a program from taking off is a lack of interest among parents and students, so Lee Yang, Sacramento City Unified School District administrator of elementary curriculum and professional development has reached out to Hmong elders and clan leaders about appealing to the Hmong community.

“We can have the program, but if there are no kids, you can't really have it, right?” Yang said. “We are expecting there will be interested folks out there because this is not only designed for Hmong. This is a Hmong language immersion program for all kids, regardless of what language you speak.”

Currently, Susan B. Anthony has a total of 269 students, and of those, 151 speak Hmong, and Yang said he plans on visiting the only other school in the United States that has such a program: Jackson Preparatory Magnet School in St. Paul, Minn.

Like the program in St. Paul, this program at Susan B. Anthony is set to begin with one kindergarten and one first grade classroom. This will continue to expand through high school by adding one class per grade every year. This program will follow the existing Spanish and Chinese immersion programs currently in the Sacramento schools.

At the kindergarten level, the 90-10 percent model, where instruction is provided in the Hmong language 90 percent of the time and the remaining 10 percent is done in English, will be implemented. Progressively each year, instruction in Hmong will reduce by 10 percent, and instruction in English will increase by 10 percent. The transition to 100 percent English will occur between fifth and sixth grades.

Yang said the staff members at the school are already qualified with BCLAD teaching credentials with an emphasis in Hmong Der and Mong Leng.

“But we're at the very early stage at this time,” he said. “At this point, we are in the process of exploring exactly how it will look.” He added that students who wish not to participate in the dual-language program won't have to, since traditional classes will also be offered.

This time last year, the school district began putting together the Chinese immersion program at Elder Creek Elementary. Going into its second year, Yang said he is thrilled to have 13 students on the waiting list already. Coupled with the excitement of that program and the success of the Spanish dual-language immersion program at Cesar E. Chavez Intermediate School (See stats here), Yang said he is excited about the Hmong program also because it's new territory.

By the fourth and fifth grade levels, Yang said that students who participated in the Chinese Immersion Program in San Francisco had very successful rates of proficiency on the standardized tests, and by second grade, they tested equally to their English-only counterparts. While students who are in Spanish dual-language immersion programs are tested in Spanish, Yang said tests are not offered in Chinese or Hmong.

To engage the community, the district has planned two informational meetings. The first will take place on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for the Susan B. Anthony School community, and on Thursday, March 31, at 6 p.m., the district will convene a meeting for the larger Sacramento County community. The school is located at 7864 Detroit Blvd.

Monica Stark can be reached at



Everyday Hero: Helping her family led Lou Lor Lucassen to help others

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pharmacist Lou Lor Lucassen helps a customer Thursday during a prescription pickup at Walgreens at West Mason and Oneida Streets in Green Bay. / M.P. King/Press-Gazette

Pharmacy career inspired by challenges faced, desire to help

BELLEVUE — When Lou Lor Lucassen's dad lost a lot of weight after he was diagnosed with diabetes, her mother, who doesn't speak English, blamed his medications.

She said the family's confusion played a part in her decision to become a pharmacist.

Today, Lor Lucassen helps members of Green Bay's diverse population understand their medical symptoms and learn to properly use medications. For her work she was named a 2009 Green Bay Press-Gazette Everyday Hero. Heroes are those who make the community a better place to live and work.

As a pharmacist for Walgreens in Green Bay, Lor Lucassen often serves Hispanic and Hmong customers. She knows some Spanish and hopes to take classes so she can better serve that growing population, Lor Lucassen said.

"It's very satisfying when you can help someone," she said. "There are times when someone is explaining their symptoms and you can suggest something that might have been missed or maybe they didn't think of before."

Her work impressed Tina Hollenbeck, a former Green Bay teacher who worked with her younger siblings.

"I observed her interacting with a Hispanic family who had come to have several prescriptions filled (at Walgreens,)" Hollenbeck said in her nomination of Lor Lucassen. "At first, the parents attempted to rely on their middle-school aged son to translate as Lou explained (in English) the dosage instructions for each medication, but it was became obvious he really didn't understand what to tell them. … Then, Lou amazed everyone within earshot as she began giving the prescription instructions to the parents in fluent Spanish herself."

That's because she knows how scary it is to not understand, Lor Lucassen said.

Lor Lucassen's journey began in a refugee camp in Thailand where she was born. The family came to the U.S. when she was 6.

She and her siblings learned English while helping the family navigate the unfamiliar customs — and cold weather — of Northeastern Wisconsin. Lor Lucassen was smart.

After graduating from high school, Lor Lucassen studied to become an electrician, but soon realized a trade job wasn't for her. She worked in a pharmacy and eventually enrolled at the University of Wisconsin's pharmacy school.

Her father was a professor in Laos, but worked in a factory in his adopted country. He stressed the importance of education, Lor Lucassen said. She was attending pharmacy school when her father passed away and knows he would be proud.

But her mom thought Lor Lucassen should follow Hmong traditions: to marry young and stay home to raise a family. Her two older siblings stayed close to home and took factory jobs, though one now lives in Oklahoma. She has two younger siblings in college, one at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and one at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, and two siblings in high school.

Lor Lucassen married at 17, but even then her "mother thought I was very old," Lor said. She lives and works in the area to stay close to her family.

The generation gap is huge when moving to a new land, she said.

She's proud her younger siblings, too, are pursuing higher education.

"I think I influenced them," she said.



Our neighbour Laos: No longer the missing link

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vientiane's recent decision to allow Laotian students to study for bachelor degrees in the Thai language represents a new benchmark of Thai-Lao relations.

For decades, this has been an off-area for ties across the Mekong. Until recently, students could study only for masters and post graduate degrees with English language instruction in Thai universities, when scholarships were available.

Beyond the Thai-Lao context, the change of heart manifests the growing pragmatism of the new Lao leadership, which has the vision to transform the land-locked country to become a fully developed land-linked hub in continental Southeast Asia - linking Southern China to the Gulf of Thailand.

With several infrastructure projects in the pipeline under Asean Connectivity, as well as the ongoing Kunming-Vientiane high speed train, Laos is linking its north with southern China and south with Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, as part of the network of regional connectivity. To prepare for the future, the government has dispatched its best students overseas for education and training. The Lao Communist Party, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, is also recruiting bright students to boost its credentials and relevancy.

According to the World Bank, Laos had the second highest economic performance after China last year with an average economic growth of 7.5 per cent. Such impressive growth - unprecedented in its history - was the result of economic reform and overall efforts to integrate with Asean's economy. In the next five years, Laos also hopes to graduate from the list of least developed countries and is also hopeful of joining the World Trade Organisation.

With a new found confidence, the Lao leadership is becoming more outward looking and engaging, especially with neighbouring countries. Since joining Asean in 1997, Laos' overall relations with China, Vietnam and Thailand, have intensified with strong economic ties. Except for Cambodia and Burma, these three neighbours pursue different patterns of political and economic relations, which has enabled Laos to maintain its overall equilibrium.

Lao-China relations improved dramatically in the 1980's and more steadily afterward, as China's presence in the past 6 years has increased by leaps and bounds with huge investment in infrastructure projects. For instance, in Northern Laos, China's economic and demographic presence in Boten is quite impressive. Although China was considered a late comer in comparison with Vietnam, its larger and high-impact investment and assistant schemes including all round cooperation, have all but overwhelmed Vietnam's long-held dominance. Of late, China has also boosted the defence capacity of the Lao armed forces, delivering new military hardware and training. Diplomats frequenting the northern route linking Luang Prabang and border towns in China, have witnessed long lines of military trucks for delivery to Laos.

Truth be told, as a land-locked nation with over six million population, Laos is extremely sensitive to foreign influence. Any tilt towards any country would be addressed quite readily by party leaders. At the National Assembly meeting at the end of last year, the sudden resignation of prime minister Bouasone Bouphavanh was a good case in point. Officially, family problems were cited as the main reason - but diplomatic insiders in Vientiane held different views. They said disagreement over the scope of China's role and economic influence in the country was one of the major factors.

Less controversial this time around were Thai-Lao ties. They have improved tremendously in the past two years due to the repatriation of Hmong refugees inside Thailand, which remained the thorn in the side for the past three decades. This chapter of bad history has finally been overcome. After the controversial repatriation at the end of 2009, Thailand bore the brunt of foreign criticism for pushing back the refugees against international pressure, especially from the US. Albeit despite repeated reports of irregularities and mistreatment, overall Thailand's actions have been vindicated. Both sides are now working closely and discreetly to wrap up their long acrimonious affairs. UN agencies and third resettlement countries are more collaborative now that the issue is no longer on the political radar.

Following the January death of General Vang Pao, the Hmong resistance leader, Laotian leaders, who long fought against him and his Hmong resistance forces, have gradually opened up to overseas Hmong communities, those living in the US in particular, by inviting them to return to their homeland. The government also targets well-to-do Hmong investors.

From December 19 last year, Thailand and Laos began celebrating the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. Numerous activities are planned, including commemorative stamps and books, joint cultural exhibitions, performance and sports. There is new and ongoing construction of railways, roads, hospitals and public utilities. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has maintained the most extensive assistance programs inside Laos covering much-needed fields such as education, agriculture, medicine and human resource developments.

Thailand has been very careful in nurturing its new found trust with Laos. Border authorities were given special instructions to prevent trafficking in people, especially along Nakhon Phanom and Nong Khai provinces. Due to the rising cost of living, more and more Laotians have been attracted to work across the border for higher wages. Thai movie stars and singers are being warned to observe and behave within Lao cultural norms and values. Thai tourists flocking to Laos, 1.3 million last year, have a better appreciation of Lao traditions than before. At this juncture, Thailand cannot afford to have any discord with Laos while the Thai-Cambodian ties continue to face uncertainty.

Laos is planning for the upcoming super event as host of the 9th Asia Europe Meeting in November 2012 - the country's biggest diplomatic showcase since its independence. In 2005, Vientiane hosted for the first time the Asean summit. Unbeknown to the public and media, also in 2005, Laos was the first country to offer hosting of the much heralded East Asia Summit, but it was overlooked. However, the possibility of having at least three dozen leaders from Asia and Europe converge on Vientiane

rendered a strong sense of national pride that Laos would be the centre of global attention - no longer merely the land of laid-back people.



History, Hmong archive need a place

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Collection of "all things Hmong" is too big for current home.

On a quiet St. Paul street sits a modest house that is a hidden portal to the past. Inside, for public viewing, are the Hmong Archives -- a vast collection of maps, books, photographs and other assorted objects chronicling Hmong life through the years.

Like their once-migratory owners, the items in the nation's largest repository of Hmong artifacts are searching for a permanent home.

The collection has moved from site to site in St. Paul since its inception in 1999. The latest move from a floor above the Hmong ABC bookstore on University Avenue happened in December, after the building went into foreclosure.

Much of the collection is now on display at co-founder Marlin Heise's house. The rest of the 125,000 or more items are in storage.

Meanwhile, the keepers of the archives are looking for funding and a place to resettle the collection once and for all.

"For the future, the best thing we'd like to have for the archives is a facility big enough to house all of our materials," said Kou Xiong, an administrative archivist who sits on the Hmong Archives board of directors.

Preserving culture through archiving is a relatively new concept in the Hmong culture, explained Her Vang, the board's chairman.

"Historically, the Hmong did not have a place like this," he said. "People didn't think of the importance of keeping the pieces the culture produces."

The collection includes items with obvious historical value and the merely curious.

There's a qeej, or traditional Hmong musical instrument made of bamboo and used at funerals and New Year festivals.

Scattered throughout the exhibit are handmade story cloths, called paj ntaub, that show the Hmong exodus from Laos to nearby Thailand during wartime; pots and pans used in Ban Vinai, a well-known refugee camp in Thailand; and a 1940s musket used by Hmong hunters in Laos.

Among the quirkiest artifacts: an album of business cards from local Hmong-Americans and a postcard from Thailand showing a Hmong man who made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest hair.

The wide assortment has attracted scholars and researchers from all over the world, said co-founder Yuepheng Xiong.

Collection in motion

He and Heise, a retired library cataloger for the Minnesota History Center, teamed up to start the archives after they discovered they had a shared interest in Hmong history.

They called their project the Hmong Nationality Archives but they've since dropped the "nationality" part.

The archives' first home was Metro State University on St. Paul's East Side. A few years later, the collection grew and moved to the Minnehaha Mall in the city's Frogtown neighborhood.

In 2005, the archives relocated to Concordia University, where the school had just launched the nation's first Center for Hmong Studies. The center also collects and exhibits Hmong historical items, as does another local institution -- the Hmong Cultural Center.

The archives seemed at last to have found a permanent home inside the former Concordia president's house.

But the union between the center and the archives didn't last, and the collection moved to the spot above the Hmong bookstore.

Lee Pao Xiong, director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia, said philosophical differences about the collection led to the parting of ways.

"We have different criteria," he said. "For us, we're an academic institution. For them, it's a community institution."

For now, the temporary Hmong Archives will continue to welcome visitors who want to step back in time.

Said Kou Xiong: "We like to look at it as a place to rediscover our own past."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488



Brothers in Arms: 'It is worth it to fight for freedom'

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cha Yeng Lee, in the living room of his Sheboygan home, talks about his experiences in the Special Guerrilla Unit during the Vietnam War and how the unit helped U.S. troops fight the Communist regime

Cha Yeng Lee recalls his 15 years fighting in the Secret War

Yer Lee considers her father, Cha Yeng Lee, a hero — for raising her and her brothers and sisters in their adopted hometown of Sheboygan, and for his sacrifices wh
en he helped U.S. troops fight the Communist regime during the Vietnam War.

Among the many framed photos and certificates hanging in his home, Cha Yeng Lee also has on display a Congress-issued Commendation and Citation for Vietnam War Service in Laos, dated May 14, 1997, recognizing the contribution made by him and other Hmong and Lao soldiers in the Secret War.

"I look up to him," said the 20-year-old nursing student at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, the youngest of her father's six children. "He's guided me … he's always there for me."

This is why Yer Lee has been helping with the artwork on the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial, a to be dedicated July 15 at Deland Park in Sheboygan.

"I felt I can give something back to my father and the soldiers," Yer Lee said.

Thousands of Hmong soldiers died during the years of the Secret War, and Cha Yeng Lee, 69, who served from 1960 to 1975 in the Special Guerrilla Unit, says he was a hero simply for fighting — and surviving.

"I was not killed, and I would like to think I was one hero, because many other people were killed, and I survived," Cha Yeng Lee said through an interpreter.

The memorial being built in Sheboygan, Lee said, is special for him and his family. It will offer testimony of the role the Special Guerrilla Unit soldiers played in assisting U.S. soldiers during the war. Lee said he is thankful for the support of local government and the generosity of those who donated the money to build the memorial.

"It means a lot to me, because I am getting older now, and pretty soon I'll be gone," said Lee, who rose from the rank of private to captain during his service. "It is good for my children, and the future generations will know I am here and I am lucky because I didn't get killed."

Cha Yeng Lee talks about how he was wounded by a mortar attack in the Secret Army in 1964 during the Vietnam War. Lee was wounded by a mortar attack in 1964 during a skirmish in Padong, suffering injuries to his knee and left leg, pain he still can feel at times.

Lee was wounded by a mortar attack in 1964 during a skirmish in Padong, suffering injuries to his knee and left leg, pain he still can feel at times.

He said he joined the Special Guerrilla Unit because the Communists invaded Laos to take their farms and land.

"It is worth it to fight for freedom, to stay alive, to be owners of land," Lee said. "Our fight was justified because the Communists came and we did not like the Communist regimes."

On excursions over the border to South Vietnam during the war, Lee fought side-by-side with U.S. soldiers.

"Our job and duty was to protect them, so they won't get killed," he recalled. "We must do whatever it takes to protect them."

Lee was recently married for a second time. His first wife, Xia Xiong, died in 1990. Since 1996, he and his children have resided in Sheboygan, where he says they have found a good life — far different than that of being "plain farmers" in Laos, with little money. He is now retired, after working several jobs in Sheboygan.

"We have everything," Lee said about living in Sheboygan. "We have cars, we have telephones, TV … I think America is much better than in Laos."

On the walls of the family's comfortable upper flat on Sheboygan's north side are many photos and plaques, reminders of the war, as well as a framed recognition of his service, and his certificate of U.S. citizenship. Five of his children still live in the area, and some have attended college.

"I'm hopeful for the younger ones that they try to go to school and they try to work to support themselves because I cannot do that (anymore), and I am pleased to see the younger ones have a brighter, better future," Lee said.

Yer Lee said her father, as an elder, traditional Hmong, is respected by many people in the community.

"Many people come to ask him for help," she said.

As for Cha Yeng Lee, the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial in his new hometown will be a reminder of all of the help the soldiers of the Special Guerrilla Unit gave to this country.

"It is something that (shows) we helped commit to help the United States during the Secret War and the memorial will tell all the story why we helped the U.S. government," Lee said.