Hmong ceremony offered for mayor

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nao Shoua Xiong of Wausau, a Hmong shaman and a statewide clan leader, will hold a blessing ceremony for Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple as Tipple begins his third term. The event, which is open to the public, will be held at 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday at Xiong’s home, 1204 Rosecrans St. The event also will include food, drink and a social time. Xiong said the ceremony will symbolize how the Hmong community and Tipple “will continue our collaboration and work together in the community.” For more information, call Xiong at 715-581-3991. Source


History of the Farmers' Market

The Dane County Farmers' Market stands as a connection between Madison and the farms that surround it By: Sarah Karon It was just after midnight in 1972, and Jim Barnard was steering a refrigerated box truck down Wisconsin’s craggy peninsula. Fruit from his Door County farm packed the truck: Cinderella plums, Seckel pears, totes brimming with Cortland and Macintosh apples. The drive to Madison was five hours, one way. But Barnard was eager to take part in what was then a fledgling experiment: a Saturday farmers’ market on the city’s Capitol Square. Just ten other vendors showed up at the first Dane County Farmers’ Market that morning in late September. Forty years later, it’s the largest producer-only market in the country, with three hundred members, up to 170 sellers weekly, a five-year vendor waiting list, and as many as twenty thousand daily visitors. The market is a hub of social activity, as much a tourist destination as an outdoor grocery store. It’s an emblem of Wisconsin’s agricultural riches, attracting chefs and gardeners, vegans and carnivores, and people who treasure building community through food. And it’s a particular point of pride in Madison, where buying and eating local long predates the now-ubiquitous farm-to-table movement. “There’s this elevation of the farmer as rock star at the market,” says Kiera Mulvey, executive director of the non-profit FairShare CSA (community-supported agriculture) Coalition. “There’s a real appreciation for the contributions that farmers make to the Madison community.” That much was evident at the first farmers’ market, where Barnard and his fellow vendors quickly were overwhelmed with customers. The following Saturday, eighty-five sellers came to the market; two years later, that number had more than tripled and the market drew two hundred thousand annual visitors. A Wednesday morning market opened in 1975 to help meet demand. The market’s popularity outpaced its organization. Vendors weren’t assigned stalls, so many slept in their trucks on Friday night, waking at dawn to stake out a spot on the Square. “There was a rule—you had to drive once around the Capitol before you could park,” recalls Rich Salzman, whose parents were among the market’s first vendors. “So the cars would hot-rod around the Square at five in the morning.” Nowadays, things are more civilized. A seniority system, established in 1990, guarantees longtime vendors first pick of location, and in the late nineties, when the number of sellers swelled to four hundred, market managers capped membership and instituted a waiting list. Vendors must be properly licensed and abide by the market’s strict rules: All products, from emu eggs to kohlrabi to spicy cheese bread, must be grown or made in Wisconsin, and at least one producer must be behind every table. Reselling is forbidden. The idea, market manager Larry Johnson says, is not only to promote Wisconsin products but also to encourage “hands-on, dirt-under-the-fingernails” production. The payoff is obvious: Consumers get to meet the person who grows their food, while vendors can forge relationships with shoppers. Customer feedback is nice for the ego, too. Willi Lehner, who owns Bleu Mont Dairy in Blue Mounds, says he loves giving people cheese samples and “watching their eyes roll back in their heads.” And then there are more tangible rewards. Johnson says consumers spend about $10 million annually at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and another $6 million at nearby shops and cafes. “A lot of times people say, ‘Oh, having a farmers’ market is going to take away my business,’” says Alfonso Morales, a UW–Madison professor of urban and regional planning. “But it’s a complementary activity, not competition.” The farmers’ market has shaped Madison’s food-centric culture, too. White-tablecloth restaurants cook with market ingredients, but so do the city’s bakeries, pizzerias, pubs and street carts. And our palettes are getting more sophisticated, thanks to the market’s increasingly diverse vendor population. Hmong and Hmong American farmers, who now make up fifteen percent of sellers, have introduced marketgoers to Southeast Asian staples like bitter melon, bottle gourds, shell pea tips and long beans. The market has also helped make fresh, locally grown food more accessible to people with limited income. In 2008, vendors began accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps), when less than twenty percent of the nation’s farmers’ markets did so. Shoppers at the Dane County Farmers’ Market redeemed $3,000 worth of SNAP vouchers that year; in 2011, redemptions had soared to $49,000. But many market traditions remain unchanged. Jim Barnard and his wife, Crystal, now both in their late sixties, still spend forty hours each week shuttling tart cherries and moongold apricots to Madison for the Wednesday and Saturday markets. “We’re invested in the market, since we helped start it,” Crystal says. And, she adds, customers expect them. “We’re historic fixtures. If our truck breaks down and we can’t get there, we’ll hear about it.” Source


Weaving Hmong culture through literacy

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Every culture has a different story to tell that builds America into the melting pot it is today. Students throughout Stevens Point elementary schools are getting a unique taste of these tales that promote literacy and culture.
The UW-Stevens Point Student Education Association (StWEA) received a $1,000 Community Learning Through America’s Schools (CLASS) Grant, which funded Hmong literacy books for donation to local classrooms and hosting read-aloud sessions.
CLASS Grants are earned to perform community service projects designed and organized completely by students. StWEA’s proposal stated: “The Stevens Point Area School District has an increasing enrollment of students with diverse backgrounds, which presents the opportunity to promote awareness of the Hmong culture.”
“It goes very well with our character education,” said Kim Johnson, a second-grade teacher at McKinley Center and UW-Stevens Point alumna.
McKinley Center is the first of the many Stevens Point schools that will receive book donations and a read-aloud.
Though understanding different cultures is important, it is equally important to understand the similarities they share. John Lenz ‘13, a member of StWEA and broad field social science education major, compared the story Hmong story “Gao Zoua Pa” to common fairytales such as Cinderella and Snow White.
As part of the grant, StWEA partnered with the UW-Stevens Point’s Hmong and Southeast Asian American Club (HaSEAAC). HaSEAAC members participated in the read-aloud dressed in traditional Hmong clothing to showcase their culture and taught the elementary students the Hmong tradition of storytelling through a paj ntaub or story cloth. The children got a chance to create a paj ntaub drawing Hmong symbols to depict their own stories about family, food and hobbies.
“I do things with them, but it’s different me telling them compared to someone coming from the university,” said Johnson. “It shows what possibilities they can do when they grow up and graduate.”


Creating a Hmong Community Foundation

Lue Her, Archibald Bush Leadership Fellow
As part of my Bush fellowship, I’ve had the opportunity to visit with and learn from fellow Hmong-Americans throughout this country. It’s no surprise that the issues that continue to plague Hmong-American communities are diverse and complex. Many are perennial concerns, including how to meet basic needs, address health disparities, provide job skills training, close the achievement gap, manage cultural conflicts, create economic self-sufficiency, define gender roles and more.
Leveraging Current Assets
But few people in the Hmong-American community seem to realize that many of the challenges facing its members could be addressed and greatly advanced if we had our own philanthropic vehicle to leverage financial, intellectual and cultural assets – assets that exist within our community right now.
Unlike preceding generations, young Hmong-Americans today have made enormous strides in acquiring education, participating in the workforce, encouraging entrepreneurship and accumulating wealth. We’ve integrated ourselves into American culture without losing the history, language and structures that have defined our people for centuries.
For many Hmong-Americans the concept of giving back through philanthropic channels remains foreign. But it would be far from the truth to say that benevolence and contributing toward the lives of others are absent in our community. In fact, Hmong-Americans have long participated in a variety of traditions and practices that presume donations of time, effort and money.
The more apparent reason for the Hmong-American community’s lack of participation in organized philanthropy is that they have not been invited to contribute. Philanthropic organizations and their partners have simply not anticipated or planned on Hmong-Americans being willing and able participants in bettering the lives of their people and neighbors.
An Invitation to Give Back
I believe that Hmong-Americans must not wait any longer to be asked to participate in philanthropy for the betterment of our community. That is why I, along with several other young Hmong-American and non-Hmong leaders, am embarking on an endeavor to create a Hmong Community Foundation.
This new philanthropic organization will identify pressing issues of Hmong-American communities near and far and help define methods to remedy them. It will accept responsibility for aligning our community’s resources to address the challenges facing our people. The Hmong Community Foundation will also serve as an ambassador to other new immigrant populations by addressing common issues that require great courage and resources to overcome.
My hope is that the Hmong Community Foundation will help author a new chapter in our community’s story and redefine, once again, a group of refugees from the villages of Laos. Only this time the narrative will revolve around the impact of Hmong philanthropy on the larger world.
To learn more, contact Her at 651.331.9587 or 


Hmong-Inspired: Fashion Show

Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 1721 W Canal St, Milwaukee. Free Parking.
Reception 6:00 pm, Event 7:00 pm
General Admission $30, VIP seating $60. Register online or learn more about sponsorship oportunities. Appetizers will be served. Cash Bar. All ages welcome. 
oin Viv Ncaus: A Hmong Women’s Giving Circle for this tribute to Hmong women & girls—our identity keepers.
A visual feast featuring the work of four contemporary Hmong designers along with a retrospective of Hmong fashions.
Featuring Hmong designers: Malika Lor (Milwaukee), Seelia Vachon (St. Paul, MN), Johnny Vang (Madison), and Chia Yang (Berlin, WI)
A common thread of Hmong culture and history is Hmong resilience to survive in the face of annihilation. An example is Hmong clothing. No matter where they find their home, Hmong women have maintained a cultural legacy through clothing. After the Chinese forbade Hmong people from using their writing system, it was Hmong women who came up with the idea to sew Hmong phrases onto baby carriers as a means of re-membrance and communication.
Today, Hmong women in Wisconsin have found ways to incorporate the styles or patterns of their new home into the clothes they fashion. As Hmong culture evolves throughout the world, Hmong people can always identify who they are through the clothes they wear. This fashion show continues the creative tradition of clothes-making. It begins with showcasing the evolution of Hmong fashions over time and culminates in a visual feast featuring the work of three contemporary Hmong designers.
Join us as a sponsor and support the work of the giving circle. As a sponsor you are helping Hmong women create a stable funding source within the community to support a culture where Hmong women and girls have the right to equality, safety, opportunity and self-determination. This event will bring together Hmong community members and supporters from all over Wisconsin. This Hmong-Inspired fashion show is an opportunity for us as Hmong women to support new Hmong talents and share Hmong women herstory through traditional and modern Hmong fashion. Become a part of our history by sponsoring this event and help us elevate and show case the beauty and strength of Hmong women.


Sandy Xiong awarded Phillips Scholarship

Xiong revived a magazine called Hmoobteen for her project. Ambyr Pruitt.
Sophomore Sandy Xiong was recently named one of this year’s Phillips Scholarship recipients, making her the eleventh Gustavus student since 1998 to win the Scholarship.
Each year, six sophomore students from Minnesota’s private colleges are awarded the prestigious Phillips Scholarship. The scholarship is given to students who demonstrate a potential for leadership and plan to devote a portion of their lives to community service.
In order to be considered, Xiong and other applicants had to draft a proposal detailing a service project to be implemented over the summer.  Xiong chose to revive a project she had previously worked on—a magazine titled Hmoobteen, which features writing submitted by Hmong teenagers.
While in high school, Xiong was a contributor and eventually an editor for the online magazine.  Xiong says that writing for Hmoobteen gave her a valuable outlet for the stress of growing up torn between two cultures.
“I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I didn’t have an open resource. When I joined Hmoobteen, I felt like I could be myself,” Xiong said.
Xiong  hopes to draw submissions from across the nation for the revamped magazine.  She plans on incorporating social media into the magazine’s strategy to ensure its success beyond her involvement.
Nengher Vang, the Diversity Center’s Assistant Director of Multicultural Programs, points to the accessibility of Xiong’s project as one of its advantages. Vang was on the selection committee tasked with picking Gustavus’ semi-finalist.
“The committee was excited about her project.  It was feasible and had sustainability to it,” Vang said.
Xiong feels that Hmong teenagers are in dire need of constructive outlets and sees this issue as a major contributor to juvenile delinquency.
“I think it’s a problem that a lot of Hmong teens don’t try to be applicable with their skills,” Xiong said.
Vang echoes this assessment.  He agrees that Xiong’s project can help Hmong teenagers trying to cope with the challenge of finding an identity between cultures.
“I think Sandy is right in thinking about writing as a cathartic expression. When you don’t have any chance to express thoughts and feelings in the home, people can still express themselves through writing,” Vang said.
Professor Emeritus in Classics Patricia Freiert is equally impressed with Xiong’s project proposal. Xiong took Freiert’s FTS on bicultural identity.
“It was a very imaginative thing for her to do and speaks to her commitment to her traditions. I cannot imagine a student or project more appropriate,” Freiert said.
The Phillips Scholarship Program awards its recipients 6,000 dollars for their junior year, and an additional 6,000 dollars in scholarship money for their senior year.  A stipend of 4,000 dollars is set aside to support the implementation of the summer service project, while 500 dollars goes into necessary project resources.
Prior to Xiong, Senior Irma Marquez was the most recent Gustavus student to win the scholarship. Marquez finds that the scholarship has a lasting impact.
“The experiences that I’ve had since I received the Phillips Scholarship have given me many opportunities to do the work I love and the work that I hope to continue doing in my future. I am extremely excited for Sandy,” Marquez said.
On campus, Xiong is involved with Gusties in Ongoing Leadership (G.O.L.D.), the Gustavian Weekly, the Writing Center, and is a Collegiate Fellow in Pittman Hall.


Hmong Heritage Month kickoff event aims to preserve culture

Wausau West High School senior Victor Chang, right, and Wausau East High School senior Vang Lee act out a scene from a traditional Hmong play Saturday at the Marathon County Public Library in Wausau during the kickoff event for Hmong Heritage Month. / (Dan Young/Wausau Daily Herald)

Members of Wausau's Hmong community said they hope lessons at home and cultural celebrations such as one held Saturday will help younger generations remember and preserve their culture.

About 50 people celebrated the kickoff of Hmong Heritage Month on Saturday at the Marathon County Public Library in Wausau with music, dance and food. The event featured the Hmong tapestry youth dance group performing to modern and traditional Hmong songs, and speeches by community leaders.

 This year's theme, "We are one," reflects the Hmong community's efforts to share its culture with younger generations and with non-Hmong residents. Events later this month include a resource fair, family fitness day, a book reading and a banquet.

 "We live here in America and our kids are forgetting who the Hmong people are," Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association Board President Chawa Xiong said. "It is important for us to celebrate the Hmong heritage and teach our kids and the community."

Coincidentally, several Hmong youths joined a protest earlier Saturday that was critical of Xiong and his leadership.

Mee Yang, 56, of Wausau, takes her family's culture seriously. Yang's daughter is interested in fashion design and the two often sew clothing that infuses modern fashion with traditional colors and style of the Hmong culture.

 "The clothing is where my aunt (Yang) and her daughter remember their culture," said Noah Her, Heritage Month organizer, who translated for Yang.

Retired teachers Alvie, 60, and Don Lutz, 61, both of the town of Cassel, said they attended because they taught many Hmong students and respect their culture. They also have visited China and Hong Kong and have four adopted Korean nieces and nephews.

 "We just try to get more information on other cultures because there is always something new to learn," Don Lutz said.

 Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger spoke at the event and told the audience that the vast majority of families who settled in the county immigrated from other countries at some point in the last 160 years.

 "Too many of us don't know our own heritage," Karger said.



Building on trust

Monday, April 2, 2012

By Lee Egerstrom, Minnesota 2020
March 28, 2012

Back in his native Afghanistan, Ghafar Lakanwal had a front row seat to how heavy-handed authority undermined trust in institutions and held people back from entrepreneurship and progress.

Back before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Lakanwal was the Afghan minister of Agriculture and was building local cooperatives in the countryside. The Soviets put Lakanwal under house arrest in Kabul and turned the co-ops into “cells” for taking over the economy and for keeping track of people.

So much for his “ground up” economic development plans. Lakanwal was using models he had studied while earning a Ph.D. at the University of Hohenheim at Stuttgart and later working with the German International Development Agency.

There are lessons for Minnesotans from Lakanwal's experiences because refugees and immigrants are pumping new life into communities and starting hundreds of new businesses around the state. How fast and how far this burst of economic activity will go will partly depend on how well new Minnesotans can access programs and work with public and private organizations.

It is really a matter of trust, Lakanwal said.

What’s more, this isn’t a new problem, said Al Paulson, a St. Paul business executive and a business consultant to Native American tribes throughout the country.

Paulson is also an enrolled member of an Ojibwe tribe in northern Minnesota. Historical experiences have left many Indian leaders doubtful of government intentions. This distrust extends to nonprofit organizations and private foundations as well, he said. “For many people, they are all the same,” he said.

In a recent conversation, Hmong business leader Chia Xa Vagh said the Hmong came to Minnesota because of established ties with American military and intelligence officers who were from here. From those relationships, the Hmong did have some trust in working with Minnesota groups and agencies that may not apply to other refugees, Vagh said.

That experience is different from what Somali refugees experienced, although some Americans and Minnesotans were helpful to the 40,000 people who left their war-torn country and resettled here.

Hispanic and Latino immigrants who have come to Minnesota seeking economic opportunities have entirely different histories and experiences shaping how they interact with public and private programs.

For those reasons, Lakanwal sees issues of trust especially troublesome for refugees. After being released from house arrest, he was assigned to the foreign ministry for the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. He defected to America while at the United Nations in New York, moved to Minnesota, and later smuggled his wife and children out of Afghanistan to join him in Bloomington.

Over the years, Lakanwal established the Multi Cultural Development Center that has helped Minnesota and other American companies and groups with diversity issues and training. He continues that consulting work today with his Sharing Diversity/Bridging Cultures organization.

A lot of that work involves creating understanding from which people and groups can build trust, Lakanwal said. “From there you can start to see mutual interests and mutual benefits.”

That doesn’t come easy, he said.

The American Refugee Committee (ARC), the international humanitarian relief and assistance group founded in Minneapolis in 1979, currently counts 67 million people in need of international protection and assistance. Of them, 16 million are refugees while the other 51 million are “internally displaced people” whose needs may be just as great but who are difficult to reach for international aid groups.

ARC works with refugees in Thailand, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Sudan, Darfur and Rwanda. Given recent Minnesota history, it is safe to assume that some of these areas house refugees who will eventually find their way to Minnesota to start new lives. Minnesota institutions and organizations should be ready to lend a welcoming hand, starting with building trust.

On a separate matter, Somalis in Minnesota are experiencing problems with banks and with the U.S. government in sending money to relatives back home in Africa. In the simplest terms, the official concern is that the money may be intercepted and used by terrorist organizations.

The ARC international relief group is a leader in trying to overcome the problems of transferring money to relatives in Somali. The Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota (CSCM) also works with nonprofit organizations, ethnic and religious groups in trying to keep communications and money flowing between relatives and groups here and there.

It is imperative that Minnesota’s political and social leadership support these groups and work with federal authorities and international agencies to resolve problems with money transfers.

These problems for the Somali community here are reminders of the recently revealed spying and monitoring of Muslim students by law enforcement officers at New York universities, said Lakanwal. Separating people by religion or ethnicity for different treatment by government doesn’t create “homeland security,” he said.

As Lakanwal also knows from personal experience, building trust in institutions is nearly impossible where mistrust is official policy.