2023 – The Year In Review
By Kim Yang
2023 was a very eventful year for the Hmong community locally, nationally, and beyond. The Hmong Times looks back at some of the top stories of 2023.
At various times during the year, Legacies of War, shared stories from various Board of Director members on their experiences and accomplishments that focus on their mission to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs, to provide space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace.
In March a story was published on ‘Asian Teens Say Dating Violence A Taboo Topic At Home’ that talked about how Asian American teenagers face additional barriers to open discussions around dating, consent, and intimacy. Many Asian American teenagers who are children of immigrants may find it especially difficult to report dating violence. They may feel especially pressured to succeed and show the positive parts of their life. The issues their parents faced coming to America seem to “outweigh” their own relationship issues.
In May we celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In 1992, Congress passed Public Law 102-450, designating May as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, commemorating the month that marked the arrival of the first documented Japanese immigrant to the United States and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a feat that culminated from the contributions of ~20,000 Chinese immigrants. The U.S. Asian population is diverse. A record 22 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages and other characteristics. The 19 largest Asian origin groups in the United States together account for 97% of the nation’s total Asian population.
The Hmong International Freedom Festival had many excited about attending this monumental event that was held Saturday, July 1st, and Sunday, July 2nd, 2023. Nearly 60,000 people attended the two-day festival this year. The Hmong culture has always emphasized their relationships between relatives with respect for elders and strong families. Remembering their ancestors, their accomplishments, their sufferings, and preserving traditional ways have always been highly important in celebrating this event. One of the most anticipated facets of the J4 Festival are the sports events. This is considered the Olympics of the Hmong American community and as always was the largest gathering of any Hmong sports event in the United States.
In September the Hmong Cultural Center Museum was awarded an Inspire! Grant for Small Museums in the amount of $49,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington D.C. This funding over the grant period of 9/01/23 – 8/31/24 will support the Hmong Cultural Center Storefront Museum Service Expansion Project. Grant project activities will include recruiting and onboarding two new additional part-time tour guides to conduct guided tours for schools, youth groups, and other community groups; extending museum hours of operations to allow more people to visit including on weekends; and conducting additional outreach to community-serving organizations around the Twin Cities to raise awareness of the museum’s increased tour capacity.
Additionally, in December, in a generous act of philanthropy, Mackenzie Scott, the noted philanthropist and author, has made a substantial donation of $2 million to the Hmong American Partnership (HAP), a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering and supporting Minnesota’s Hmong and New American communities.
The surprise donation was warmly welcomed by May yer Thao, President and CEO of HAP, who expressed deep gratitude for the unexpected and impactful contribution. “We are incredibly thankful for Mackenzie Scott’s generous donation, which will undoubtedly play a crucial role in advancing our mission to drive prosperity within Minnesota’s Hmong and New American communities,” said Thao.
Two disturbing milestones were passed in 2023. In April, the Cluster Munition Monitor, the research wing of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), identified the first use of cluster munitions in Southeast Asia since the Indochina War ended 48 years ago, in 1975. On April 25, the Myanmar Air Force dropped a domestically produced cluster bomb on the village of Mae Ka Neh in Karen State of Myanmar/Burma. The village lies roughly 10 kilometers from the border with Thailand. The event also marked the first time any Southeast Asian nation is known to have produced a cluster weapon.
In early September, at the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Geneva, Myanmar/Burma was specifically condemned for its production and use of cluster munitions in statements by Switzerland, New Zealand, Mexico, Ireland and civil society participants including the CMC. However, not a single member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) joined in the condemnation.
‘Embrace The Future’ was the theme at the 43rd Annual Minnesota Hmong New Year Celebration. Lacey Turner wrote about how the vibrant colors, rich traditions, and joyous spirit of the Hmong community came together to mark the 43rd Annual Minnesota Hmong New Year Celebration. Set against the backdrop of the St. Paul RiverCentre in Downtown St. Paul, this two-day extravaganza, took place on November 25-26, 2023, promised a captivating journey into the heart of Hmong culture through food, clothing, language, music, and dance. The Hmong New Year celebration is a cherished cultural tradition observed annually in areas where large Hmong communities thrive.
“The Hmong diaspora worldwide have lost a one-of-a-kind, modern-day hero in Tou Ger Xiong,” said Mee Moua, his close friend and former Minnesota State Senator after Xiong’s murder in December. Xiong, 51, was kidnapped, held for ransom and murdered while travelling in Colombia last week. His death was first reported by the Colombian newspaper El Colombiano.
Throughout the year Hmong Times featured sponsored content from JPMorgan Chase. Topics ranged from tips for first time home buyers to ways to stay ahead of scammers and keep your accounts safe and more. The series will continue through 2024 and will feature more topics to aid readers in personal, family and business money management.
Over the year Hmong Times spoke with the leadership team at Noble Academy about their unique approach to education. The district’s educational philosophy at Noble Academy focuses on rigorous academic programs and social curriculum. In addition, the district infuses Responsive Classroom principles and techniques into the life of the school.
In February HAP Academy OIC celebrated the culmination of almost five years of hard work that resulted in the approval by the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners of $5.5 Million in bonding for the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) to acquire two workforce training facilities. These HAP Academy OIC facilities on Sycamore Street and Plato Boulevard will provide valuable training in healthcare, manufacturing, information technology, and job training for bus drivers and mechanics, driving vital workforce development needed for the community.
National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was observed July to bring awareness to the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health encourages state, tribal, and local leaders, community-based organizations, faith leaders, healthcare providers and individuals to educate their communities regarding mental health stigma.
At an August 11 panel discussion organized by Ethnic Media Services, three eminent COVID experts examined the rise in cases, the new variant, and the new monovalent vaccine which was available this past fall. Dr. Chin-Hong, Associate Dean for Regional Campuses, University of California, San Francisco and Medical Educator, specializing in treating infectious diseases stated, “We’re seeing so many people get COVID in the community. But we’ve all been so exposed to COVID already, so it’s coming on inhospitable soil. More than 95% of us have had an exposure or have had a vaccine at some point. So that probably minimizes or mitigates the risk of serious disease.”
In October the Minnesota Department of Health provided Hmong Times with an article on information about the symptoms and effects of influenza as the state was seeing a surge in cases in the state. They shared details on who is most at risk, how to protect yourself, what to do if you think you have the flu and medications that can help with symptoms.
In January, Good Morning America had a feature on James Beard nominated and EATERS “Chef of the Year,” Chef Yia Vang (chef/owner of Minneapolis’ Union Hmong Kitchen). He had one of his busiest years to date with his projects including competing as a challenger on Netflix’s “Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend” hosting Food Network’s “Stoked,” and now with the release of his new thrilling cooking and culture series “Feral” airing and streaming on the Outdoors Channel.
Theater Mu and its Mellon Foundation playwright-in-residence, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, announced that Twin Cities locals Cindy Koy, Mai Moua Thao, Sunny Thao, and Ehkhudah Zar are joining Duangphouxay Vongsay to be part of the Mu Tang Clan Vol. 2, the second interation of the playwright incubator she launched in 2021. The Mu Tang Clan was created as a place for Asian American playwrights to come together in community and who identify as refugees, former refugees, or as descendants of refugees.
Local Hmong American playwright and theater artist Katie Ka Vang returned to Theater Mu for the world premiere of her and Melissa Li’s musical, Again. Weaving together unlikely friendships, complex family dynamics, and original songs, Again ran March 31-April 16 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provided many stories over the year focusing attention on the various features, benefits and exhibits available at Minnesota State Parks. Stories on parks like Wild River State Park featured information on improvements at their visitor center, Interstate State Park for the glacial pothole tour, and a “River Walk” program at Fort Snelling State Park. Minnesotans are fortunate to have so many beautiful and accessible parks to access across the state.
Earlier in the year Hmong Times shared a story of how DNR public land sales help Hmong families connect to cultural heritage. The DNR’s Land Sale program made it possible for Tong Xiong to purchase parcels of state land that no longer met the agency’s conservation, recreation or economic goals, but helped his family find a sustainable way to continue the traditional agrarian lifestyle of harvesting crops and hunting big game. “I’m very thankful to the DNR for helping us grow a family-owned land base,” he said, adding that the plan is to build a hunting camp and plant vegetable gardens on the property.
Those were some of the big stories from 2023. We can’t wait to see what is in store for 2024. Thank you for reading and stay tuned…