Local Hmong seek home within a home

Sandra Thao (left) speaks during her group’s community cultural center discussion last week.

By Per Peterson

If the Hmong community in Tracy and Walnut Grove want to hold onto their rich culture and preserve it for future generations in southwest Minnesota, it knows it cannot stand still and just hope something will happen. That’s precisely why the Hmong are working so hard to build a place they can call home — a local community cultural center.
The current identity crisis facing the Hmong population in the area can be overcome, Hmong residents say, but for that to happen, they need to take an aggressive approach to promoting themselves, and part of that means creating a space where they can cultivate and grow their proud culture and share it with others.
On the shoulders of Project Uniting Southwest Hmong (PUSH), a large number of Hmong, along with other residents of Tracy and Walnut Grove, gathered at the Veterans’ Memorial Center on Thursday night to discuss the possibility of building a Hmong cultural community center. It’s just one of many steps that need to be taken, but it provided Hmong a forum to express their wishes and get some help with their concerns.
“I think it was very successful,” said Khou Lor, PUSH leader and organizational manager with the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. “The turnout was way past what I imagined. I think it was great. A lot of great feedback, so I really am glad.”
The night started with a screening of “Preserving Cultural Heritage in the Hmong Community,” A Pioneer TV “Postcards” episode that featured the Hmong community in Walnut Grove. After “Postcards” Senior Producer Dana Conroy talked about the film project, attendees got down to business, breaking down wants and needs and taking a realistic and pragmatic look at how this project can come together.
“It’s interesting to see the staff from the city — they want us to be a part of the community and they want to take part in this whole idea; it’s nice to see that,” said Lor. “We didn’t know how the community would perceive that, but to know it now is really exciting.”
PUSH’s vision for the new cultural community center are many fold. They see it serving as a gallery/museum, a home for conferences and classes and a place where after school programs and community performances such as Hmong New Year events can take place. They would also like to see adequate land available for local farmers to grow produce to sell to area  markets. And, Lor said, this would be a place the entire community can share.
Preserving the Hmong culture, said Yang, a local resident, is the ultimate goal of the Hmong people. As years go by, Hmong elders and the adults within the Hmong community, have been witness to a partial loss of heritage. The Hmong are able to hold onto their culture with traditional food, dress and dance, but promoting culture is only half the battle. The prevailing concern is although parts of the Hmong culture are being passed on to a younger generation, ties to a rich and proud history are being weakened as time passes.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.