Hmong Diaspora Banquet an opportunity to reflect and honor Hmong culture and resilience

Hmong Institute CEO Peng Her is very excited about the Hmong Diaspora Banquet his organization will host Saturday at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center which will commemorate the 45th anniversary of the departure of the Hmong from Laos.

“This will be the first time for the Hmong community to hold an event at Monona Terrace. Often we have Hmong New Years at the Alliant Energy Center, but having a community banquet shows that we have really come a long way,” Her told Madison365.

Last year – 2020 – marked the 45th official year of the Hmong diaspora due to Hmong support in the United States during the Vietnam War. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hmong Institute was unable to hold the Hmong Diaspora Educational Series and Banquet in 2020. One year later, they will host the Hmong Diaspora Banquet. Hmong diaspora at Monona Terrace on Saturday October 2 5:30am-8:30pm

“It’s a great opportunity for many Hmong elders to really reflect on the role they played in the war, fighting for the United States,” Her says. “But it’s also a chance to reflect on the overwhelming challenges of being a refugee in refugee camps and coming to America with literally nothing but the clothes on your back, having to assimilate to a new culture and to a new country and, in 45 years, to truly thrive and be part of the fabric of Wisconsin.

“When you talk about Hmong, you think of imperial rolls and Hmong needlework, but your doctor can also be a Hmong or the police officer who assists you or the teacher who teaches your child that he is a Hmong,” she adds. “It will really be an opportunity to look at the resilience of the Hmong community and to overcome the many challenges we face.”

In 1975, Laos fell under communist control and the Pathet Lao launched an aggressive campaign to capture or kill Hmong soldiers and families who sided with the CIA. Some Hmong were airlifted from Long Cheng while thousands fled to Thailand as refugees. The Hmong were resettled in the United States and other countries such as France, Australia, Canada, French Guiana and Germany. Many Hmong resettled in the Midwest; Wisconsin is home to the third largest population of Hmong Americans.

She herself came to the United States in December 1976.

“We were among the very first to come. Because of that, there weren’t a lot of cultural support systems for us,” Her recalls. “My parents and I came to Iowa. Imagine coming from a lush, green, subtropical forest to the frozen white snow of Iowa. We always say, ‘We didn’t choose frozen tundra; jelly chose us!

Evacuation of the Hmong from the Long Cheng military base on May 14, 1975

Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa were all very favorable landing places for Hmong refugees at the time.

“We worked hard and struggled to learn English. I actually learned English with the janitor’s wife,” Her says. “When we arrived, our school wasn’t ready for the Hmong refugees, so they had to empty a cupboard for my siblings and I to go and learn English. This is how many Hmong families started in the late 70s.”

As most of the Hmong settlement took place in the 80s, there were more and more social programs for the Hmong people to help.

“There were a lot of challenges the Hmong people faced with racism and discrimination, but they survived and thrived,” Her says. “I’m still in awe of the Hmong communities of the early 80s who were trying to navigate life in the United States.

“Now, 45 years later, we are able to host this event to commemorate the diaspora and reflect on all the things the Hmong community has been through,” he adds.

The Hmong Diaspora Banquet will honor Hmong relatives and veterans who have made great sacrifices and will also reflect and celebrate the experiences of the Hmong Diaspora.

“We also want to include grateful people who played a significant role in the resettlement and integration of the Hmong people here in Wisconsin,” Her said.

The prizes will be awarded during the Hmong Diaspora banquet to the following people:

  • Distinguished Humanitarian Award – Ms. Susan Levy, former Wisconsin State Refugee Coordinator
  • Outstanding Leadership Award – Honorable James Doyle, Former Governor
  • Leadership Impact Award – Ms. Roberta Gassman, Former DWD Secretary
  • Champion Award – Mr. Thai Vue, former President and Director of WUCMAA (WI United Coalition of Mutual Assistance Association)
  • Community Building Award: Mr. Xia Vue Yang, Former Chairman of WUCMAA

Judge Kristy Yang, the first Hmong-American female judge in the United States, will deliver the keynote address.

Judge Kristy Yang

“We will have cultural performances and then put together a slide show to reflect and honor our Hmong veterans and relatives,” Her says. “Each table will have table tents with interesting facts about the Hmong community in Wisconsin and beyond. We are a very global community.

Attendees will learn about the contributions the Hmong have made to Wisconsin over the past 45 years. The Diaspora banquet will also include a photo exhibition and a silent auction with many Hmong artifacts donated by Hmong artists.

“The banquet also provides an opportunity for non-Hmong people to learn more about Hmong history and who their Hmong neighbors are,” Her says.

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