HMONG CULTURAL CENTER OF MINNESOTA CELEBRATES 25 YEARS
By Mark Pfeifer
On August 11, 1992, the Hmong Cultural Center of Minnesota registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office as a non-profit organization. Over the past 25 years, the Hmong Cultural Center has served the Hmong and non-Hmong community with several important programs to promote education about Hmong culture and history and facilitate the adaptation of Hmong in American Society.
Hmong Cultural Center Achievements 1992-2017
Citizenship and ESL Class Instruction
Hmong Cultural Center has provided Citizenship Classes to the community since the mid-1990s as a member of the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium. Over the years, HCC has developed a particularly strong reputation as a provider of Medical Waiver Citizenship Classes for elderly and disabled Hmong refugees, a group whose needs are often overlooked by other service agencies. English language Citizenship classes have also had sizable enrollments at the center for more than 15 years. The center estimates it has assisted at least 3,000 Hmong refugees in navigating the naturalization process and obtaining U.S. Citizenship over this time, a very important contribution to Hmong adjustment to Minnesota. In addition to Citizenship classes, the center is known for the assistance it provides to the community with filling out naturalization paperwork and providing translation at the USCIS office when clients enrolled in its classes take their Citizenship exams. With the arrival of Hmong from Wat Tham Krabok in Thailand in 2004, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes became another important component of Hmong Cultural Center’s Adult Basic Education programming. Today, Hmong Cultural Center serves diverse populations in its Adult Basic Education classes including Karen through a partnership with the Karen Ministry at First Baptist Church in Saint Paul, Somalis, Oromo, Eritreans, Vietnamese, Burmese, and other immigrant and refugee communities. The center also currently offers Workforce English and Job Coaching for Southeast Asian adults.
Qeej, Dance, Funeral and Wedding Song Instruction
The organization’s emphasis on traditional Hmong folk arts is inherently connected to the social fabric and ethnic identity of Hmong Minnesotans. Qeej, Funeral and Wedding Song Instruction classes were founding programs of Hmong Cultural Center twenty-five years ago and remain important parts of its mission in promoting education about Hmong culture today. In the late 1990s, the center diversified its offerings with the addition of classes to teach Hmong and Asian dances. Since 1992, Hmong Cultural Center estimates that it has trained more than 1,000 children and youth to play the Qeej instrument in Hmong funeral ceremonies and a similar number of community members in the oral recitation of traditional Hmong funeral and wedding songs. In a very real, tangible sense, Hmong Cultural Center has contributed to the continued survival of the Qeej instrument tradition and the ability of Hmong families in Minnesota to have proper cultural funeral ceremonies for another generation. In a similar vein, Hmong Cultural Center has trained an entire generation of young adults and adults as cultural specialists with the knowledge and ability to orally recite the canon of funeral and marriage songs associated with the traditional Hmong marriage and funeral ceremonies, allowing the survival of these important forms of Hmong ceremonial culture in the lives of Hmong-Minnesotans. Qeej and Wedding and Funeral Procedures classes are also now offered online at the center’s webpage (hmongcc.org).
Hmong Resource Center Library
In the late 1990s, the Hmong Cultural Center started the Hmong Resource Center Library (www.hmonglibrary.org), a unique collection of Hmong-related books, dissertations, journal and newspaper articles which has grown into the largest collection of Hmong-related scholarly research in the United States. Hundreds of high school and college students, scholars and community members use the resource center library each year, many of these library patrons come from beyond the Twin Cities area to utilize this institution’s unique collections of books, theses, dissertations and journal articles about the Hmong. The center has also partnered over the years with the Hmong Studies Journal, the only scholarly journal focused on Hmong Studies research for community outreach activities and the printing of physical editions of the journal’s volumes.
Multicultural Education Initiatives
In 2003, Hmong Cultural Center developed a Building Bridges: Teaching about the Hmong in Our Communities (Hmong 101) curriculum which has been shared with at least 10,000 persons in community presentations and visits to the center and in presentations across Minnesota and beyond over the past 14 years. The center has also engaged in initiatives to develop resources that educate the public about Hmong traditional folk arts. These projects have involved the development of a folk arts multimedia website (accessible at www.learnabouthmong.net) and a virtual Hmong textiles museum in partnership with the Hmong Archives www.hmongembroidery.org) intended to engage viewers in learning about Hmong culture and Hmong folk arts as practiced by Hmong Minnesotans. An online Hmong 101 class is also now available through HCC’s website.
Hmong Cultural Center Museum Exhibits
Over the past several years, Hmong Cultural Center has partnered with Museology Museum Services and Sieng Lee of Design Uake on the development of a comprehensive one of a kind museum-quality exhibit center that teaches visitors and tour groups about Hmong culture and history. This unique exhibit center now encompasses 21 museum display panels, 8 labeled display cases, an embroidery room and interactive Hmong folk arts exhibit with ipad stations that teach visitors about the Qeej instrument, wedding and funeral songs as well as the ncas and two string violin instruments. Hmong Cultural Center is now ranked as a major visitor attraction in Saint Paul on Trip Advisor and has been profiled by the New York Times, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota Post and Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Hmong Cultural Center 25th Anniversary Event, December 13, 2017
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Hmong Cultural Center will hold a special public event at its offices at 375 University Avenue, Suite 204 in Saint Paul on December 13 from 5:00-7:00 PM. This event will include the launch of a new interactive Hmong folk arts exhibit as well as Wedding Song, Two-String, Ncas, Qeej and Dance performances. In recognition of this very special event, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has proclaimed December 13, 2017 “Hmong Cultural Center Day” in Minnesota.