“We build the dream one woman at a time. And she in turn goes out and impacts the world…” That, in essence, sums up the purpose of Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together, a St. Paul-based nonprofit cofounded by Pa Der Vang, St. Catherine University associate professor of social work.
On Thanksgiving weekend, Vang and other women like her — who have led, volunteered with or enrolled in a program hosted by Hnub Tshiab since 2000 — were invited by United Hmong Family, Inc. (UHF), to participate in the 39th annual Minnesota Hmong New Year Celebration. Vang was chosen as an ambassador to advance the UHF's vision to promote and honor Hmong Women's Leadership. She was also asked to perform the ribbon-cutting on Friday to officially open the event at St. Paul River Center, and to give the keynote speech on Saturday.
In accomplishing both tasks, she became the first Hmong woman to do so. In her address, given in both Hmong and English, she spoke of honoring past traditions and empowering women in the patriarchal culture.
Here is an excerpt from her speech:
“I want to especially thank United Hmong Family for this invitation to address my beloved community… The theme for this year’s celebration is Hmong women and Leadership. In that vein, I wish to give you a challenge today. The challenge is a universal one… I challenge you to explore ways to lift up the Hmong women in your lives, in the same way Hnub Tshiab has done for me. I stand up here today with women who are already leaders. Some who were lifted up by their communities; some with less support. Their story is my story… I [have] my Hmong sisters by my side so that I could tell my beloved community that change is here, that change is normal, to open our hearts and be brave, to embrace our women leaders, that to look to the future does not mean we do not honor our past, to honor women is to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of our men, and that it is a NEW DAY for our Hmong American Community!”
A few St. Kate's faculty, staff and students were in the audience, including admissions counselor Mysee Chang '13.
“It was such a beautiful ceremony and so meaningful to many,” Chang said. “I was only able to go Friday, but the little I was a part of gave me so much inspiration — and I will forever go to the Hmong New Year now if they have Hmong women lead ceremonies and give keynote addresses they way Dr. Pa Der did!”
In her first year at St. Kate’s, Vang collaborated with assistant professor Hui Wilcox to establish the University’s Critical Hmong Studies minor. She currently serves as the program coordinator — and will help co-host the 5th Bi-Annual International Conference on Hmong Studies on campus, October 10–12, 2019. Vang's academic research is focused on early marriage and acculturation among the Hmong in the United States.
The Twin Cities has the highest urban concentration of Hmong in the world — with nearly 70,000 first-, second- and third-generations — mostly living in St. Paul. The annual three-day celebration in the city to usher in the Hmong New Year typically draws more than 35,000 people and includes food and entertainment.
Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together offers leadership training and intervention/prevention services for Hmong women and girls. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Pauline Oo