Our View: Hmong Heritage Month honors Wausau's diversity (with video)

4:30 PM, Apr. 18, 2013  |  Comments
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Hmong Heritage Month has become part of the fabric of our community here in Wausau. This year's events already have attracted plenty of participation and interest from Hmong and non-Hmong community members alike, and there are a number of interesting events still to come before the month ends.

The path to integration of the Hmong community into Wausau was not always a smooth one, and we know our community is not perfect even today. But we also know that Wausau feels tremendous pride in its multicultural story. The Hmong community remains the largest minority group here, but there are growing numbers of African-American and Hispanic residents throughout north central Wisconsin, as well as other racial and religious minorities.

Part of the way we can measure progress of the successful integration of the Hmong community in Wausau is in the changes through the years to the way we celebrate Hmong history.

When Daily Herald Media, along with Wausau and Marathon County governments, began Hmong History Month in 2004, part of its purpose really was to provide basic education to the public about the Hmong story. It meant telling about Hmong history in Asia, the Hmong role as partners to America in the Vietnam War and the Hmong journey to America in waves of refugees. Part of the aim was to educate the broader community - and, let's be honest, to urge those who might have racist or xenophobic suspicions to accept the diversity of this community.

This April's Hmong Heritage Month is a completely different undertaking. Its organizers include both Hmong and non-Hmong. Its theme, "Community Unity," is aimed at all, and events include art displays, story times and a concert on The 400 Block.

As Hmong members of our community raise their children to be American, they also feel the importance of preserving their cultural traditions. Hmong Heritage Month celebrations are one important venue to do so - and a celebration of what makes our community unique.

Our community is stronger for having different types of people in it. The perspective and experience each of us brings to our lives is informed by where we come from and the cultural traditions we inherit.

New diversity

We value Hmong Heritage Month and all the other ways we celebrate the Hmong community in north central Wisconsin. But we also know that our community - including its institutions and its celebrations - should reflect the fact that diversity here is not biracial anymore. We are multicultural.

It also was disturbingly common, in the first years of the celebration, for us to hear grumbling complaints.

Those complaints have evaporated. We can't say we never hear racist or resentful reactions, but we can honestly say that those reactions are less common by orders of magnitude than they were a decade ago.

But maybe, as the Hmong have become integrated in the community, some of those old attitudes have been transferred to other minority groups.

We don't know exactly what it would look like. But it's a good conversation to have: What's the best way for Wausau and north central Wisconsin to honor its new diversity? For example, is there is a need to build bridges to the Hispanic community in Marathon County, or to African-Americans?

Hmong Heritage Month has begun to incorporate that idea and those values into its plans. It's worth considering how other community groups might further that mission.

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