Hmong Archives

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Other Nominations

I nominate the Hmong Archives.

It took the Minnesota’s Norwegian-Americans community 100 years before they finally realized the importance of their past and founded their archive at St. Olaf College in 1925. How much was lost in that century? The raw and personal stories of the individual and their families, and their historic voyages across the ocean. The Norwegian-Americans’ experiences are not the only one that were lost, but many of the rich and resourceful US’s immigrants communities as well. With knowledge of experiences such as the Norwegian-Americans’ the Hmong, one of the refugee and immigrant group that came and still coming to the US since the late 1970s as a result of the Vietnam War and the US-CIA covert operation in Laos, had a lot to be thankful for. One of the reasons that we are thankful for is the guidance of prior experiences shared by our immigrant communities. Thus the Hmong Archives was formed to research, collect, preserve, interpret and disseminate anything and everything that is made by or for the Hmong internationally.


Hmong Archives, Inc., a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization, hereafter refers to as the Archive, based in Saint Paul, is proud to have been able to participate in this MN150 nomination process.


The mission of Hmong Archives (HA) is to research, collect, preserve, interpret and disseminate materials in all formats about or by Hmong.


Our goals are to become the world’s largest repository of Hmong materials, to be a leading Hmong research institute, to document Hmong oral histories and community events, and to provide education on Hmong history and culture through classes and conferences.


Until 1999, the Hmong have lived without an archive of our own. The reasons fall back on our history. Over 5,000 years ago the Hmong, once highly developed with a rich culture in northeast China under the leadership of King Chiyou, were invaded, conquered and suppressed by the expansionist ruling classes. Much of our civilization was lost as we were forced to migrate to southwestern China, with some eventually escaping to Southeast Asia.

In Laos, the Hmong were drawn into the Indochinese wars on the side of the French and later the Americans. When the communists took over Laos in 1975, Hmong refugees began to disperse to many parts of the world. We now have some 300,000 Hmong living in the United States, and over 40,000 in the Twin Cities.

Until coming to the United States, we Hmong were denied most of our basic human rights, including the right to preserve our own heritage and history. Any collection of materials or assembly of Hmong people was regarded as a threat to the government.

Here in America we are given the freedom to thrive to our fullest potential, and this freedom makes it possible for the existence of the Archive for the first time in our history. The Archives is a necessity for the us to research, collect, preserve and make known our knowledge, history and culture. Every day we are losing good archival and historic materials at a much faster rate than we can collect them. One prime example is that fact that Hmong elderly with rich oral histories are dying off, and many artifacts are being destroyed or thrown away without much consciousness of their value to future generations. Other Hmong materials are scattered in the hands of many individuals who would be happy to put them to good use by donating them to the Archive. For instance, after moving several times over the last 20 years, Leslie Bays, a former Air America pilot, was convinced by his wife to throw away some 7000 slides he took during his oversea service to Laos in the 1960s and 1970s. Leslie quickly sent us the remaining 100 slides when he heard about the Archive. If the Archive had existed earlier, this invaluable collection might have been saved. Remaining materials, histories, and artifacts of our culture must be gathered and properly handled and preserved so that the vital history and heritage of a nationality of over ten million people worldwide will flourish and not be destroyed or forgotten.

Local libraries, museums and other centers have collected limited Hmong materials, but not to the extent that could provide a fair representation of the story of the Hmong internationally.

The Archives has a big challenge to meet the needs of future generations. Research shows that future generations are more interested in their background than first generation immigrants who are usually struggling to survive. This is true for second generation Hmong in the United States as well, as evidenced by the numbers of young people who flock to Hmong history workshops whenever they are offered. Our website survey currently indicates that 86% of the 219 voters agree that the mission of The Archive is “very important”, with 10% “some what important” and 4% “not important.”


The Archives, chartered in February 1999 in Saint Paul, began its physical existence the next month in a room of 150 sq. ft. at Metropolitan State University. Repainted used furniture and donated collections soon filled our space. In March 2002 we moved to a larger space (240 sq. ft.) in Minnehaha Mall, but soon filled it also. Our volunteer board of directors meets regularly and is augmented by an unpaid executive director, an unpaid archivist and college interns. As of September 10 of 2005 we have collocated with the Center for Hmong Studies of Concordia University-Saint Paul.

Our funding has been very limited. In 1999 we received $22,000, through appropriation from the State Legislation, from the Minnesota Historical Society to conduct video interviews with six Hmong elders, including seven hours with General Vang Pao, leader of the guerilla forces trained and financed by the CIA in Laos. The 39 hours of transcriptions and translations have been completed. They are awaiting declassification, at which time they will be accessible to the public. One of our first foundation grant we received from the United Way of Greater Twin Cities to put up a website, publish two issues of our newsletter and conduct community outreach. In the past we have received grants from H.E. and Helen R. Warren Foundation, and the Gannett Foundation (KARE 11). Our current grants are from Carolyn Foundation and the United Way of Greater Twin Cities. Significant smaller contributions have been received from individuals, small businesses and our board, paying the rent of $4,200 a year, as well as computer and other office expenses.

Due to the lack of funding, we have focused our energies on research, documenting, and collecting rather than publishing, disseminating, and other programming. Thus in only five years we may have collected more Hmong materials than any other single center around the world. Currently there are over 100,000 items collected and stored. They were donated by over 300 persons. Computer cataloging will begin once our collection is collocated for better accessibility. We have approximately 2,500 books, 4,000 children’s school papers and artworks, and 1000 audiocassettes. In addition, we have 250 videos (documentaries and fiction), 200 maps, 4,000 photos, 500 paj ntaub (Hmong embroideries), phonograph records, flyers, tickets, stamps, and thousands of newspaper articles. We also have small collections of knives, household items, clothing, oil paintings and watercolors. We have published materials in English, Hmong (eight writing styles), Chinese, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, German, French and Italian. Most of these are about Hmong in the U.S., but also included are material from Canada, France, Germany, China, and Southeast Asia.

We are proud of our initiatives in collecting and preserving materials and documenting our oral histories. When he visited the Archive, Dr. Jacques Lemoine, a well-known French anthropologist who has researched the Hmong for forty years, stated that he had not seen any collection as large as the Archive’s.

However, our collections remain unused and inaccessible. We would like to make the collection more readily for the world to see and use, but proper cataloging and storage are yet in place. We do not have proper equipment such as audio and video recorders, slide sorters and projectors, a copy machine and a computer for visitors to search our materials. Every week we have people who want copies of our materials (majority of the rare collection cannot be lent out). We often serve them at our own expenses. Once we’re fully functioning, like other archives, our goal is to charge our customers minimal duplication (and service) fees.

The future of the Archive is promising. We hope to sustain it by funding from foundations, corporations, governmental sources (such as the National Endowment for Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services), individuals donors, by self sustaining income generated from our memberships, publications, and other clienteles.


The Archives currently is focusing on three main projects: preservation, research, and education.


· Collecting: Hmong materials are scattered in the hands of individuals, and they need to be collected and preserved before they are thrown away or destroyed. While many items are being donated, others have to be purchased while they are available. We have the knowledge, but not the finances, to acquire Hmong books, art, films, artifacts and other materials to enhance our collections even when many out of print books can be acquired via the Internet. · Hmong serials project: People, places, events and subjects in our 2000 newspapers and periodicals would be scanned and digitized into a database. · Translating: Summaries or complete translations would be done for Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Lao, Norwegian, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese materials into English or Hmong Romanized Popular Alphabets (RPA). · Cataloging: In order for our collections to be of good use and accessible, they have to be accessioned, cataloged, and stored, so that they will be easily found at the Archives or online. We are collocating the Archive so that it could be incorporated into a system to catalog our materials. Our website is being updated regularly and has been visited by many people.


· Oral histories: Hmong knowledge has been passed down orally because Hmong writing systems developed since 1900 have had limited usage in the poor and isolated Hmong mountain settlements. Also, schooling was done in the dominant culture’s language and usually not available in the mountains. Thus, very few elderly who know the oral traditions are able to write them down in any language left alone the many writing systems of the Hmong. One of our most important missions is to record interviews with Hmong elderly to capture their knowledge and experiences before they are lost forever. · Community events: Hmong New Year celebrations, sports tournaments, graduations, funerals, flea markets and farmers markets reflect the changing urbanized Hmong culture. Unfortunately, they have disappeared year after year without audio/video documentation for future researchers. We plan to visually document them on a regular basis. · Surveys: For accurate information about dialects spoken, religious affiliation, education, and other statistical information, the Archive will conduct topical surveys.


· Hmong history classes: Ongoing Hmong history classes or lectures at the Archives or in the community will be a key part of our Education program. We propose classes of about twenty students, meeting once a week for a period of four – eight, three or four sessions per year. For continuity, we would need to secure part time teachers to help develop, modify, and monitor the curriculum as well as taking lead in the teaching program. They would fill a huge educational void on a local and national level. Due to the fact that Hmong have been dominated by others for so long that the Hmong have not had much pride in themselves. The colonial mentality, is what we called, believes that Hmong is incapable of leading and had to rely on outsiders to intervened in order for Hmong to success had crippled the more thinking Hmong for centuries. The low self-esteem, especially in the youth, has helped lead to gangs, drugs, and crime. Hmong people must possess a justifiable sense of ethnic pride and identity. They must know that their ancestors fought against the brutal attacks of other expansionist ethnics for 5,000 years and they survived. They need to know that their parents were among the best and bravest soldiers, defending world democracy and freedom in the uneven struggle against the communists in Laos. · Hmong history conferences: We also want to sponsor annual Hmong history conferences in three year cycles covering Hmong in China, Hmong in Southeast Asia, Hmong in the United States and around the world. They will be two-day events, drawing college students, scholars and professionals worldwide. We have good contacts with several Hmong historians throughout the world, especially in China, and plan to invite these scholars as presenters. All conference papers will be compiled into books, audio, and video formats to be published by the Archive. · Newsletter: Our newsletter Hmong Record will continue to be published quarterly, also with an online version. · Website: Ongoing changes at the Archive, topics and events around the world would be posted. · Outreach: the Archive would have a booth and exhibits at Hmong and other community events, publish a newsletter, and send out press releases to the media for the Archive events.


The Archive has received favorable reviews by the local news media. This includes articles in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Hmong Times, Hmong Today, Asian American Press, and Asian Week. There have been special reports on Minnesota Public Radio, and on PBS’s TPT Channel 2 and NBC’s KARE 11 television. Over the last couple of Hmong New Year celebration we spoke with hundreds of visitors at our display booth and had inspired lots of young as well as older Hmong. Our website ( has reached out widely, and we will continue to expand it.

While our scope could very well be considered national and international, our primary focus in the past has been in the Twin Cities and Western Wisconsin. We have had visitors from around the world, including Professors Wu Xiaoping and Tang Jianrong from China, Dr. Pao Saykao from Australia, and Dr. Jacques Lemoine from France and Thailand. Our collections have been used by many individuals and organizations, including Lynette Nyman and Tony Randolph of MPR, Wendy Freshman of the Minnesota Historical Society, Cha Vang of the Saint Paul Mayor’s Office, and Mary Robertson and colleagues of the National PBS Contractor Office in New York. In our previously crowded quarters, we have made presentations to professor/student groups from places like the Luther Seminary, the University of Minnesota, Saint Cloud State University, St. Olaf College, and Hamline University. We have spoken to Asian Club students at Como Park High School and at the Hmong Resource Fair in Arlington High School (both in Saint Paul), to Hmong senior residents from Wausau, WI, to a workshop at the Hmong National Conference in Charlotte, NC, displayed at the Hmong National Development in Minneapolis this past spring, and permanent exhibited as well as a one-time display at various of the Center for Hmong Studies events here at Concordia University-Saint Paul.

We have also had some level of collaboration with Hmong radio and television programs trying to acquire copies of their broadcasts. Other collaborative efforts we had undertook, for example, were the 2002 exhibit booth during the Lao Family Community Hmong New Year celebration, with St. Paul Open School students on a History Day project, with university students from Oslo (Norway), Passau (Germany), with Hmong Chinese from Guiyang and Beijing, and with Anne Frank of Southeast Asian Archive at the University of California - Irvine.


Tzianeng Vang is the current Chair and Interim Executive Director of the Archives. He has held this position since the fall of 2004. The position at present is unpaid. He is a Program Associate of the Center for Hmong Studies at the Concordia University-Saint Paul.

Marlin Heise, the main archivist, a retired Minnesota Historical Society Library cataloger, has been responsible for researching, collecting, preserving, disseminating, organizing and managing our collections at the Archivist since 1999. Generally he is busy at our office four days per week. But the REALITY is that he spent every waking second of his last twenty-five plus years collecting and preserving for the Archive. The position is at present unpaid. He is a Scandinavian studies graduate of the University of Minnesota. He speaks English, German, Dutch, Norwegian, and a little of Hmong Leng or Green Mong Dialect.


Due to the visit of Jay Xiong, a Saint Olaf student, over 500 hours have been contributed by fifteen volunteers and interns since July 2002. Jay Xiong and Kou Vang of St. Olaf College, Cheng Thor of Century College, Tou Pao Lor (Ph.D. candidate) of St. Mary’s University, and Kou Xiong of Hamline University are major donors of time and talent. They worked on files, book dust jacket covers, videos, photographing collections, computer updating, translating Chinese, Lao and Thai, and other projects.


Our Board of Directors consists of ten members from the Twin Cities Hmong business and other professionals within the community. They meet every other month and deal with funding opportunities, program planning as well as overall governance and financial matters. They have contributed both money and materials to the Archives. Without the financial support of the Board, the Archives would not have survived and grown to its present state. This request has the full endorsement of our Board of Directors.


It took the Minnesota’s Norwegian-Americans community 100 years before they finally realized the importance of their past and founded their archive at St. Olaf College in 1925. How much was lost in that century? We Hmong are fortunate to have learned from the past and began the Archive after almost 25 years in the United States. Hmong now live all over the world—historically in China, then also Southeast Asia, and since 1975 we had dispersed into Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Canada, France, French Guiana, Germany, New Zealand, and the US. The Archive comes into existence at a critical time when Hmong people need it most. Our language and culture are in a rapid state of change and development, both threatened and enhanced by technology, popular culture, and surrounding societies. How much have we lost in the past quarter century? The answer appears as we begin our works. Hmong people from around the world look to us for leadership in preserving our language, history and heritage. We hope to do just that; and we are thankful you are a part of this historic journey.

~Tzianeng Vang, St. Paul, MN




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