All that I learned from one little sign…

I recently was sent to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Not only was this the first time I traveled there but also this was the northernmost latitude I have ever visited, so rest assured I was excited.  (Yeah, I do care for these trivialities)

Without really knowing much more of the cities than where they were located, I jumped right into one of my favorite hobbies, “people watching”.  In a matter of minutes, it was obvious to me that there was a noticeable population of Asian individuals. As I do when curious, I asked around and drained my phone battery using Google. Turns out that the people I was seeing were Hmong and that Minnesota has the second largest population of Hmong immigrants in the United States, so I was in for a treat of history finding.

My automatic inquiries after noticing this were “how” and “why”.

“How are they doing here?”  and “Why are they here?”

The first question… “How are they doing here?”  started answering itself when I ran across this sign in a public school.

MN sign

It is written in English, Spanish and Hmong; this in itself told me that there is bilateral communication between the community and the public institutions so I could presume that not only they have the numbers but they also have a voice. Yayyyy!!!

This 2013 report developed by the Hmong National Development  shows how poverty rates, unemployment rates and other social indicators have been improving dramatically for Hmong communities, not only in Minnesota but also around the United States. It also shows how the Hmong population has been growing exponentially in the last 10 years, especially in states far removed from the original population centers like Alaska and the south. Specifically in the south, the Hmong population has grown 134%; will they find the same level of inclusiveness in these new communities as they have found in Minnesota?

But before I went in to a spiral of question making, I willed myself into finding out how was it going for them In Minnesota; after all, St. Paul has the honor of having the highest Hmong population in the US!  What I found was that poverty rates have dropped in the past 20 years from numbers as high as 64% down to 25% in 2010. The Twin Cities are home to the youngest Hmong population in the United States with a median age of 19.7 years, and the level of advanced degrees achieved has been growing too.

With all that said there is still room for improvement.  Uninsured Hmong individuals total 11.9%, while the overall state percentage hovers just below 9%. Poverty, although way below 1990’s numbers, is still high when compared to the state wide poverty rate of 7%. Definitely something right is being done here, I can just hope it keeps getting done so health and economic disparities continue to level off.

To answer the second question I had to go back to the Vietnam War era but I will let you look more in to that if you wish.

While you get to that, just imagine the face of a young Hmong student getting to school and recognizing that that building that will host him or her for a good part of the day is speaking in their language… simply heartwarming.

Written By: Gustavo Adolfo

Follow @gadolfo1983

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