Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hmong Organizing in North Minneapolis: Hue's Story

Post and stock photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Not too long ago, Jay Clark from CURA sent me an email about a video he'd found. The footage profiled work done by the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council and the Jordan Area Community Council with Hmong in our community.

Coming up this Saturday at three, there will be a meeting at Farview Park to follow up on getting a Hmong police officer on the day shift in the fourth precinct. Leading up to that meeting, I thought it would be good to profile one of our successful partnerships with our neighbors.

You can click here for the video of Hue's story or read more for the transcript of the video after the jump..., although I apologize for any inaccuracies that may be there as I transcribe this.

"My name is Hue Yang. My family came to America in September of 2004 from the refugee camps in Thailand. We are Hmong refugees. This is my mother Chu, this is my sister. This is my brother Shue.

"I am going to tell you how the Hawthorne Area Community Council helped me and other Hmong students get a bilingual Hmong teacher in the class. In 2004 and 2005 a thousand Hmong refugees came to north Minneapolis from Thailand. Many went to school at Jordan Park. We liked doing prayers and our New Year's tradition at Jordan Park. We also liked our first Halloween in America.

"Our Hmong teachers helped us with English and learn about life in America. We also had many problems at Jordan Park. Our classes were really big and we were (inaudible, sounds like "hated") by other students and didn't like American food. Michael Yang, the director of Hawthorne Area Community Council, met the teachers and students at Jordan Park to hear our problems and know our families.

"The Hawthorne and Jordan Area Community Council signed up Jordan Park students for a Hmong soccer team. We loved playing in our first soccer tournament in our lives. In the fall, a north Minneapolis school board member, Lydia Lee, came to meet the soccer players. In November, our Hmong teacher was taken out of our class and our new teacher could not speak Hmong or Thai and had trouble speaking English.

"Our families worked to immediately get a Hmong teacher back in our class. Hundreds of Hmong signed sheets that we want a bilingual Hmong teacher. Soccer players brought the sheets to Lydia Lee's house. Lydia said she would meet with the families. The Hawthorne and Jordan Area Community Councils wrote letters supporting the families.

"Hawthorne got a church basement to have the meeting with Lydia Lee. Many Hmong families did not have a car. Hawthorne got a volunteer to drive many Hmong students and children to the meeting. Hawthorne and Jordan had pizza and lemonade and supported the Hmong families at the meeting. This is my brother, standing next to Lydia Lee.

"In the meeting, Hmong parents were upset because their children had been in America less than a year. They still needed Hmong teachers to help them learn English. The students said that often they cannot understand what a teacher said. Two days later, Hawthorne and Jordan helped get many Hmong students to a Jordan Park school meeting and spoke in support of the Hmong families.

"Students wrote down why they wanted a Hmong teacher. A month later, we got a new Hmong teacher. This is a picture of our class with Mrs. Yang. A soccer team started by the Hawthorne Area Community Council still plays every day. We have gone to a city championship.

"We also had a Hmong girls' volleyball team. Our soccer team had successfully taken on many school issues - smaller classes, more buses and rides, a Hmong magnet school, stopping fights, and school choice. And Hawthorne Area Community Council continues to help the Hmong.

"Hawthorne put in a soccer field at Farview Park to help the youth. Hawthorne had a pizza dinner with Hmong neighbors to hear their problems. A Hawthorne college student is studying how to get more Hmong police officers."


Dave Hanson said...

Why do we need to hire a Hmong police officer. Couldn't we just hire a Hmong language teacher and force every beat cop to learn Hmong? Seems more scalable and long term to me.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

I forgot to put a link to the report CURA did with the support of the Hawthorne neighborhood.

The bottom line is this: the 4th precinct has the most Hmong residents in all of Minneapolis and only one Hmong police officer on the night shift plus a park police officer who is Hmong. The 5th precinct has the lowest concentration of Hmong residents but has the most Hmong police officers.

So we don't necessarily need to hire new as much as reposition our existing officers. Even that has hurdles with the union and the officers themselves, and we shouldn't assume we could just snap our fingers to make it happen.

Dave Hanson, your idea is an interesting one. But we're still left with cultural issues that a Hmong officer would be better-equipped to help with. Plus with all the other training an officer goes through, I'm not sure how feasible it would be to just toss on "have 'em learn a whole other language."

I don't want to shoot this down immediately, but it seems to have its own set of logistical barriers.

Dave Hanson said...

Oh I can understand there being cultural issues but nothing is perfect and we should not make it easy to "not assimilate" so I think crossing some sort of language barrier would be a fair compromise at least enough to capture a valid witness statement etc. Perhaps the better alternative is to prod the community to offer and encourage attendance in English and American culture classes? Heck this would be a good time to tell people not to pee outside or put memorials out etc. Just kidding.