In 1975, the Hmong—a distinct ethnic group with origins in China, who by the twentieth century were concentrated in northern Laos—began migrating to the United States following their service fighting alongside American forces in the so-called “Secret War” in Southeast Asia. Hmong refugees were resettled in all parts of the country, and Minnesota welcomed one of the largest groups. Today, the state is home to nearly 80,000 Hmong, most in the Twin Cities metro area: 1.25% of the state’s population and 26% of all Hmong living in the United States.
In 2015, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) premiered Peb Yog Hmoob—We Are Hmong Minnesota, a multifaceted initiative developed by members of Minnesota’s Hmong community in partnership with MNHS. The collaboration began in 2013 when four members of the Hmong community proposed a partnership to share the rich history and culture of this underrepresented group through the state museum, and Hmong historians, artists, and leaders were involved throughout. Peb Yog Hmoob—We Are Hmong Minnesota gave all citizens a chance to learn, experience, and reflect on the lives and contributions of the Hmong community. Furthermore, the initiative coincided with—and informed the creation of—the Society’s new Department of Inclusion and Community Engagement (DICE), with a full-time staff of five and an ambitious agenda of community outreach and coordination.
The initiative’s opening drew 4,000 visitors–probably the highest single-day attendance total in the Minnesota History Center’s 23-year history–with 62% self-identified as from Asian Pacific heritage. MNHS saw this initiative as an opportunity to attract a new audience — Hmong residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin—to the History Center. A 2014 survey of awareness and participation rates of new immigrant communities at major cultural institutions in the Twin Cities metro revealed that only 25% of Hmong respondents had ever been to the History Center. Additionally, 50% had neither visited nor even heard of the History Center, despite the fact that it is located at the center of the largest urban concentration of Hmong in the world. Marketing focused on the Hmong community and the opening drew 4,000 visitors–probably the highest single-day attendance total in the Minnesota History Center’s 23-year history–with 62% self-identified as from Asian Pacific heritage. Over the course of the exhibition, Asian Pacific attendance quintupled from less than 2% to as high as 11% of total museum attendance. Almost half of the adult Asian Pacific visitors were between the ages of 19 and 29. This is highly unusual for the History Center, and showed a deep interest among young Hmong people in learning about and celebrating their history
Peb Yog Hmoob—We Are Hmong Minnesota was a great success in reaching out to and sharing authority with an important local community who had not seen itself represented in the state’s history museum. It shared the Hmong story with the wider community who had little understanding of their neighbors and their history, and helped build bridges with other ethnic communities by showing the importance of diverse groups to the Minnesota story.