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Preserving and Enhancing the Hmong Community

Bee Vang-Moua and her students lead immigrants into a new future
December 16, 2015

In the Twin Cities area alone, there are more Hmong immigrants and refugees than anywhere else in the United States. As a result, Hmong history, language, and culture now permeate Twin Cities neighborhoods and school classes. Bee Vang-Moua has been with the University of Minnesota since 2007. Now, as director of language instruction for the Hmong program in the Department of Asian Languages & Literatures, she uses her unique experience to educate her students about Hmong language, history, and culture. Her classes have also inspired her students to help her go outside the classroom to help enhance the lives and legacy of the Hmong-American community. “I think that learning the Hmong language and culture encourages students to do great things in their community,” says Vang-Moua.

Many of her students participate in the Youth Leadership Initiative, a program sponsored by the Amherst Wilder Foundation. The Youth Leadership Initiative allows students to connect with members of a community and assist with public policy issues related to education, diversity, and leadership. Some of these students have been involved with the organization since high school, but many take on serious involvement at the collegiate level when they can intern and take on leadership roles. In addition to being involved in the Twin Cities area, hundreds of Bee’s students have participated in Hmong-related service-learning experiences while abroad in countries like India and Taiwan.

When not teaching and inspiring her students, Vang-Moua can often be found making great strides to improve the Midwest Hmong community. She is a leader in her husband’s family, the Moua Clan. As a Moua council member, she leads her family in political and educational advocacy among the other 18 Twin Cities Hmong clans. Almost all clans are dominated by older male leaders, while Vang-Moua stands out as the only female clan councilor. She has also spent some of her time traveling to other academic institutions on behalf of the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures' model Hmong program. Vang-Moua has traveled to schools such as University of Wisconsin's campuses in Eau Claire, Whitewater, Stout; St. Catherine University; and K-12 schools in the Twin Cities, and has helped them establish Hmong education programs of their own that are grounded in the University’s highly regarded model.

For the past 10 years, Vang-Moua has also been significantly involved with the Hmong Language Initiative to standardize grammar and literature and to establish new words for the evolving Hmong vocabulary. Above all else, Vang-Moua works tirelessly to improve relations between the elders and the youth of the Hmong community. She expressed that it is difficult for children of Hmong immigrants to find a sense of self-identity growing up in America. They have to balance being American kids while retaining their Hmong roots and heritage. “We tell stories, and stories are our cultural metaphors,” says Bee. “Today’s youth, that’s not how they learn anymore.” Using her leadership skills and unique set of cultural experiences, Vang-Moua works hard to bridge the generational gap in her community and to advocate for the rights of countless immigrant families.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.