Empowering Education: The Hub Residency Program at the Hmong Cultural Center Museum

Hmong Cultural Center Museum

The latest Hub residency seeks to expand the educational capacity of the Hmong Cultural Center Museum and amplify local Hmong voices on campus and in the local community. 

This partnership, organized by Post-Doctoral Associate Andre Kobayashi Deckrow (Heritage Studies and Public History and the Department of History) is the latest residency in the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub, and an expansion of a partnership that Deckrow had previously developed for an undergraduate public history course he co-taught with Associate Professor Tracey Deustch (History) in 2022.

As the residency prepares for its first event, Deckrow shares the inspiration for the residency, its intended outcomes, and how it aligns with the college’s public engagement values.

Tell us about your project. 

Hmong American History

The Hmong Cultural Center Museum (HCC) opened in 2021 as the first permanent Hmong cultural and historical space in the United States. Located in a storefront on University Avenue in St. Paul, the museum welcomes an array of visitors, including numerous school and university student groups, to present Hmong history and culture to Hmong and non-Hmong visitors. The HCC also serves as a resource to recent immigrants, teaching citizenship classes and helping educate Hmong youth in Hmong cultural traditions. 

Our residency brings together the HCC Museum and its library to expand the reach and scope of its mission while also preserving important historical materials for the Hmong community and future scholars in Hmong studies.

There are three separate components: the creation of new exhibit content and digital archives for the HCC Museum; the digitization of local Hmong newspapers; and the programming on-campus and at the museum that aims to introduce the HCC to the university community, promotes Hmong Studies at the University of Minnesota and amplifies the voices of Hmong students and community members. 

What role will students play in this residency?

This semester, graduate students in my History 8122: Public Histories course are working with the museum to develop a new digital exhibit on the history of the Secret War and refugee resettlement. This will complement the Story Map that undergraduate students in my public history course last year made about Hmong music and wedding and funerary traditions. The graduate students plan to update and implement both of these digital exhibits in the museum by the end of the summer. 

How did you get connected with the Hmong Cultural Center Museum?

The partnership developed over the course of the past few years. I first got to know Mark Pfeifer, the director of the HCC Museum and Library, when I brought the students in my Youth and Public History course to the museum on a field trip shortly after it opened in 2021. This became a semesterly trip for my classes, and when I co-taught our undergraduate public history course in the fall of 2022, in which students work on projects with community partners, I approached Mark about the possibility of working together to expand the storytelling capabilities of the museum. After the wonderful experience that our undergraduate students had developing a digital exhibit for the museum, Mark and I worked together to expand our partnership and apply for a CLA Liberal Arts Engagement Hub residency. 

How does your residency align with the purposes of public engagement in the humanities?

The goal of the residency is two-fold. First, we seek to leverage the resources of the University of Minnesota to expand the ability of the Hmong Cultural Center Museum and Library, a grassroots cultural and historical organization in Saint Paul, to promote and preserve Hmong history and culture. And second, we seek to use the Residency and the content that it is creating to help raise awareness of Hmong history and culture at the University of Minnesota, while also seeking to address some of the unique issues and challenges that confront Hmong students and community members at UM, especially in the wake of anti-Asian hate (of which the museum itself was a target) and the Uprising following the murder of George Floyd.

How is equity and reciprocity in community partnerships integrated into your residency?

Fundamental to this partnership is the notion that the work created through it (e.g. new digital exhibitions and the digital newspaper collection) will remain in the control of the HCC Museum and Library. As the digital exhibits will be featured permanently in the museum, UM faculty, staff, and students will work closely with the Mark Pfeiffer and other representatives of the HCC to ensure that the needs and interests of the museum are met. Our hope is that through this partnership students interested in public history will learn how to work ethically with community partners and understand the thought and care that go into building public exhibits for community museums.

Similarly, for the digitization of Hmong newspapers, we seek to create a partnership where the collection remains the property of the HCC Museum and Library. Often newspaper digitization projects have been extractive; universities and historical institutions have sought to digitize newspapers for their own collections. Our partnership, however, seeks to use university resources and expertise on behalf of the Hmong Cultural Center Museum and Library so that it can both preserve and make available to the public its own collection of newspapers. This work will benefit members of the university community interested in Hmong history while at the same time maintaining the HCC’s status as an important center for Hmong studies research. Furthermore, without university support (both financial and technical) these newspapers would likely never be digitized.

Lastly, in our programing, we seek to work with the museum and members of the Hmong community to promote the museum on-campus and also use the collaboration as a way of bringing awareness to the challenges facing Hmong students and members of the larger community. We seek to empower Hmong students at the UM who might be interested in working on projects to tell their own histories.

What’s next? How can the CLA community get involved?

On Friday, March 22, our residency along with the Immigration History Research Center are hosting a dual-book launch event for local author Kao Kalia Yang and local artist Pao Houa Her. Most excitedly, we are bringing to Minnesota Mai Der Vang, a writer and poet from Fresno, California. Not only will this be a celebration of Kalia and Pao Houa’s books, but it is also a chance for a rare conversation among writers and artists from the two largest Hmong American communities in the United States: Minnesota and the Central Valley of California, to be in conversation with one another about the Hmong American experience and the Hmong community in diaspora. We hope that you can join us.

A Celebration of Hmong American Literature and Art

Join the dual-book launch event for Kao Kalia Yang and Pao Houa Her on Friday, March 22, 2024, 6 - 8 p.m, at Northrop Auditorium Floor 4, Best Buy Theatre. 

The Liberal Arts Engagement Hub

The Hmong Cultural Center is one of eight Hub Residencies for the 2023-2024 academic year. The Liberal Arts Engagement Hub seeks to facilitate reciprocal and trusting partnerships between humanistic scholars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences and the community to respond to important social challenges. 

This story was edited by an undergraduate student. 

Edited by Jennifer Nguyen 

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