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Disagreement at panel regarding honoring 50 years of Hmong in Minnesota

Some members of the public silently wept, and others shouted in frustration as the House Legacy Finance Committee laid over a bill to celebrate 50 years of Hmong and Southeast Asian communities in Minnesota.

“Unfortunately, HF4996 is unfair from the beginning,” said Hung Nguyen, treasurer of the Vietnamese Community of Minnesota. “It elevates the Hmong from the rest of Southeast Asia.”

Wednesday’s controversy revolved around the bill, sponsored by Rep. Liz Lee (DFL-St. Paul), which would make two appropriations from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund in fiscal year 2025:

  • $300,000 to commemorate 50 years of Southeast Asians in Minnesota. The Minnesota Historical Society would issue grants to cultural community organizations, historical organizations, and veterans organizations to plan the events; and
  • $200,000 would also go to the historical society "for activities to prepare and coordinate community commemoration programs celebrating 50 years of Hmong Americans in Minnesota and the arrival of the first Hmong family in Minnesota in October 1975."

While four individuals representing various organizations supported the bill, six individuals testified against it, including Saraswati Singh, chair of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, an executive branch, non-cabinet agency.

Singh asked why the bill mentions the Hmong community, but not the Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Laotian communities, nor the veterans of all races who fought in the Vietnam War.

As language for the bill was being drafted, the Minnesota Asian Pacific legislative caucus heard the Hmong community wanted its own celebration, said Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (DFL-St. Paul).

The caucus wanted to confirm this with representatives from the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian communities, but could not obtain the names of the individuals who attended meetings hosted by the council in the fall of 2023 regarding the idea of the bill.

Lee said she believes people misunderstood the bill’s intent. “I think there’s a question of why Southeast Asian and Hmong, and the explanation there is our own federal government doesn’t recognize Hmong as Southeast Asian, so we just want to make sure there’s no ambiguity there.”

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