Hmong Population Quietly Growing in Region

LARA PIESCH | THE SPECTRUM Txongpao Lee (left) and Mark Pfeifer speak to Hmong students at North Dakota State at ‘Hmong 101’ event Tuesday.
Txongpao Lee (left) and Mark Pfeifer speak to Hmong students at North Dakota State at ‘Hmong 101’ event Tuesday.

An ethnic group originally hailing from southeastern Asia is growing in the tri-state region.

Two directors from the Hmong Cultural Center of Minnesota presented ‘Hmong 101,’ on Tuesday in the Century Theater.

The duo travels to schools throughout the surrounding states to give insightful information about the Hmong people in the U.S. today.

Mark Pfeifer and Txongpao Lee said the recent United States Census Data Report showed accurate, but not perfect, statistics on the Hmong population in America.

The two believe that there is an undercount of Hmong-Americans.

Between 2004-2006, more than 15,000 Hmong refugees arrived throughout the U.S.

Of all places, Minnesota is becoming home to many Hmong-Americans.

“Minnesota (offers) the opportunities to Hmongs,” Lee, the executive director of the center, said regarding the increasing population. “(Hmongs) come to Minnesota to find a job and they will be able to put their kid(s) in school … Minnesota has the best education sector (for Hmongs).”

With a strong communal culture, Hmong people often live together in dense populations.

“Another important thing is that Minnesota has such a large Hmong community in one metro area – the largest area of the country – so it’s very important for a lot of Hmong families (to) be near the clan members,” Pfeifer, the director of programs and development, said. “They want to be close to the Shamans, (and) the Twin Cities definitely is the most intellectually community.”

Minnesota ranks No. 2 on the top 20 list of Hmong states in America with 80,000, trailing California, which has just over a 100,000 Hmongs.

However, the Twin Cities has the most most Hmong people in one urban area with 65,000.

It hasn’t always been this way.

It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the Hmong population in Minnesota started to skyrocket.

“I think the economy was really bad in California, so that was a big part of it … if you look at the data now there’s still much higher poverty rating in California, so I think word got out that there was a lot more opportunities in the Twin Cities, and the Hmong were doing better there,” Pfeifer said.

Hmong-Americans struggle in the classroom as well as making a living compared to the average American.

Lee and Pfeifer showed the audience a few statistics one of them being that 30.2 percent of Hmong’s have less than a high school diploma, compared to 13.4 percent of the average American.

And Hmong’s also make about $14,000 less than the average American.

“When the Hmong came they had very few resources, so for many adults they didn’t really have access to education or their education was interrupted,” Pfeifer said about the Hmong struggles.

However, the future is bright for Hmong-Americans, Lee said. He doesn’t see any trends at the moment, but he thinks more Hmongs will migrate to the northern state because of opportunities.

“In the future we don’t see anything, but I believe second migration from other states will move to Minnesota because job opportunities and school opportunity,” Lee said.

Pfeifer added, “There’s also still a very high birth rate compared to the overall Minnesota population, so I think it will continue to grow.”

The duo spoke to a crowd of about 30 students, faculty, staff and public in the Century Theater located inside the Memorial Union.

Lee left one final message to the Hmong students from NDSU and Concordia College that attended the presentation.

“You guys need to know how hard your parents fought and (brought) you here, so you need to do a good job in school and come back and help your parents and the community and help the state of Minnesota,” Lee said.

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