Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Hmong Americans Gain Political Representation

The number of Hmong legislators, who came from Southeast Asia as refugees, tripled in the Minnesota state House this year.

Tou Xiong
(Tou Xiong Campaign)
Tou Xiong describes running for office as almost a natural stage of life. “We got done with college and law school,” he says, “and now we’re in that prime time to run for office.”

Xiong was part of a group of four legislators of Hmong descent elected to the Minnesota House last November, tripling the overall number to six. The House grew more diverse in general, with record numbers of Hispanic, Asian and black legislators, including representatives from Minnesota’s Somali community.

It’s a time-honored tradition that immigrant groups, once they form a big enough population in a city or state, come to flex their political muscles, from the Irish and Italians of the Northeast to Hispanics in the Southwest. For the Hmong people, who came to Minnesota from Southeast Asia as refugees in the 1970s and 1980s, the clout to form a legislative caucus is something they could barely dream about 15 or 20 years ago. “This reflects the maturing of political consciousness in the Hmong population,” says David Schultz, a political scientist at Hamline University in St. Paul. “They’ve gone from being civically involved to now being politically involved. They’ve developed some economic wherewithal, a sufficient stake in the community and a nucleus of voters.”

Older generations of Hmong had to attend to “survival needs,” serving community members almost on a one-to-one basis, says KaYing Yang, program director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders in St. Paul. Beyond social services, the rising generation of Hmong adults recognizes the need to make policy change as well, she says. “They understand the political system better than the first generation.”

There are more than 60,000 Hmong residents in Minnesota, nearly all of them in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. But candidates including Xiong sought to appeal to broader groups of voters by campaigning on health care and education. “These candidates did not run as single-issue candidates on a Hmong platform,” says Schultz. Still, Hmong legislators are expected to seek ways of addressing the educational and economic disparities that hold back many members of their community. The portrayal of Asians as the “model minority” has kept some lawmakers from recognizing the struggles among the Hmong.

But there’s no doubt that the arrival of so many Hmong legislators at the Capitol last month offered a moment of pride -- even a sense of “validation,” Xiong says, that their parents and grandparents had done the right thing in uprooting their lives and coming to this country.

Alan Greenblatt is a senior staff writer for Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
In recent years, local governments have been forced to adapt to a wildly changing world, especially as it pertains to sending bills and collecting payments.
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?