Cool news this morning from the Asian American Justice Center, the DC-based AAPI civil rights and social justice organization, that it’s named Mee Moua as its new president and executive director.
Moua, a former Minnesota state senator who was the first Hmong American to ever be elected to public office in the U.S., is a terrific choice. She takes over for Karen Narasaki, who helmed the organization for 20 years before stepping down last summer. Moua is an inspirational and thoughtful leader and speaker, who understands her status as a pioneering role model for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in general, and the Hmong community in particular.
I had the honor of meeting Moua and hearing her speak several times.
The first time was during an Asian American Journalists Association convention held in Minneapolis; I was a mentor to student journalists who visited Moua in her statehouse office for an interview. She was gracious and enightening and the young journalists left in awe of her.
The second was when she spoke to a JACL Youth Conference via video. She apologized for not making it to the conference in person as planned (a last-minute legislative battle kept her in Minnesota), but told her inspiring personal story and urged the youth of JACL to strive for the best in themselves and in their country.
The third time was during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver — the one where Barack Obama was named the presidential candidate for the fall elections. She fired up the crowd at a Democratic National Committee’s AAPI Caucus meeting (you can see a two-part video of Moua speaking to supporters after her speech, below).
A couple of months ago, when Erin gave a training workshop for young Asian Americans at the Rise Conference in Denver, she asked the assembled youths their ethnic backgrounds. One woman stod up and said she was Hmong. She said all hger life, she’s had to explain her heritage when people ask “What’s a Hmong? There’s no country called Hmong!”
But now, she said, “I just tell people, H-M-O-N-G. Google it.”
That got a big laugh out of the crowd, most of whom were familiar with the history of the Hmong. But most people in the U.S. are woefully unaware of the Hmong.
Clint Eastwood’s mostly terrific movie from earlier this year, “Gran Torino,” exposed more people than ever before to the history of the mountain tribe of Southeast Asia, and how the CIA recruited them to fight a shadow front out of Laos during the Vietnam War. When the US pulled out of Vietnam, we left the Hmong hanging, and the Communist Pathet Lao government rained retribution on the Hmong.
Although we’ve relocated many Hmong refugees in various communities in America, thousands are still trapped in refugee camps in neighboring Thailand where they escaped from Laos. The communities are where the US government resettled the Hmong include Michigan, where “Gran Torino” takes place, California, Texas, Colorado (we have a thriving Hmong population in the Denver area) and Minnesota, where the first-ever Hmong American elected to office is a state senator.
Here are DNC-related “tweets” from my Twitter feed, which shows up in my Facebook updates and also in a widget on my blog pages. Some videos, too: Above, emcee Tamlyn Tomita (“Joy Luck Club,” “Come See the Paradise,” “Picture Bride,” Karate Kid II”) introduces Mee Moua, the historic first-ever Hmong American lawmaker, a state senator from Minnesota, during the APIAVote Gala at the Marriott City Center.
The week began before the convention itself, with a Saturday night Media Kickoff Party that was the city’s show of excess to 15,000 journalists from around the world. I bet there were over 5,000 jrounalists, maybe 10,000, who attended the evening at Elitch Gardens amusement park. The admission was free, the rides were free, there was free food and drink everywhere, and even the arcade games were free, and the staff handed out stuffed animal prizes to anyone who played anything.
The next day, Sunday, was an Asian American Summit organized by a Denver committee, which featured speakers including Congressman Mike Honda. The session was a first step towards organizing Colorado’s AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander, which I’ll try to use as my standard acronym when I’m not spelling out Asian American) community to participate in the political process. Monday night, the first night pof the convention, was the APIAVote Gala. Continue reading →