The world’s largest concentration of Hmong is, naturally, in southeast Asia. But the second-largest? Right here in the Twin Cities. Our community is home to more than 65,000 Hmong citizens, with much of today’s youth representing the third generation in the local Hmong community. The local Hmong population has faced many of the same challenges as other immigrant populations throughout history, but despite these obstacles, the Hmong culture has emerged as a dynamic, vital part of the metro and the youth have bright futures if their assets are fostered.
Big Brothers Big Sisters believes that all kids in need should have the opportunity to receive one-to-one attention in a culturally-sensitive and appropriate manner. In 2013, BBBS launched the Hmong Mentoring Initiative to match Hmong children with caring, adult mentors.
It took some time to get the initiative going, and Big Brothers Big Sisters had a lot of guidance, especially from Professor Zha Blong Xiong in the sociology department at the University of Minnesota. As a Minnesota native and the first Hmong person to earn tenure at a major research university in the United States, he was uniquely qualified to help us build the first Hmong Mentoring Initiative in the nation.
The initiative has exceeded expectations in its first year. The program has been met with enthusiasm and support throughout the Hmong community. “By the end of May, we will have met our match goal for our inaugural year,” says Support Coordinator Nancy Lee.
The Hmong Mentoring Initiative has allowed BBBS to foster some new community alliances with dynamic organizations: the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT); Hnub Tshiab – Hmong Women Achieving Together: Hmong Health Care Professionals’ Coalition; and Century College Multicultural Center. BBBS will be building partnerships with even more Hmong organizations in the months to come.
Nancy Lee hopes that one day the Hmong Initiative will no longer be an “initiative,” but the message about the program will spread throughout the community by word of mouth, and the program will soon become self-sufficient. “There is no word for ‘mentoring’ in Hmong,” Nancy said. The closest phrase is “family friend.” We hope to create family-friends that support success for the next generation of Twin Cities Hmong children.
Do you know someone who would make a good Big? Direct them to www.bigstwincities.org for more information about becoming a mentor.