An integral aspect of the Coolest Coast is that of the Hmong people, who make up over a third of Manitowoc County’s Asian American population. With many family histories stemming from immigration due to the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the Hmong community of the Coolest Coast has made an exceptional impact in only a few decades. Through sharing an incredibly unique culture and rising above the odds against them, the Coolest Coast’s Hmong population has helped to make the shoreline a more culturally aware and accepting place to be.
Following the United State’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War, it quickly became apparent that the local Hmong population was not safe in Laos and Vietnam. With many Hmong individuals being enlisted in US armed forces and others serving as spies in the “secret war,” they were heavily persecuted and punished for sacrificing their lives and wellbeing for the US government. As a result, the first waves of Hmong immigrants entered the US to seek asylum and to find safety in a land that they did not know. Despite the struggles of trying to live on the other side of the world, and facing discrimination and even hostility from native-born Americans, the Hmong people persisted. As a result, much of the Hmong population was able to rise above the obstacles of poverty and language barriers, and have turned places like the Coolest Coast into one where their culture and livelihoods can be noticed and valued.
May 14th, 2021 marked the first ever Hmong American Day in the city of Manitowoc. The second city in Wisconsin to create such a day, Mayor Nickels shared a proclamation that shared the local Hmong population’s important role in making the Coolest Coast a more diverse and inclusive place to live. The day celebrates the various contributions made by Manitowoc and Two River’s Hmong community members, and serves as encouragement for other cities and towns to follow suit in the recognition and celebration of their diverse community members.
May is National AAPI (Asian-American and Pacific Islander) Month, and the Coolest Coast has been able to celebrate and bring awareness, in large part thanks to the Hmong community going above and beyond to making a month-long series discussing and educating others about Hmong history and culture, all while making the experience a unique and memorable one for anybody who takes part.
Throughout May and June 2021, the Manitowoc Public Library hosted a month-long series known as “AHmong Friends.” The goal of the events was to introduce the local population to the 45 years of Hmong culture on the Coolest Coast. With events ranging from storybook readings (K. Hang) (X. Vang) in both English and Hmong, to inviting others to try out traditional Hmong ceremonial dress, gave an up close and personal look at how Hmong culture has survived and evolved during its time in the United States. Through music, art, clothing and even sharing everyday household objects, individuals from all corners of the Coolest Coast were able to share in and celebrate what it means to be Hmong.
But Hmong American Day is only one day, and May is only one month of the year. Hmong culture is something that can be discovered, explored, and revered year round. Whether it be visiting local businesses such as the Thai and Lao Market on Washington Street to pick up a freshly made meal, attending a local Hmong cultural event, or even taking the time to learn more on your own, the ways to discover Hmong culture are countless on the Coolest Coast.
Learn more about Hmong American history in the book “Modern Jungles: A Hmong Refugee’s Childhood Story of Survival” by Por Lao.