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home : community : community Tuesday, April 25, 2017

9/27/2016 3:23:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Brooklyn Park Community Activism

Amy Doeun

Cindy Yang with Governor Dayton
Dai Thao, Cindy Yang and Susan Kaying Pha
While a large portion of the Twin Cities Hmong population still lives in St. Paul and Minneapolis, an ever growing number of the community is moving to outlying suburbs. While there is no specific data on how many Hmong live in Brooklyn Park, Asians are the third largest group in the community. According to Cindy Yang, based on the website www.datausa.io, Laos falls as the second highest Asian country of origin in Brooklyn Park.

As the presidential election draws closer, Cindy Yang and others in the community are focusing and community activism to encourage involvement in politics and the community. Yang said, "I believe a unique challenge that the Hmong community faces in Brooklyn Park is that we don't know each other, in other words we're not organized. We don't have a shared identity or pride in the city that we live in. We often go to the Twin Cities for services, authentic Hmong food and markets, and community events; and once we've step outside of our city well you can't really tell the difference between a Brooklyn Park Hmong person and St. Paul Hmong person."

Yang said, "I've been doing some organizing work in Brooklyn Park since the beginning of this year and we often joke that, in the past, Brooklyn Park was a place we came home to sleep, and do our community organizing outside of Brooklyn Park. I took it upon myself to really try to meet and reach out to the Hmong community in Brooklyn Park, but I didn't know where to go? How would I do that? How do I wake up this sleeping giant? It wasn't a challenge that I put upon myself for fun, but I found myself in St. Paul too often, and I often thought to myself, why am I not doing anything for my community in the Northwest Suburbs, in Brooklyn Park?"

She started out just attending community events. "My first event was to attend the city's first Diversity Day last year. I then met the Multicultural Action Committee, a committee where they try to improve police relations with immigrant communities. This was my first dose of Brooklyn Park government and volunteering for a city that I've lived in for four years. Discussions were great, but still there was only one other Hmong representative at the table, that is Dr. Yang Dao. Overall, I was still hungry. I still had the lingering question, how do I organize and get to know the Hmong community in Brooklyn Park?"

Then in February Susan Pha contacted Yang with her interest in running for Brooklyn Park City Council. "I was amazed, and of course, absolutely excited! Susan, with her successful books and Project Success, had name recognition, and a prime candidate with her lifelong work in making a positive difference in the community. My first thought was it was my dream since the beginning of 2016 to organize the sleeping giant, the Hmong community in Brooklyn Park. Now's my chance... I can work on this campaign and really have a platform and base to get to know my community!"

Now she is working with Facebook and other social media to get updates to the Hmong Community in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.

Overall she has been happy with the reaction of her fellow "Hmong Brooklyns." "They are involved. I've met so many great Hmong leaders here in Brooklyn Park, people like successful authors and small business owners like Susan, director of programs at universities, community organizers, and students who commute and lead Hmong student organizations. We're very involved, but we have yet to have an opportunity to really serve the very own community we live in, and that to me is missed opportunity."

Yang is now working as the Campaign Manager for Susan Pha's campaign. Through her work she has been able to work with "some young and eager Hmong leaders that live in Brooklyn Park. They're incredible. They've taken up the challenge of running a political campaign, and are being the change that they want to see in their community. It's amazing how many Hmong people in Brooklyn Park are ready for the same things I am. They understand the diverse community we live in, and they're ready to engage with community events and local government. They've just needed somewhere and somehow to do it, and I honestly believe that with Susan's city council campaign and her leadership, it's a great start. It often takes bold moves to really make traction in organizing a community; I believe that Susan made a bold move in putting her life on hold to run for office, in putting her life in the public, and just risking it all to run for a seat that a woman of color has never won."

On August 9th Susan won with 51.77% of the primary votes (out of a seven candidate race). Now Pha is on to the general election.

Yang recalls when it all started before the caucus meetings on March 1st when she was doing phone calling, she was nervous and excited at the same time knowing that "this could very well be the first call they've ever received about local politics. A younger Hmong woman answered the phone and was very enthusiastic. She told me she was excited and that it was time for Brooklyn Park to elect someone like Susan. We talked about how diverse the community is, and that it's time for the representation to start looking like and having the perspective of the constituents they serve. I gave her the clear directions to her caucus location, and then she also asked me to text her details. I remember pressing end of my phone, and just being wowed and saying that this was one of the things I was put on earth to do."




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