Over the last decade, young Hmong professionals moving to Madison have approached Mai Zong Vue on how to connect with others in their new community.
“Do you know if there’s a group of Hmong professionals?” individuals would ask the Hmong community organizer.
After years of being forced to respond that there was no such group, this year she decided to start the first Hmong professional networking organization in Dane County.
The monthly meetings at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center, just off Rimrock Road on East Badger Road, include dinner, networking, speakers and small group discussion. They aim to foster community among professionals, develop leadership skills and motivate professionals to be actively involved and volunteering in the community.
“It’s going to make Madison more vibrant, because all these folks are interested in community issues, and they would like to contribute,” Vue said.
Madison Gas and Electric sponsors the meetings to build capacity and make more Hmong professionals visible in the wider community.
“We need to bring them to the table, motivate them, inspire them to volunteer,” Vue said. “That’s what I preach when I do the opening remarks. It’s like, ‘I want to pass on this opportunity to you guys to take on the torch of the community work.’”
“It’s a way for us to build on our relationships with the growing Hmong community,” said Steve Schultz, MGE spokesperson.
Events are held on the third Friday of every month and have distinct themes. Last month’s talk was given by Nengher Vang, assistant professor of history at UW-Whitewater, and focused on celebrating the legacy of Hmong parents and appreciating their sacrifices. Next month, Vue will be presenting on Hmong skills and talents, and will lead the group in singing Hmong poetry songs. The talks will cover a wide range of subjects, from resume-building to addressing uniquely Hmong cultural topics. Vue said that the group itself will determine the topics of discussion.
The first meeting hosted 50 attendees, ranging in age from UW-Madison upperclassmen to couples in their 50s. They represented a wide range of professions, including photographers, attorneys, public health workers and UW-Madison professors.
“(There were) more than I anticipated, and that means the need is really out there,” Vue said.
Peng Her, associate director at Badger Rock, was happy to provide space for the group.
“Sometimes we are so busy working in our processions that we don’t have a chance to reach out to other professionals and see what they do,” Her said.
Her is excited about the potential to form professional and casual mentorships among the group.
Vue was surprised at how quickly the group has taken on community projects. By the second meeting in November, attendees had made plans to provide children in the Bayview community with Christmas presents.
“I was very thrilled with that, like ‘Second meeting?’ I was kind of thinking, you know, the end of year one, maybe people will get comfortable and they will start doing things together. But the second meeting was like, ‘Wow.’” Vue said. “This group is really energetic.”
Yang Sao Xiong, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and the Asian American Studies Program at UW-Madison, has attended the events and was also impressed by the immediate propensity to give back to the community.
“We’ve already talked a great deal about ways to give back to the community,” Xiong said. “My hope is that coming together will allow us to bring some ideas, or types of resources the community may need.”
Vue has received positive feedback about the program, with attendees expressing gratefulness for a space to gather and address topics of interest to them.
“And I think most importantly, they find that, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of young people!’” Vue said.