Main menu


Preserving Hmong Culture in Milwaukee

Milwaukee — Hmong teenagers in colorful formal wear dance while playing lushen, a long woodwind instrument. At Hmong weddings, the groom and groomsmen, dressed in white button-downs and black baggy trousers, bow before the bride’s family to show their respect. I sit in my lawn chair and stare into the distance as I reflect on my life since coming to the United States as a refugee.

These are three examples that capture some of the Hmong experience in Milwaukee.

Some Hmong members say their culture is changing. As the Hmong people of Milwaukee assimilate into American culture, they are losing traditional culture and customs such as wedding practices and dance techniques.

Yen Ta Vue

James Glow

Yeng Tha Vue works for the Hmong American Friendship Association and has taken TMJ4 to Hmong dance performances, Hmong weddings and to see his uncle.

“They are losing touch with their communities and some of them can’t even speak Hmong. [any] More so, it’s really hard for them to go back to their roots,” said Yengtha Vue.

Yengtha Vue is a Milwaukee community organizer. He works as a youth coordinator for the Hmong American Friendship Society. He took us through the Milwaukee area to give us a glimpse of what life is like in Milwaukee’s Hmong community.

This edition of the My Block series was filmed over several months. We followed Yengtha Vue, who goes by the name Cloud, to his dance recital in Merton, to a wedding on the south side of Milwaukee, and to his neighborhood on the northwest side of the city. The goal was to document Milwaukee’s Hmong community. It was up to him what we talked about and who we met.

It may seem counterintuitive, but as the Hmong population grows, some traditional cultural practices are being lost. Since arriving here as refugees in the late 19th century, the Hmong population has continued to grow. Wisconsin is currently home to 52,233 Hmong Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. It contains up-to-date information that breaks down the population by ethnicity. There are an additional 5,382 noncitizens in the state. Culture is declining despite population growth.

preservation of art

“Hmong culture is very much left behind in the past as new generations grow up and new generations have not learned about the past,” said Anarya Sion.

Xiong is one of the dancers who went to Merton, Waukesha County to perform at Waukesha County’s 4-H club. She came with a group of young dancers of various ages to perform and share their culture with the crowd. After the performance, the crowd was invited to join the group dance.

The goal of each evening was to provide cross-cultural exchange between these two groups. But Xiong isn’t just dancing to perform. She and her friends dance to save the choreography, costumes and instruments.

Travel performance

James Glow

A Hmong teenager from Milwaukee plays Rushen at the Waukesha County 4-h club.

“There aren’t many people doing green grass anymore, so I want to preserve green grass and help it grow,” Peng Su Yang said.

Luchen is a woodwind instrument with multiple different bamboo tubes that help produce sound.

Peng Sue Yang and other boys around the age of 10 dressed in traditional Hmong costumes and performed green music. Their vests were covered with dozens of coins individually attached to strings.

“The coins here are basically to show you how much money you have,” he said. richness.”

They clatter as they dance, adding percussive elements along the green.


James Glow

A group of young Hmong dancers before performing at the 4-h Club of Waukesha County.

“Recently, our Hmong community (people who play Lushen) are not so many and it is disappearing. I would like to help

“The culture is very beautiful, especially the clothes, which look very complicated, but they are very beautiful,” said Anarya Shion.

4 hour club

James Glow

4-h Club of Waukesha County poses for a photo with a Milwaukee Hmong dance troupe.

For her, not only does she feel like she’s promoting her own culture, but she’s connected to it in an intimate way that only art allows.

“Dancing for me – Hmong dance makes me feel a little closer to my culture.”

After the performance, the 4-H club and dancers shared a traditional Hmong meal of fried rice, chicken, and fried eggs.

traditional wedding customs

The next place Yengtha Vue took us to was a wedding on the south side of Milwaukee.

“Also, Hmong weddings are declining as young Hmong are assimilated into America. I think it is very important to preserve this part of our culture,” he said. I got

Hmong weddings are full of traditions and gestures. The actual celebration may span an entire weekend and may be for only one side of the family: if the family is from a city far away, have her two celebrations, the bride’s side and the groom’s side. You may.


James Glow

Lang Xiong is the bride’s father.

One of the most lengthy traditions is when the groom and groomsmen pay their respects to the bride’s family. A family elder stands before the groom and his friends. The groom and groomsmen bow repeatedly to show respect to the bride’s family. In the case of the wedding we were brought to, the elder said, “We have come here to perform the wedding. nam ntxawm txiv ntxawm.

The untranslated portion is equivalent to the elder saying, “I honor my brother and his wife.” There are no direct English translations for these terms.

Other members they look up to are sisters and brothers-in-law – puj nyaaj txiv kwj yij or uncle – puj laug yawm laug. The bride’s father, Lang Xiong, helped with the translation.

hmong wedding

James Glow

The groom (right) and one of the groomsmen (left) bow in honor of the bride’s family.

The groom and groomsmen stand up and repeat the process multiple times for each person they are paying tribute to.

There are also many ritualistic gestures at weddings, such as offering cigarettes. They are always given in pairs representing the new union of the bride and groom.

“So let’s say I don’t smoke, but he gave me two cigarettes and I have to accept them. You can give it to the bride, and that’s fine too, but it’s a tradition,” said Xiong, the bride’s father.

Also, a small amount of beer is poured into the shot glass. At various times during the ceremony, everyone attending the wedding party drinks from the cup. It is a symbol of good luck placed on the table at wedding receptions.


James Glow

At Hmong weddings, it is customary to give members of the marriage party a chicken as a symbol of good luck.

“One animal that can predict what is going on is a chicken. Let’s say it’s culture,” said Xiong.

These are the types of traditions and customs that some people try to keep. But as the younger generation moves further and further away from their ancestral roots, less emphasis is placed on preserving certain traditions.

“More and more Hmong youths are being adopted into Christian and American weddings,” said Yengtha Vue.

understand the past

Understanding where a culture is going is important, but so is understanding its past.

“We are a group of refugees from Laos who came to Thailand from the early 2000s to the 1980s and settled in Wisconsin,” said Yengtha Vue.

According to the Milwaukee Encyclopedia, the states with the largest Hmong populations are California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. They came to America as political refugees after the Vietnam War. According to the Hmong American Center, the Hmong helped the U.S. government fight during the war. The Hmong then sought asylum in Western Europe and the United States, fearing reprisals from the Laotian and Vietnamese governments.

Many of the refugees who arrived in America in the 1980s are now older. That’s one reason why some cultures are starting to disappear. Direct ties to their homes, customs and culture are beginning to fade.

“I think it is very important to raise awareness in our community. I believe it’s time to make our presence known to others,” said Yanta Vue.

Hane Xibrey

James Glow

Hane Xayboury came to the United States as a refugee in the 1980s.

That’s why he introduced me to his uncle Hane Xayboury. He was a political refugee in the United States. Although he didn’t know the language, Xayboury took a gamble and came to Wisconsin.

“Why did you want to go to America?” TMJ4 News reporter James Glow asked him.

“When the new government took over, I knew nothing about it, so all I know when they come to power is seeing them kill a lot of people. They hung them on trees,” he said.

Xibley is from a refugee camp in Ubon, Thailand. When he arrived in America, he immediately started taking English lessons. Things were obviously difficult, but Xayboury was able to make the most of it, raising his family, owning property, and living his version of American his dream.

“I got most of the things I like, except planes,” he joked.

During the interview, he had to cross one more item off his list of things to do in America.

“I’m on the news. Everybody I’m on the news. Can you see me? I’m on the news,” he said during an interview.

from now on

Hmong culture is changing. Some choose to practice more American customs. Some have decided to mix the two. Neither is right nor wrong. That’s what happens when generations of people are taken away from their home countries.

Make no mistake, the Hmong communities in Milwaukee and Wisconsin are strong.

Yengtha Vue has one final question.

“Do you have anything to say about the Hmong community in Milwaukee?”

“I think Milwaukee’s Hmong community is very proud in a positive context. We are very strong together.”

To join the My Block series, email James Groh ( You can nominate people to join the series or suggest your neighborhood for a feature.

Report typos and errors /// send news tips