By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In 1993, a group of 13 Hmong women launched the Hmong American Women’s Association. Its mission was to provide a space in Milwaukee where Hmong women could gather.
Over the years, its mission and presence have grown, and the organization recently relocated to a new building, 3030 W. Highland Blvd.
During a press conference on Monday, Aug. 9, the group discussed how its new building will support its mission to provide safety services and leadership opportunities for Southeast Asian women, girls, queer and trans people.
“As the only Southeast Asian women queer fem grassroots social justice advocacy organization in Milwaukee and among the very few in the nation and in the world, we are proud to provide gender justice champion organization for gender and racial equality in our community,” Leana Yang, the outreach and education director, said.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who attended the press conference, expressed her joy at having seen the organization grow over the years. The organization is now a part of a historical site, Moore said, and that is so important.
During the Vietnam War, the Hmong allied with the United States and were persecuted as a result, Moore explained. Many came to the United States as a result and settled in places such as Milwaukee. The Hmong community has had a huge cultural impact on Milwaukee, she said.
“This organization is founded in that history of nurturing and taking care of those people who have been persecuted and who need support,” Moore said. “Boy are we lucky to have been one of the places that the Hmong came.”
This group sees the intersectionality of the struggle, she said.
“It’s not just Hmong women that need support, but it’s trans people, its people in the LGBT community,” she said.
Moore continued, “I’m up here because I’m a congresswoman and I want to guarantee to the Hmong women in this community that I will continue to make sure that the resources to help people continue to move toward healing are there…You got a partner here in Gwen Moore, your congresswoman.”
Emily Vang and Analiya Xiong, two youth leaders from HAWA’s SAY MKE youth leadership program, also spoke during the press conference. The program helps Southeast Asian girls and queer youth become advocates for social justice and change in their communities.
Vang said she hopes the new HAWA building will provide a space for Southeast Asian girls, women and trans people who are in need of support. She has been a part of HAWA for the past three years.
“I have learned so much about myself and my passions,” Vang said. “I’ve developed as a person because I’ve had my HAWA sisters and my HAWA family push me and support to be the best person I am today. I appreciate them for being vulnerable enough to share their experiences and their stories with me so that I can move on from mine.”
Analiya Xiong likewise expressed her happiness that more people will be able to engage with and benefit from HAWA’s services.
“Having a safe space to run to makes me feel very forgiving toward myself along with others around me,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m not the only who has these experiences. Listening to others and learning from others makes me feel like this space will give others a chance to do so as well.”
Tammie Xiong, executive director of HAWA, concluded the press conference by announcing the HAWA Rotos Down Capital Campaign. The group aims to raise $1 million to continue its work.
“In HAWA’s long and rich history we have moved from offices to offices migrating to different parts of the city, mirroring the historical struggle of Southeast Asian refugees to set down permanent roots,” Tammie Xiong said. “We have never had the opportunity to own anything especially as women, as queer fem women, but we are now so proud to call ourselves owners of this beautiful home.”
Planting roots is important, she said. The capital campaign will help transform this place that advocates for opportunity, transformative healing, possibilities, connections and more.
“We believe that when you invest in us at HAWA, the Southeast Asian, queer fem women leaders in our community, you are investing in a community infrastructure that is the very backbone of what keeps our community safe,” she said. “Women, girls, queer fem women we are the ones that historically have been the ones to keep us safe. We have the answers, and we have the road map to reach our liberation, which will not only liberate ourselves but our community as a whole as well.”