Hmong American Women’s Association works to create alternative safety resources
Today is the last day of national Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but the celebration of the AAPI community doesn’t stop here. Unfortunately, neither does the systemic issues they face.
The Hmong American Women’s Association's (HAWA) mission is to invest in the safety and leadership of Southeast Asian women, girls, queer, and trans people in Milwaukee. The group helps the community navigate and process the rise of Anti-Asian violence as well as work towards dismantling it.
Tammie Xiong is the executive director and Leana Yang is outreach and education director at HAWA. They both share more about what HAWA is doing to address these issues.
Xiong begins by explaining some of the root causes of the systemic and interpersonal violence in the community: "What we've understood about why violence continues to happen is that it's really rooted in patriarchy and misogyny and white supremacy. Now, we can look and understand that these are the things that are causing violence. What we envision for the world is to really try to dismantle those root causes."
HAWA has invested in safety training to meet a lot of the real needs for Hmong women in the moment, Xiong adds, and their long-term investment centers around developing young people's skill set and knowledge to understand that acts of violence don't happen in a vacuum.
Yang adds that oftentimes young people are still in a process of really naming a lot of the emotions that they are feeling, and HAWA's youth advocates help create an environment where people can safely unpack these feelings.
"A lot of the feedback that we get from young people in this space, too, is that there's not a space like this in Milwaukee. There's not a space where among the youth are able to come and really be in a place where they feel safe and able to be vulnerable and be authentic to who they truly are," says Yang.
For people in the Hmong community experiencing interpersonal trauma, HAWA also provides alternative resources, such as partnering with the WI Hmong Family Strengthening Helpline (1‑877‑740-4292). Yang points out that the 24/7 helpline connects those who need help throughout the state with people who are not only trauma informed, but understand the cultural component of how domestic violence and sexual violence is appearing in Hmong communities.
There's also a resource center available by appointment so that individuals can privately get diapers and wipes, or anything that they may need for the house.
"These alternative resources are put in place to think of safety," notes Yang. "This really came out of the experience that we as Hmong women feel and that we as Hmong queer women feel in our body, and the experience that we also are oppressed with, right? So when you allow more Hmong women to lead, we create alternative[s] for safety."
HAWA recognizes that the form of violence towards queer and trans people stems from the same place that also harms women, which is why the issues queer justice and gender justice are intertwined.
Xiong notes that this tenant of their work adds to the mission of bringing true visibility to their community. "All of these identities matter. I think that that's really what visibility means is like, we cannot help and we cannot end violence if we actually do not see people in the fullness of who they are. And so I think that that's what visibility to means to me, I think that's also what visibility means to HAWA ," says Xiong.