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Hmong American Friendship Association: A pillar in Milwaukee's Hmong community for 40+ years

The staff of the Hmong American Friendship Association
Courtesy of HAFA
The staff of the Hmong American Friendship Association.

For over forty years, the Hmong American Friendship Association(HAFA) has been a pillar in the Hmong community. The organization started as a social support group and cultural refuge for the large influx of Hmong refugees to the Milwaukee area. They initially offered translation and basic social services, but have since expanded what they offer to the community and who they serve.

Amoun Sayaovong has seen first-hand the impact HAFA has had on the Hmong community as his father, uncle and grandfather were some of the founders of the organization. Now, Sayaovong is following in their footsteps as HAFA’s associate director.

A portion of the HAFA staff
Courtesy of the Hmong American Friendship Association
A portion of the HAFA staff

Hmong immigration to the U.S. was fueled by Laos falling under communist control after the American military left Vietnam, Sayaovong explains. Many Hmong people escaped to the U.S. to avoid persecution and arrived mostly between 1978-1979. However, upon arriving, many of the people who traveled to the U.S. did not speak English and were in need of various forms of support. And that's when HAFA was created.

In the beginning, HAFA provided translation services for medical appointments and other general social services. As the needs of the Hmong community evolved, the organization evolved with it. Today, services includes after school programming, tutoring and job placement assistance.

And though the specific aspects of the the organization have shifted over the years, the main vision and purpose remain the same. "Self-sufficiency is still one of our core services. You know, helping the Hmong community to be a part of the general American community," says Sayaovong.

HAFA staff receiving a grant from AT&T
Courtesy of the Hmong American Friendship Association
HAFA staff receiving a grant from AT&T

"Regardless of what their requirements are, we try to help everybody — ... Southeast Asians, African Americans, anybody. We don't discriminate against everybody. We try to help as many as we can," he says.

This is Sayaovong's second stint with HAFA. After leaving to pursue schooling and a career in law, he says he returned to HAFA to pursue the fulfilling work that it offers. "I just saw that, you know, there was a need for leadership in the Hmong community. And so I wanted to provide that to the organization."

Looking ahead, Sayaovong says the organization will focus on language needs, cultural preservation, self-sufficiency, job assistance, tutoring, schooling and scholarships as well as focusing on events like the annual Hmong New Year.

HAFA can be reached by emailing general@hmongfriendship.org or calling 414-344-6575. You can learn about the organization in this month’s issue of Milwaukee Magazine.


Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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