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Politics & Government

A Nation Engaged: Milwaukee Hmong Community's Hopes for a Better Life Post 2016 Elections

Marti Mikkelson
Hmong businesswomen sell clothing and jewelry at the Milwaukee Asian Market

We’ve been talking to Milwaukee voters this week about what a better life looks like to them, and how the 2016 elections could help move the country toward those ends.  It's part of NPR’s series, “A Nation Engaged” and today we talk with businesspeople from the city’s Hmong community.

Charles Vang came to Milwaukee from Laos in 1984 and now owns an insurance agency on the south side. He says while his business is doing pretty well, he sees others in the Hmong community struggling to make ends meet.

“The minority or underserved communities have quite a bit of lack of resources such as access to capital, resources to really support the small business, to be able to expand their business,” Vang says.

Vang says he’s looking forward to watching the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions, and hopes the presidential candidates address his concerns about economic development. He says a better life for him means being able to better provide for his family and community.

“I tend to look at somebody who understands inclusiveness, understands the middle class of this country here. I hope whoever becomes the leader will be the right person for that,” Vang says.

Education tops the list of concerns for Chris Her-Xiong. She came to the U.S. from Laos in 1975. Her-Xiong taught for a time in the Milwaukee Public Schools; now she’s executive director of the Hmong American Peace Academy, a charter school on the north side. She says a better life for her, means a government that supports her priorities.

“I believe that putting funding into education, health and economic development and the workforce will not only help myself as a mother but for my children and their children and the community, so putting money where it’s needed. Those areas will help not only my family but the entire community to be a rich community full of productive citizens,” Her-Xiong says.

“The foundations for a better life are education and job employment.” Kashoua Kristy Yang owns a law office in downtown Milwaukee. “I’ve been very fortunate to have both of those things and I’ve been able to in return, give back to my family and provide for my family. So, I believe those two are the foundations for a strong community and that’s what I would like to see,” Yang says.

While Yang wants the next batch of political leaders to rally around education and jobs, Zongcheng Moua wants a focus on closing the country’s economic divide. Moua owns a small consulting firm In Milwaukee. He says, what bothers him, is the gap between the rich and the poor in America.

“I want my elected officials from top to bottom, from federal all the way to my alderman to look me in the eyes and say we have an opportunity for you. We give everybody the same fair chance. We don’t treat the rich and the powerful better than the poor,” Moua says.

Moua says many wealthy people in this country have been able to stay wealthy, because they can contribute huge amounts of money to candidates. So he hopes the next wave of elected leaders overhauls campaign finance laws.

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