My HNDC 2017 Experience

Performing at the HNDC Friday Night Concert, April 21, 2017. Photo by Pa Chia Xiong

Performing at the HNDC Friday Night Concert, April 21, 2017. Photo by Pa Chia Xiong

One of the last things I said at the 18th Hmong National Development Conference (HNDC) to a new friend I met (Nyob zoo, Misty!) before leaving Sunday morning was:

“What happened here, what I felt this weekend, is not what I see in the media, on Facebook, or on the news. We (the Hmong community) have so much to be proud of, to celebrate, and to be hopeful for.”

She nodded in agreement as we continued to discuss our HNDC experience.

What is HNDC?

Every two years in April, Hmong National Development (HND) holds their biennial 3-day conference in a Hmong-populated community across the US - each time in a different city.

An early morning view of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

An early morning view of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This year was Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2019, it’ll be Sacramento, California.

HND will tell you that this conference brings together community leaders, professionals, advocates and youth from across the country (& world) to have critical conversations around key issues in the Hmong community such as education, civic participation, and entrepreneurship.

I will tell you that HNDC is where some of the brightest, most powerful, most vocal, and most generous individuals from all backgrounds in the Hmong community gather to inspire, connect, & build a stronger community together -- in workshops, in hallways, in hotel rooms (sometimes it’s the only place to meet), after the banquet at 2 AM, and even at the airport. From your flight arrival to your flight departure, you will feel the incredible energy of HNDC.

HNDC is a space, a time to connect with some of the most passionate individuals who care deeply about the present and future of the Hmong community. And just so you know, if you're in attendance, you are one of them.

Who is HNDC for?

The conference is open to the public. Yes, you will see many college students, professionals, and community leaders.

But as a Hmong American, if you care about yourself, your family, and/or your Hmong community, it’s for you.

What’s so great about this conference?

7:45 AM. First day. Exhibitors on the top. Registration area, bottom left corner.

7:45 AM. First day. Exhibitors on the top. Registration area, bottom left corner.

By the end of the conference, like I said during my HNDC Friday Night Concert performance, I feel like I’m leaving an amazing family reunion. The energy of this event is so powerful and inspiring that I go home with a high and the conference blues that last for at least a week. (You need a couple days to recover.)

Honestly, this one blog post cannot do justice to the joy, the connection, the energy, & the inspiration I gained from HNDC.

You simply have to experience it yourself.

But in today’s blog, I hope you get a small taste of what I mean.

03_MaiNengMoua.jpg

"Use this book as an excuse to talk to your parents [about bride price]. We [Hmong females] don't have a place to negotiate [the bride price]. The only place is with your parents." In my first workshop, author Mai Neng Moua presented and read from her new book, The Bride Price. She is a Hmong American literary icon, an open book, & a bold Hmong woman. I adore her.

"Kuv muab ntshaw dhau xwb." In a workshop, I learned of Pai Yang, a widow with eight children who had a genuine passion to purchase an old auto shop. That auto shop is now known as Milwaukee's Asian Market or Phongsavan. With a recent expansion, Pai emotionally explained why her new $4.2 million building includes a large community space: she felt that as a single Hmong mother with children to raise, she wouldn't be where she is today as an entrepreneur without the community's support. This was her gift to the community. What an inspiration.

"You were all chosen for a reason." Before sound check, Kouser Yang (standing), one of the HNDC Friday Night Concert organizers, gave the performers warm praise, uplifting encouragement, and an extra boost to give it our all that night. Many thanks to the HNDC Friday Night Concert team!

"I was hoping someone else would step up. [...] But I knew I needed to be the change." This was said by Susan Pha (far right), a councilwoman who became the first person of color ever to be elected to the Brooklyn Park City Council, the second most diverse city in MN. This panel of politicians was mind-blowing. This was no debate. This was pure, honest inspiration from those who are paving the way. 

"I want to be the best mayor of Elk Grove. I happen to be Hmong." During his keynote speech, Mayor Steve Ly left audience members with numerous bold, empowering stories and statements like this. I really don't know where to begin. For now, what a powerhouse. 

"Do you want to change the world? Start by thinking you're crazy enough to." This is how the Asian Penguins started and ended their workshop. I know nothing about computer operating systems, but these young middle schoolers do. And they inspired me to the core. Because of the work they do, they showed me the meaning of giving back, helping others, and working together to accomplish a goal. Folks, the future is bright with these young leaders.

At the Leadership Banquet on Saturday night, if only you could've heard the stories of the five 2017 IMPACT Award recipients: Cha Vang, Chai Moua, Chaleng Lee, Choua Yang, and Jacky Lee along with the University of CA - Merced Hmong Student Association, the 2017 HSA Spirit Award recipient. We have so much to celebrate in the Hmong community. 

A Hmong brother I aspire to be like. Tou Ger Bennett Xiong needs no introduction. As one of the MCs of this year's HNDC, he was a joy to see every day. (This was Tou Ger's 17th HNDC, out of 18. Wow!) Thank you for all you do and for being you, Tou Ger.

"Being here on this stage tonight doing what I love AND attending the HNDC— that high is going to last for at least a month." I said this on Friday night during the concert, and I meant every word. (Photo by Pa Chia Xiong)

IT'S YOUR TURN! Never been to HNDC and have a question? Or attended HNDC and had a great time? Leave a comment below. I love hearing from you!

Until next time...

Dream BIG,
Pagnia