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home : community : community Wednesday, May 22, 2019

11/29/2016 4:42:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Hmong Pioneers

By Amy Doeun

Hmong Pioneer panel members
Audience members ask questions of the Hmong Pioneer panel members
St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) is a community media center. David Zierott, Producer for SPNN said, "We handle access, we give the public access to equipment and we do production in the community." Zierott recalls that in 2012, "I was doing a series called 'Markets.' It was 20 episodes on the St. Paul Farmers Market. Two of those episodes were on Hmong farmers - Xang Vang, the first Hmong farmer to sell at the St. Paul Farmers Market and May Lee, the first to be certified organic. I did that project and it was well received."

Several months after that project was completed the then Development Director, Micah Minnema (who no longer holds this position) approached Zierott asking, "If you could do a project that I could raise money for what would it be? I said right away, the Hmong community." Zierott had an interest in telling the story of the Hmong experience in St. Paul. "It has been so long and the story has really never been told."

So they developed the idea and pursued funding. They received funding from the St. Paul Foundation, F.R. Bigelow Foundation and Voqal Fund. Shooting for the film began in July 2014.

"What I wanted to do is tell the story of the Hmong experience in St. Paul, but starting in Laos and coming all the way to the present. 2015 was the 40th anniversary and I thought it fit well. I had never seen a project like this done." He added with a touch of humor that it didn't take him long to realize why it had never been done. "I realized why no one had done this before it was so complicated. It is such a complex story. But we just forged ahead and that was always the plan."

Shooting and photography for the film took about 16 months. "We interviewed over 60 people." When asked how he decided who to interview he said, "I had people who were consulting on the project. I wanted to facilitate the telling of the story, but I wanted the Hmong people to tell the story." Some consultants included--Xang Vang, Foung Hawj, Lee Pao Xiong and the cameraman for the project, Noel Lee. There were several translators and transcribers for the project as well. "They often helped me narrow down who to interview. It was just tapping into the Hmong community and finding out who they thought played a pivotal role in those early years." The film crew would also be at events and see people there and to interview as well.

The photography part of the project ended in November 2015. On November 3rd, they were scheduled to have the first showing of the film at the SPNN office. "I was still editing at midnight, the night before the first screening," Zierott said.

About 130 people attended that first screening. The film runs about 90 minutes. Following the film there was a panel discussion featuring Chia Youyee Vang, Lee Pao Xiong, Gaoly Yang, Wennicha Yang and Moua Kong Vang.

Zierott remembered that about ¾ of the people who had seen the film stayed for the panel discussion. "It was really well received. People really complimented me on it being really comprehensive. Some feedback we had was that they felt it was really important to have it be in schools - that it should be shown every year in St. Paul Public Schools. That was always the plan; we are going to strive for that."

The film will be shown again at the Minnesota Historical Society History Center in January. However the date has not been set. More information about the film and upcoming showings can be found as www.spnn.org.

While Zierott said that at some point the film will be available for purchase on DVD they hope to enter Hmong Pioneers in some area film festivals and the festivals often have rules excluding films that are available on DVD.

On a personal note Zierott said, "It has just been a wonderful experience for me to work on the project. I have always been fascinated about the story. I moved to Minnesota in 1985. The Hmong people went through such adversity after helping us then coming to this new culture. It has been so amazing the progress they have made. I read somewhere it normally takes immigrant groups about three generations for them to really fit in. With the Hmong it has been about one and a half generations. I am very glad to be a part of the project and a very fascinating story."

St. Paul, MN



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