Chongcher Lee shared his restaurant business and its history Wednesday at Western Technical College.
The owner of Hmong’s Golden Egg Rolls, located at The Hive on State Street and celebrating 16 years of operations, was one of several local Hmong businesses or organizations that participated in a business showcase on campus.
Part of an “Honors in Action” project by the Western chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, the program also included a showcase of Hmong-American students sharing their stories during another event the previous week.
“It is good to let people know what is here,” Lee said. “It is time for us to engage each other and let people know we are here.”
The honor society’s vice president of service, Western human resources management student Alyssa Boardman, said PTK does an annual honors project on a topic that addresses a need in the community.
The region has a significant Hmong-American population, she said, but many people might not be familiar with the Hmong people, their culture and their contributions to the community.
“I really love that this project allows others to learn about different cultures,” she said. “Sometimes people can be afraid to stray out of their comfort zone. But it is so important because of all the cultures all around us.”
The two-week project is also a prelude to this weekend’s Hmong New Year celebrations, which will be held at Veterans Memorial Park in West Salem.
Unlike Western New Year celebrations, the Hmong New Year is tied to the lunar calendar and also celebrates the harvest season, an important part of the year for a culture that is deeply entwined with agriculture and gardening.
Nearly a half-dozen Hmong businesses, community groups and campus organizations set up tables and displays at Western Wednesday. The week before, five Western students or recent graduates shared their stories growing up as Hmong-Americans or coming to America as refugees or immigrants from their homelands of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or other countries.
Ka Vang, the office administrator at the Hmoob Cultural and Community Agency, said his organization decided to participate in the business showcase as a way to let more people know about Hmong community as well as the services his organization provides.
The cultural and community agency acts as an important resource for the Hmong population by providing ways for Hmong-Americans to preserve their heritage, come together and share knowledge.
But the center is also an important way for others in the community to learn more about their Hmong neighbors. And Vang said making those community connections is really important, especially with recent flare-ups of tension in the national conversation about race in America.
“We have a large Hmong community here of local business owners,” he said. “We own grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses, and it is important for people to come and learn and get to know our community.”