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Mai Vang

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Mai Vang was born and raised in St. Paul, MN, where she graduated from Johnson High School in 2001. She earned a B.A. in Anthropology and Womens Studies with a minor in Asian American Studies from the University of Minnesota in 2005. She attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she studied Anthropology and Museum Studies and graduated in 2010. From 2010 to 2014, she was a curator at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm, MN. Since 2014, she has worked as the collections manager at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Mai founded the Hmong Museum in 2010.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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I was born in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Saint Paul, Minnesota on October 14, 1982. My name is Mai Nhia Vang or Maiv Nyaj Vaaj. It is a special name because my mom’s brother chose that name for me. He lives in California. When my parents married my mom moved to St. Paul where my dad’s extended family lived. It is customary for Hmong women to move out of her family’s home and live with her husband’s family when she gets married.

My early memories are of our first home living at a public housing complex called Roosevelt Homes. The homes were styled like a townhome. Each unit was separated by a tall brown wooden fence creating a concrete courtyard about 10 feet by 10 feet. I remember watching other children playing on the sidewalk and green space on the other side of our fence. Out of concern, my mother would not let us out of our courtyard. But it didn’t matter to us because sometimes even my parents’ queen bed was our playground.

We weren’t always stuck inside though. As the oldest I watched over and helped my little brothers with their shoes and clothes. We piled into a minivan that my dad fondly called lub maum van. But he really loved his two door Toyota Celica. If it was a short trip we would all try to fit in the back seat. One of the children laying on across our knees.

Some of my fondest memories were of our family trips to the Como Zoo. It was free and family friendly. The Sparky the Sea Lion show was a favorite attraction. So was the gorilla statue. It has become a family tradition to hang out beside the statue and take a photo. We visit the zoo now with my niece and nephews too.
My parents came a long way from their home in Laos and experienced war through their entire childhood. And now, they’ve made a life and home in America.