Hmong Community Becomes an Economic Force

Fresno, California Driving south on Highway 99 through Fresno you'll roll by dozens of billboards, but there is one that will catch your eye like no other. An attractive young woman in traditional Hmong dress is advertising a store ... "T.C. Fresh Meat Supermarket."

The young woman works as a cashier ... her boss ... Thong Xiong ... is a young Hmong entrepreneur. "I love to do something different," said Xiong.

Xiong bought billboard space around Fresno last month to advertise his three year old business. The businessman knew many eyes would be on his signs this week as thousands of Hmong descend on Fresno for the Hmong New Year celebration.

Thong Xiong said, "The economy's not that good and I had to do something to bring in more customers."

Xiong is one of hundreds of Hmong business people and professionals now living in the Central Valley. The Hmong have come a long way since their arrival thirty years ago ... back then ... families could not read ... write or speak English.

"A lot of refugees do not have skills and then they're coming from low education," said Dr. Yang.

Dr. Lue Yang is the director for Fresno's Center for New Americans. His was one of the first families to escape Laos for the United States. He said many Hmong families lived on welfare those first years ... but as the younger Hmong population became more educated ... they became more involved in the community.

Dr. Yang said, "When a young professional becomes a lawyer he opens an office ... chiropractors ... they open an office ... a dentist ... they open an office ... and that can create many jobs for people who are not skilled."

Thong Xiong's store now employs 14 people, 13 of them Hmong. The city's political landscape now includes its first Hmong councilman, Blong Xiong ... representing district one ... a predominantly Hmong community.

Dr. Yang said, "Something like this proves that if we work hard ... we will see what we can do."

Yang said the economic and political growth among his people is bittersweet. Five of his eight children left the Valley to get an education and are now a social and economic force in Northern and Southern California.

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