Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

Spring 2019


Despite being a relatively new refugee group relocating to the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, Hmong Americans have emerged as a major political influence in St. Paul, Minnesota. With a population of over 68,000 Hmong Americans, St. Paul has been called the Hmong capital of the world. It has a very dense network of Hmong individuals who have proven to be an emerging political force. During the past November 2018 midterms seven, a record number, of Hmong Americans were elected to public office in the Twin Cities area. Since Asian Americans are expected to make up 10% of voters by 2040, it is important to understand how Asians can and have become an influential political force.

The goal of this study is to better understand how the Hmong as a relatively recent refugee group have been able to become an emerging force in Minnesota’s mainstream politics. A qualitative study was conducted regarding the political activity and reasons for that activity among Hmong Americans in St. Paul. When immigrants or refugees relocate to the U.S. we must take into consideration multiple factors including historical context, the push and pull factors of migration, and the context of reception from locals in the place of relocation. We also look to the idea of linked fate and how that may effect the Hmong’s political action.

Six interviews were conducted for this study: three interviews with community or Hmong organization leaders and three with Hmong Americans who were elected to public office. Two interview instruments were used for the two types of participants to cater to the individual’s scope of knowledge. Using a grounded theory approach to qualitative data analysis, four major themes arose from the data. First, multiple participants were able to shed light on the Hmong refugee experience from fleeing their home country to coming to the U.S. Second, participants shared how the Hmong community in St. Paul were motivated to be a voice in mainstream politics despite the initial discrimination they faced when relocating. Third, all participants spoke on this strong sentiment of community that the Hmong have in St. Paul – it influences much of their ideas and actions around social justice and politics. And fourth, there was a clear trend in observed generational differences between older Hmong and younger Hmong. Some differences included different rates of turnout and different values.

Conclusively, it was found that four key factors, the major themes above, contributed to the success of the Hmong’s political incorporation and their ability to become a new and emerging force in Minnesota politics, setting precedent for possible trends we could see from Asian Americans on the national scale.