Change begins in the home, for Pa Thao, executive director of the Black & Brown Womyn Power Coalition in Eau Claire and former executive director of the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association. “Coming from a very patriarchal family and a very patriarchal society makes me realize that my culture and my community will never change if I don’t myself try to change it,” she said. So she raises her two children with a focus on equality. Both her son and her daughter learn to help with housework and pursue their goals outside the home.
“If you can make it a family tradition, and you can do it with your family, then it’s easier for you to do out in the community,” she said.
Thao is a passionate advocate for underserved communities in the Chippewa Valley. She has served on various educational boards, assisted with the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market, spoken on statewide councils, and spearheaded Hmong language education.
The list of Thao’s involvements go on, but she is actually quite selective about her commitments. Balancing activism with family requires some restraint. “I tend to pick things that I know I can make a difference, and that will have a positive impact on marginalized communities,” she said.
“Supporting the Hmong community and supporting women of color uplifts our community by making sure that the voices of people who are most marginalized are heard,” Thao said. Her role in the Chippewa Valley, by her reckoning, is to use her voice to give power to others who are less confident, or less able, to speak out.
“Supporting the Hmong community and supporting women of color uplifts our community by making sure that the voices of people who are most marginalized are heard.”
The Black and Brown Womyn Power Coalition is a manifestation of those efforts. The organization, pending nonprofit status, aims to end violence against women and increase the representation of black and brown women, queer and trans people, and young people in leadership positions in all areas of life.
“Our community deserves to have people in leadership, people who are active in all sectors of the community, whether they are men, women, or the Hmong folks or the Latino folks,” Thao said.
Thao’s motivation to be compassionate and to help others comes from her experience growing up in the Chippewa Valley. Her family came to the area as refugees, and her mother received support from the Hmong association. “I know how much having someone who cares, and having someone who wants to help you, how much of a difference that can make, and I want to do that,” she said. “I want to be able to help someone else, and make their life easier.”
Although she considers herself an introvert, Thao is committed to building relationships within her community and throwing herself into efforts to improve the Valley. She encourages others to follow their passions, doing what they love to make this a better world. “We’re all doing the little things we can locally,” she said, “but we’re making a bigger impact statewide and even nationally.”