Moving on to Bigger Things: New Hmong Association building offers many possibilities
The Hmong community in the Chippewa Valley now has a new building it can grow into. Earlier this year, the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association relocated to a 16,000-square-foot former office building at 1320 W. Clairemont Ave. While much of the building is still undergoing renovation, the new location has already allowed the association to expand its space, programming, and staff.
“The Hmong community can actually come here and host a family event. It’s been a need for 10, 15, 20 years.” – Vincent Xiong, executive director, Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, on the group’s new building
“The main purpose of having bigger space is the need to grow our programs,” Executive Director Vincent Xiong said. The association – which was formed in 1987 to meet the needs of an influx of Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia – simply needed more room for support groups (such as those addressing domestic abuse and sexual abuse), youth groups, and for older people to socialize and exercise. Work is also ongoing to create rooms that can be used for larger-scale gatherings, such as weddings and funerals.
The association moved from its previous, much smaller building on Wisconsin Street in March. There is still much work to be done at the new site, Xiong acknowledged, but already the two-level brick building is a hub of activity. On a recent morning, a group of Hmong elders met upstairs near an area set aside as a food pantry and a room filled with sewing machines, which are used both to make clothing and as a form of therapy. Nearby, a display case sat next to a collection of cultural items, which will eventually be turned into a museum-like display of Hmong clothing, musical instruments, and tools.
On the building’s lower level, meanwhile, work continued on a remodeling project that will eventually transform what was once cubicle-filled office space into a 5,000-square-foot cultural hall (which Xiong hopes will be complete by February), as well as new restrooms, a conference room (named after Royal Credit Union, which donated toward the project), a dining hall, and eventually a commercial kitchen that will both provide food for events and host classes to teach Hmong young people how to make traditional dishes.
“The Hmong community can actually come here and host a family event,” Xiong said. “It’s been a need for 10, 15, 20 years.” As the Hmong community in the Chippewa Valley has grown, Hmong Americans have often had difficulty finding affordable spaces that are large enough to accommodate traditional weddings, naming ceremonies, and other gatherings. Funerals, in particular, may draw as many as 1,000 mourners and typically last for three days. Once completed, the space will be available to rent by community members – Hmong or non-Hmong.
Renovations will be completed as funds are available – once the first stage is complete, the space will be able to host fundraisers, Xiong said – and the building may be hosting community events as early as June.