If you want to be a farmer, to start a business, you have to have money.: Becoming Minnesotan

Mai Neng Moua, Open Book, downtown Minneapolis, November 29, 2008.
  • Name - Mai Neng Moua
  • Age at interview - 25
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 12.01.1999
  • Keu and Sao Vang from Hugo, Minneapolis Farmer's Market, August 1998.
    Hmong boys learn auto mechanics at Newgate, 1999.  Photographer: Keri Pickett.

    Culture Clash, Economics, Food, Hmong, Work

    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Problems in America: What could have helped this person’s adjustment in the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    The Hmong people were traditionally farmers, but have had a difficult time continuing this occupation in the U.S.  If they live in a rural area they are more able to continue farming, but are more likely to be culturally isolated there.  In addition, American agriculture is now largely based on huge farms that are too big to be worked by hand and require large and expensive equipment to operate.  Hmong families simply cannot afford this machinery and have a hard time competing with corporate agriculture.  Although home and land ownership rates have risen dramatically among Hmong refugees in the last 15 years, it takes time for each family to save to buy enough land for a profitable farm.

    For those Hmong who have settled in the city, there is more community support but very little land for farming.  Many Hmong who were originally placed in rural areas have chosen to resettle in the Twin Cities where there are other Hmong families nearby and the newcomers don’t feel so alone.  There have been efforts to create opportunities for farming in the metro area, by creating community gardens in the city and renting farms in more distant suburbs.  Recently, public interest in buying local and organic food has created a new market for small scale farmers, and encouraged more Hmong to start growing crops to sell at local farmers markets.    

    To learn more about Hmong history and culture, visit our Hmong Community page.

    • Chapter 1

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    Note: Original interview was conducted in Hmong.  Excerpt is read in English by MayKao Hang.

    Narrator: Mai Neng Moua (MNM)

    MNM:  Maybe the Hmong…when we lived in Laos, we were very skilled in farming, in raising vegetables for consumption. That may help you in your life but it can’t help you in your career. But I know that ever since I was young, my mother has had a garden in the summer for us. I know it’s an important thing for mother, and she’s very good at it. In the winter, we have vegetables to eat; we have cucumbers, flowered vegetables, hot peppers. So that is something that has helped our family. As far as work skills, there aren’t any work skills that are transferable to this country.

    But farming is very hard because we Hmong don’t have machines; we only have hoes.  So if you farm, you won’t be able to grow anything. You can only grow enough for your little family. If you want to be a farmer, to start a business, you have to have money, you have to have the technologies and those are things that we Hmong do not have. Those skills, you must go and learn those skills. We only know a little bit; we can’t compete against the Americans. That is a source of sadness. Our background is so different.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Verb:  To seek or strive for the same thing, position, or reward for which another is striving; to contend in rivalry, as for a prize or in business.  (competes, competing, competed)


    Noun:  The act of eating or using something.


    Adjective:  Able to be moved to or used at another place.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 483