Hmong Village, which opened last October in east Saint Paul, has generated about 600 jobs for the community and created a haven of pride for the southeast Asian immigrant community, which numbers in the tens of thousands here in the Twin Cities.
Yong Vang and several co-founders purchased and renovated a 108,000 square-foot former St. Paul Public Schools building and warehouse on Johnson Parkway — in an area of town that for years has hungered for activity. The Hmong entrepreneurs created a labyrinth of over 300 indoor merchant stalls, 35 fresh produce booths, 17 bustling kitchens and 40 offices.
Visitors to Hmong Village will find traditional clothing and handbags, herbal medicine, fragrant cosmetics, jewelry, steaming bowls of pho noodle soup or bubble tea, even a video-game arcade.
Vang and his associates were presented with a Saint Paul Sustainability Award by Mayor Chris Coleman last month for the project’s collaboration with Ramsey County Waste Management to collect food waste and give it to a local pig farmer. Hmong Village also recycles all cardboard, paper, bottles and cans.
“Hmong village demonstrates how planning for this recycling early has had big payoffs,” said Coleman. “It’s quite an operation if you haven’t been over there.”
The focus on recycling and reuse is no coincidence. The Hmong are traditionally farmers who have migrated across Asia, from one country to the next, during their history. They helped the CIA during the Vietnam War and were persecuted following the conflict and expelled from Laos and Cambodia. For their aid during the war the Hmong were awarded refuge in the United States.
“It’s part of our culture,” said Vang. “Hmong people are farmers. The things we don’t use we take back to farms, where it will become good soil for us. Saint Paul is a beautiful city, and we’d like to keep it clean for our kids.”
Hmong Village attracts huge crowds particularly on weekends, when people come from all over the state to enjoy ethnic “one-stop shopping”. And that’s good news not just for the Hmong community, but for Saint Paul leaders.
“One thing I’ve looked for for a long time is to have a parking problem on the east side,” City Council member Dan Bostrom said at the sustainability awards presentation. “We’ve got one.”