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MAYOR, HMONG REACH OUT AND BOND

By: Pat Schneider The Capital Times, March 16, 2002 Saturday

Members of Madison's Hmong community treated city administrators to a home-cooked lunch, pressed for more convenient services, and gave Mayor Sue Bauman a piece of traditional ceremonial headgear Friday in a session aimed at strengthening community ties.

Bauman recalled that when she came to Madison in 1963 as a student, the city had only two restaurants not serving American-European fare, both dishing up not very authentic Chinese food. Today, Madison is a much more diverse community, she said.

But visiting an ethnic restaurant doesn't mean learning much about the culture of a community, Bauman said. So she has promoted events and forums where residents can learn about other cultures.

Friday's meeting was the second in a series reaching out to Madison's various Asian communities. City and school officials came to explain services and develop contacts with representatives of the Hmong community. Three Hmong elders dressed in traditional garb also were present.

Thajying Lee, executive director of United Refugee Services of Wisconsin, thanked city officials "for the opportunity to learn the way you live and become more productive and better citizens."

He said that the number of Hmong residents of Dane County is about 5,000, some 133 of whom are homeowners, 23 of whom are business owners, and 40 of whom work for the city.

Lee asked the city to provide Hmong cultural training to police and information about the law to Hmong people. School workers should have more flexible hours, he said, so they can meet with parents after work.

"We want to be part of this community and we want our voice to be heard," Lee said.

Pau Thao, director for University of Wisconsin Southeast Asian-American Student Academic Services, presented Bauman with a phuam (pronounced "pwa"), a piece of traditional headwear worn by brides in the Hmongs' native Laos.

If Bauman hangs the headgear in her office, Thao said, "people will ask What is that thing?' " and Bauman can help spread Hmong culture.

Thao also gave the mayor an umbrella tied with a traditional sash that is unwrapped and opened for a newly married couple to stand under together. Thao sang a traditional wedding song and ad-libbed some verses about the mayor and Madison.