Twelve-year-old Johnny Vang of St. Paul doesn't lack for enthusiastic spectators when he plays his Hmong qeej, a bamboo wind instrument. He's one of six children in a family of eight.
The boy lives with his parents, two brothers and three sisters _ a fairly typical family size for Minnesota Hmong, according to 2000 census figures to be released today.
The numbers show that Hmong families are nearly 50 times more likely than whites to be living in households of seven people or more. The average Hmong family has six or seven members _ which can include grandparents and other extended family. It's the highest among Asians, Hispanics and blacks, and is twice as high as that of whites in Utah, which Mormons have made the most-prolific childbearing state in the nation. It's a young group, too
"I would've expected it to be somewhat lower," said Wayne Carroll, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who has done extensive research on the Hmong population in the Midwest. "One thing that was remarkable in the 1990 census was the large family size, and it sounds like it's still a very strong trend."
Census figures also show that with a median age of 15.9, the state's Hmong population of 45,443, _ is younger than any other Minnesotans. By comparison, the median age for whites is 37.2.
The impact of a young Hmong population is best exemplified by the St. Paul school district, where 31 percent of students are Hmong. To put it another way, St. Paul alone has more than 3,500 Hmong preschoolers awaiting an education _ a figure that is greater than the total student enrollment for all but 50 of Minnesota's roughly 350 school districts.
As with previous immigrant groups, Carroll said, large Hmong families probably will decrease as they move into the mainstream.
"We know that the large family size was very much a part of the tradition for the Hmong before they came to this country, so this is simply something that got carried over here," he added.
The more children the Hmong had in their native Laos, the better their chances of survival as farmers, said Lee Pao Xiong, president of the Urban Coalition. He comes from a Hmong family of seven boys.
"In Laos, the more people you had in the family, the more people you had working in the fields," he said. "But in this environment here, the more kids you have, the more likely you are to fall into poverty."
Xiong, 33, has two children. He said his parents often pressure him and his wife to have more. "When you're old, the kids can take care of you," they tell him.
Xiong said that the Hmong are going through a baby boom and that they will become a natural labor force for Minnesota as the older, general population retires. The impact on schools
For now, Hmong children have a strong presence in many Minnesota schools, particularly in St. Paul. That was the city of choice for many Hmong refugees who began resettling in the state after the Vietnam War in 1975. The population has spread throughout Minnesota as the Hmong continued to arrive through the '90s, but a large concentration remains there.
"We're keeping the schools open," Xiong said.
On St. Paul's East Side, for instance, Hmong children make up about half of the 580 students at Cleveland Middle School. "It's normal for our school," Principal Aaron Rupert said.
Steve Schellenberg, a St. Paul school district demographer, said there are about 1,000 Hmong kids in just about every grade. He said that of the 44,000 students enrolled in school this year, nearly 13,500 are Hmong.
He said the huge growth of Hmong students put an enormous strain on district resources in past years. There wasn't enough space, or enough teachers who could teach English to Hmong students. But the growth is tapering off, he said, and the district is better prepared to handle the Hmong kids who will be coming into the system soon.
He said he expects that future Hmong students will need less intensive language classes because, as the children of second-generation Hmong, they are more exposed to American culture.
Schellenberg said Hmong children also have been an asset for the district. "There's a richness added whenever there's a new group that is bringing something new for all kids to experience."
Added Xiong: "We are here to stay, and we will continue to be a force in Minnesota _ politically, economically and socially." _ Lourdes Medrano Leslie is at email@example.com.
Hmong families are the largest
Percentage of Minnesotans in large families
(Living with family in household of seven or more persons)
0 </PRE> .
- Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Hmong population most youthful
Mainly because of their large families, the Hmong are much younger than any other group of Minnesotans. They are twice as likely as whites to be school-aged.
Percent of population in select age groups <PRE> .
5 to 19 yrs.
Two or more races
Hispanic (of any race) 27%
(See microfilm for complete chart.)
- Source: U.S. Census Bureau Median age, Minnesotans by race, ethnicity and Asian origin (Median means half are younger, half older) <PRE>.
population White alone
4,337,143 Total pop.
4,919,479 Sri Lankan
9,696 Asian Indian
168,813 All Asians
45,443. - Source: US Census Bureau - Note: For Asians, includes people with multiple ancestry