New museum in central Wisconsin will house large collection of Hmong artifacts

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Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri via Wikimedia Commons

A new museum that will house one of the largest collections of Hmong artifacts is being built in central Wisconsin.

The city of Wausau, the Wausau Daily Herald reports, is currently redeveloping the area that previously housed a now-demolished mall. The mall formerly contained a storefront exhibition of the 400-plus Hmong artifacts, including everyday items like farming tools, musical instruments and military gear from the Vietnam War.

The collection is moving to a new space in the Third Street Lifestyle Center, another mall in the city’s downtown area, while the museum is under construction. According to the Daily Herald, the museum is expected to open in July and be managed by the city’s Hmong American Center.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Hmong are the largest Asian population in Wisconsin, and over 4,000 of them live in Wausau. Many of them sought refuge in the United States after the Vietnam War devastated Southeast Asia.

Jim Harris, a retired elementary school principal who started the collection, said he initially assembled the artifacts to educate both his Hmong and non-Hmong students about the people and culture behind them. Harris gradually retrieved the items throughout two decades of regular trips to Laos. Since then, over 10,000 people have visited the museum in the mall, which displayed for five years.

“I never conceived of a collection with the scope that we currently possess,” Harris told the Daily Herald. “Almost inadvertently we collected the largest collection of Lao and Hmong cultural artifacts in the country.”

Yee Leng Xiong, the executive director of the Hmong American Center, said the archiving of the artifacts aligns with younger Hmong people’s appreciation of older generations passing down their culture and heritage.

“They are striving very diligently to preserve what they have left,” Xiong told the Daily Herald.

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