Updated: Nov. 11, 11:12 a.m. | Posted: Oct. 27, 10:48 a.m.
As a kid growing up in St. Paul, Chenue Her helped navigate language barriers and bureaucracies for his parents who’d come to Minnesota as refugees of war in Southeast Asia.
As a journalist, he’s helped elevate stories of people of color in the news, and he’s pushed back against executives who told him that being himself was a problem, that he’d have to Anglicize his Hmong name if he ever hoped to advance his TV career.
He wouldn’t do it.
The payoff for all that effort came recently when Her, 30, joined “Good Morning Iowa” in Des Moines, making him the nation’s first anchorman of Hmong descent. He’s now the face of morning news in Iowa, a prominent post he hopes will inspire a new generation into journalism.
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“It is something I hope Hmong kids — whether they are in St. Paul, Minneapolis or California — I hope they see that they can realize that I was a kid who grew up just like them, and I was able to achieve something like this,” Her said in a recent interview with MPR News. “Whether they want to go into journalism or something else, I hope they are inspired and know they can do anything they want to.”
Her worked as a television news reporter in Atlanta, Norfolk, Va., and Eugene, Ore., prior to anchoring in Des Moines.
Specifically, Her has had memorable experiences covering presidential elections. He also enjoyed talking to AAPI families, highlighting their voices and experiences throughout the pandemic while hate crimes were prevalent against AAPI communities.
“My family and my loved ones have been behind me through it all, and to finally get to this point, something that I have dreamed of my whole life, it feels good to be here, but it’s also kind of a relief,” he said.
Des Moines is home to a vibrant immigrant and refugee community and a vibrant community of people of color.
“I’m just excited to be here to learn about them because they are such a big part of this community,” he said. “I just want to be able to dive into their stories and tell their stories and really show that they are just such a big part of this community.”
TV news can be an especially harsh business. Her acknowledged it’s been a sometimes difficult climb. “If it wasn’t for mentors, my career would have been so much harder, so I want to be able to provide some of that mentorship and help other journalists get to where they need to go,” he said.
Local TV news across the country remains a largely white enterprise. The workforce is only 25 percent people of color, with people of Asian descent making up only 2 percent, according to RTDNA, a national association of broadcast and digital journalists.
“There is a hunger and there is a thirst for seeing people who look like you reflected on television, in film, in books, in whatever industry you want to put into that blank spot,” said Gia Vang, a Sacramento, Calif., native who anchors the KARE 11 morning show and was the first news anchor of Hmong descent in the Twin Cities.
“I think there is a shift happening,” she added, “not just in journalism, but in this country, of stories that come from voices that we haven’t typically heard from.”
Vang’s been a mentor to Her during his rise. The two have had nearly parallel paths in the industry. His success, she said, is generating excitement in Hmong communities around the country.
“We just need more of this,” she said. “I think it means that we can show kids from St. Paul or kids from the south side of Sacramento that you can dream, and that you can dream big, and you can do it if you really want to.”
As part of a welcoming surprise orchestrated by Her’s executive producer, Vang filmed a meaningful message, including a “well done” in Hmong, that left Her nearly speechless on his first day at “Good Morning Iowa.”
Throughout his career, Her said he’s struggled to find a place in journalism where he could be himself. He believes he’s found it in Iowa.
In October, Her joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about his deep Minnesota roots and why representation matters. Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.