Outdoor exhibit in St. Paul examines Hmong community's connection to water

An outdoor exhibit in St. Paul is highlighting the Hmong community's relationship to water through history and culture.

The traveling exhibit called "We Are Water MN" is a project of the Minnesota Humanities Center and several other agencies. It examines water issues statewide and in local communities through science, history and personal stories.

For the next few weeks, the Hmong Museum will host a walk-through outdoor version of the exhibit that follows COVID-19 guidelines.

Sandy Lo, the museum’s finance director, is overseeing the project. She said the exhibit focuses on how water is essential to the Hmong people, such as for fishing and agriculture.

But Lo said historically, crossing water — such as during times of war and migration — also posed a danger.

"So we need it as a living,” she said. “But at the same time, it also causes a lot of trauma in the Hmong community itself."

Lo noted that water still plays an important role in Hmong culture for farming and spiritual healing. But she said younger Hmong generations’ experiences with water are much than their elders.

“Access to water now is a lot easier than it was back then,” she said. “If you were to listen to farming stories back then, they’ll just pray that it rains. Or if they want water, they're going to have to drive miles away just to get water to farms or gardens.”

The walk-through exhibit will be on display through March 8 at the Little Mekong Plaza, 402 University Ave. W, St. Paul.

The exhibit includes audio stories and video that visitors can access with a smartphone.

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