How many kinds of pho can you find in Minneapolis? Ask Ka Vang

Ka Vang’s ideal day in Minneapolis starts with a hearty breakfast sandwich at the North Side Breaking Bread Cafe and a stop with her kids at the Walker Art Center, and ends with a walk along Minnehaha Creek to reconnect with her roots. natives of the city.

She will draw on her experiences as an immigrant and Hmong storyteller to introduce Minneapolis in her new role as the first-ever Vice President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Meet Minneapolis. She will help the private association bring visitors, meetings and events to the city while showcasing its diverse communities.

“I’m so excited about this work because I really understand the experiences of historically marginalized communities,” Vang said. “I want to work with the tools and resources available to Meet Minneapolis to elevate BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] businesses and changing the narrative of who Minneapolis is, who can come to Minneapolis, and the potential of what Minneapolis can be for Minnesota. »

Vang immigrated to the United States as a child and grew up in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul. She now calls Prescott, Wisconsin, home. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in education from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

She served as Director of Community Engagement and Impact for Minnesota Public Radio and US Public Media for eight years before moving to Meet Minneapolis, which recently announced her hire.

Vang, 47, has spent her life tackling tough subjects, but she also knows how to get her own way and get angry. She’s a die-hard “Star Trek” fan who attends conventions and once belonged to a group called Nerds of Color.

She also loves headbanging at Guns N’ Roses and Metallica shows. It’s a reminder, she says, that we are all complex and passionate people whose stories deserve to be told.

“My kids were embarrassed when they found out I was a heavy metal fan, but in the larger community, I hope it’s a lesson not to judge a book by its cover,” Vang said.

Sahan Journal recently spoke to Vang about his goals for Meet Minneapolis, the work that needs to be done to bring racial healing to the city, and his favorite destinations in Minneapolis.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why were you interested in this job and what do you hope to accomplish?

Just seeing the murder of George Floyd with great disbelief and sadness, and seeing the consequences of racial reckoning, social justice warriors, and protests. I was watching CNN and someone said, “Nobody’s ever coming back to Minneapolis again.”

And I just thought, “How can I get involved?” How can I make a difference with my skills and life experience? And I didn’t want to sit in Prescott when the most important thing in my life was happening at 40 minutes.

How did your childhood mark you today?

I was born on a CIA military base – Long Cheng, Laos – at the end of the Vietnam War and lived for five years in a Thai refugee camp. I have enormous respect for my parents and my elders. I am alive thanks to my parents.

When I think back to those times, my parents had so much love for me and brought me here to the United States. If I survived a refugee camp, I can survive anything.

How do you plan to present a positive image of diversity in Minneapolis when the state of race in the city is complicated, difficult and inequitable?

Our city is fraught with racial tensions and divisions. There are disparities in our BIPOC communities. While that’s true and we have a lot of work to do, it’s also a great city with beautiful lakes and restaurants, and a place where young children can play safely.

I want people to come to our city and I want the people of the city to feel a sense of pride. There are still ways to love our city. We want to keep people coming back to Minneapolis and our cultural districts.

It’s our responsibility at Meet Minneapolis to give a platform to people who love Minneapolis and make a difference: restaurant owners, Airbnb owners, those who help keep the streets clean. People will respond to those people telling their story about someone like me.

What’s the most underrated thing in Minneapolis?

I think locally we know our vibrant ethnic food scene – we have Eat Street, northeast, north of Minneapolis on Broadway and Lake Street. For people who come here, I would like to introduce them to the food scene and show them around.

What I love about our food scene is that you can roam Minneapolis and find different types of pho: Vietnamese pho, Hmong pho, Khmer pho, Laos pho. We are not a monolith of people of color and aboriginal people. There are a variety of cultural, racial and immigrant groups.

This story comes from Sahan Diary, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color. Subscribe to his free newsletter to receive stories in your inbox.

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