Marathon County Hmong Population Grows, Challenges Remain

By: Liz Hayes Email
By: Liz Hayes Email

The Marathon County Hmong population is growing, but there are still challenges for the culture.

Problems like poverty and a language barrier can make things difficult for the Hmong community, but education is helping to ease the struggle.

According to U.S. Census numbers, the Hmong population in Marathon County is up 27 percent from 2000 to 2010.

"I think it's a good thing, in particular the Hmong community has enjoyed living in Marathon County because it's a good community," said Peter Yang, executive director of the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association.

While the population has grown, so has the divide between the old generation and the new when it comes to the English language.

"Hmong children are speaking English and the parents are still speaking Hmong to the children," Yang said.

There's still a significant number of Hmong who speak very limited English, which limits their opportunities for finding good paying jobs, and adds to the 25 percent poverty rate.

Yang says education is key to overcoming poverty in the community.

"I encourage them to go to college get a good education and then hopefully over time that will help reduce the poverty rate."

Since 1995, the Wausau School District has required teachers to be certified in teaching English as a second language.

Nearly all of the Hmong students within the district take the courses, even though their parents may speak English at home.

Nell Anderson, the director of elementary education, says it helps ensure they will be able to go out into the world and find good-paying jobs.

"What is so fulfilling and rewarding is to see these students as they graduate and go on and get their degrees to want to come back to Wausau and want to give back to Wausau," she said.

Across the country, the Hmong population has grown 40 percent in the last decade.

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