Hmong Women Speakers Series Featuring:
Dr. Mai Na Lee Women's Role in the Shaping of the Hmong People
When: Thursday, June 11, 2009
Time: 12 pm NOON - 1:30 pm
Where: Hoa Bien Restaurant, 1105 University Ave W., St. Paul, MN
When Mai Na Lee came to the United States with her family in 1980, she was 12 years old and had never held a pencil. Twenty-five years later, she became the first Hmong American to earn a Ph.D. in history. Today, as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota , she is the first in the nation to develop and teach college-level courses on Hmong history.
Lee was recruited to teach at the University by Ann Waltner, professor of history and director of the Institute for Advanced Study at the University. "I wanted to recruit Mai Na because Hmong history is extremely important in the local context and because she is an excellent historian," Waltner explains.
Lee was a post-doctoral fellow at the U in 2005 and 2006 and last fall accepted a tenure-track position. Lee's personal history includes other firsts.
She was the first among her four siblings to master English, to graduate from high school (Humboldt in St. Paul ), and to receive her B.A. (Carleton College) and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees (University of Wisconsin-Madison). She was also the first Hmong to receive a $20,000 Susan B. Anthony Fellowship from the American Association of University Women, which enabled her to finish her dissertation.
"This was a great honor for me," Lee says. "It was the first time the word pioneer was attributed to me. I love that title. I am a great admirer of Susan B. Anthony and other American women who were pioneers in their struggles for civil rights."
The manuscript for her dissertation, titled The Dream of the Hmong Kingdom: Resistance, Collaboration and Legitimation Under French Rule, will be published as a book next summer.
Lee modestly acknowledges that she has come a long way since leaving Laos and the refugee camps of Thailand and arriving in the small town of Omro, outside Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
She had had no previous schooling but was placed in the third grade and learned English very quickly. This stood her in good stead when the family, feeling lonely and isolated as the only Hmong in Omro, moved to the Twin Cities, where other relatives and friends had settled.
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