CHEF AND OWNER, VINAI
“It’s Southeast Asian food mixed with the cold and the North. How does that work?” When I hear writers ask me that question, the thing I always tell them is, if you’re asking me that, that means you’re not looking closely enough at who my people are. What is the one thing that represents the Hmong people? It’s the fact that we’re adaptable, no matter the conditions, no matter where we go, no matter the land. Our people have been like that for generations and generations. We’ve been displaced. If you truly know the Hmong people, you know that we’re farmers. We go where the good land is. When you do that, there’s no boundaries or borders.
That is the thing I wear on my chest proud, being a kid from the North. My buddies who live out in SoCal or Seattle say, “It’s so beautiful out here; I don’t understand how you guys can live in the cold.” That cold makes us stronger. That cold reminds us that spring will come, and once that spring comes, we have that precious four- or five-month growing season. Then when the cold comes, we hunker down. We persevere.
Being Hmong in the North here is about perseverance. You can trace it back to the mid-1800s, when the first Norwegian settlers came here, they struggled. Fast forward to 1975 when the first Hmong immigrants came here: they struggled with the same things. I think it’s that struggle, regardless of whether you’re Swedish or Hmong, that struggle shows us our humanity. Regardless of how we look or what the struggle is that we have, we struggle together. And in that struggle is where we find that sense of humanity and that sense of home.