Creating Better Relationships between Hmong Refugees and Americans

Alyssa Spiering

To help accommodate all the Hmong who resettled to La Crosse in the late 20th century, members of the Christ Episcopal Church created the Friendship Program (1988-1998). One of those members, Betty Weeth (1922-2004), was the owner of this White Hmong pleated skirt. Miss Betty, as she was better known to community members, advocated for Hmong refugees to receive education, sponsorship and naturalization, and higher quality medical care and living conditions. She was trusted by the Hmong community here because she was there for them in times of need. If families were trying to get to the United States, she would find someone to sponsor them. If landlords were taking advantage of Hmong tenants who were not accustomed to Wisconsin winters, Miss Betty would help them heat their homes.

She not only worked face-to-face with Hmong families, but also with the Hmong community leaders and local government officials to create better relations between the two. Some La Crosse community members were resentful towards the Hmong for receiving tax money to aid programing related to health and education. Miss Betty believed everyone deserved the right to receive an education and this helped fuel her work with the Hmong.

Due to Betty Weeth’s fortunate upbringing, she was given many opportunities in life, such as a college education paid for by a wealthy benefactor. With the ability to gain an education this way, she realized that when given opportunities you should not squander them. In her work with the Hmong, Miss. Betty promoted children and parents to go to school to gain jobs in medical fields where applicants who could speak both Hmong and English were needed.

The work Miss Betty did to help the Hmong showed them that she and other La Crosse citizens were committed to helping their adjustment. Through her hard work, she gained respect from Hmong community members and received many gifts of traditional Hmong clothing, including this skirt. Betty Weeth earned the right to wear this skirt alongside other Hmong community members to events including Hmong New Year celebrations and wedding ceremonies. The photo shows Betty and her husband John at a Hmong New Year’s event. Miss Betty is wearing this skirt.

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.