We Are Water MN and the Hmong Museum are hosting the first outdoor version of the well-traveled water exhibit. The walk-through, digitally interactive event will be located at the Hmong American Partnership’s Little Mekong Plaza (402 University Ave. West, St. Paul, MN) from January 7 to March 8, 2021. The plaza is part of a vibrant cultural district stretching for five blocks of University Avenue between Makubin and Galtier and has over 100 locally owned businesses offering authentic food, gifts, clothing, and services from the many cultures of Southeast Asia.
This version of the We Are Water MN exhibit shares facts and stories about Minnesota water and our connections to it, with Hmong water culture as a special focus. As described by the Hmong Museum, “the Hmong American community’s relationship with water threads through history and culture. The way we gather around water in the past and present has transformed from survival and trauma to happy and fun memories.”
For Cheng Lee fishing is a way of life
Fishing is a way of life for many Hmong Americans, once for sustenance and now for fun. This is true for St. Paul resident Cheng Lee, who was interviewed for this project. He grew up near Lake Phalen and does a lot of fishing with his dad and brothers. Cheng likes to fish for species he can eat, like crappies, walleye, and white bass.
In his interview, Cheng shared a St. Croix River fishing memory: “On an early summer morning, I was fishing with my dad on a boat and, you know, just checking out the white bass and they were popping out of the water…and we caught maybe like 30 fish in less than like 30 minutes. And they were just biting left and right. And so those are instances we call fish boils or, you know, when you hit the jackpot because there's so many fish…It’s really fun and exciting.”
When Cheng thinks of water, he thinks of life. “Water is life,” he says. “It brings people together and it provides food and energy. That’s the first thing I think about.”
For water to stay clean for generations to come, Cheng believes we need to educate others about the role that water plays in our lives and we also need take some action, like making sure we don’t leave trash behind. He wants everyone to realize that “we are all connected with water and we are responsible for keeping water clean.”
Visiting the exhibit
Many people are looking for fun outdoor activities to do during the pandemic. This is a unique activity that fits the bill! The exhibit includes digital content that can be accessed through QR codes with a smart phone, so be sure to bring your phone and ear buds. This digital content includes video, audio, and websites to provide a deeper dive into the content. If you are not able to access the digital content onsite it can be viewed later on the We Are Water MN project website.
A sitting wall in the plaza allows a place to rest and chat, if weather allows. Consider grabbing take-out from one of the many restaurants nearby, too. This plaza is at the center of St. Paul’s Little Mekong District, a business and cultural district stretching for five blocks of University Avenue between Makubin and Galtier.
The exhibit is open 24 hours a day in the Little Mekong Plaza (402 University Ave. West) from January 7 and March 8, 2021. Please wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet from visitors outside your household.
More about We Are Water MN
We Are Water MN is a project of by the Minnesota Humanities Center, MPCA, Minnesota Historical Society, and Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Natural Resources. The original indoor exhibit is still on display in Mankato, Minnesota until March 5, 2021. In Mankato, the exhibit highlights the story of the Watonwan, Blue Earth, and Le Sueur River watersheds — their unique geography, many challenges to water quality, and dedicated efforts by many to make them better. Learn more about that location.