Refugee, healthcare advocate, and community leader
Gaoly Yang and her family became the third Hmong family to resettle in Minnesota, in 1976, when they left the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand.
In the United States, Yang started a professional career as a health interpreter at Saint Paul Ramsey Hospital. This job opened her eyes to the wide range of medical, social and cultural challenges Hmong families – especially mothers and the elderly – were facing in the medical system.
In 1979, despite protest by Hmong men, she co-founded and held the role of Executive Director of the Women’s Association of Hmong and Lao (WAHL), the first Hmong women’s organization in Minnesota. WAHL’s mission was to preserve the Hmong culture and empower women to thrive in their new home. They prioritized developing Hmong women leaders and provided programming for domestic violence prevention and Hmong elders.
The community engagement and advocacy work at WAHL helped shaped her long and successful career. It also strengthened her conviction to continue working towards progress for the Hmong community and the larger community.
Yang believes that each community and culture will have to find a way to redefine values based on the present circumstances to survive in the new millennium. She knows one thing is for certain: Ua li poj koob yawm txwv ib txwm qhia / We can’t remain the same as our ancestors have dictated.