Hmong Leaders Meet with Census Director on Hmong Misclassification

Media contact:
Elaine Sanchez Wilson, Senior Director of Communications |

WASHINGTON, DC – On Thursday, May 23, 16 Hmong and Asian American advocates met with Director Robert L. Santos of the US Census Bureau to discuss the need to reclassify the Hmong as Southeast Asian. The meeting comes as a result of a letter and petition with over 1,700 signatures to Director Santos asking the Bureau to address the issue and meet with community leaders.

In the meeting, advocates raised the points that the misclassification erases Hmong identity and history, potentially affects future research and funding on the Hmong, prevents accurate race and ethnic data, and creates distrust of the US Census within the community. They also pressed that the classification perpetuates violence on the Hmong by resurfacing historical trauma resulting from their escape into Southeast Asia in the early 1800s. Advocates recommended that the Bureau: 

  • Acknowledge the concerns of Hmong community members and Hmong community-serving organizations in a published format such as a blog post or letter;
  • Publish an explanation of the evidence and rationale that formed the basis of the prior decision and indicate what steps the Census Bureau will take to revisit the decision for the 2030 Census and the American Community Survey;
  • Invest in community engagement and collaborative research; 
  • Engage in robust community outreach in preparation for the 2030 Census; and
  • Reexamine the Bureau’s use of regional groupings for Asian American populations. 

Chai Moua, Co-Executive Director of Freedom Inc, said, “Hmong history and existence have historically been told by others. This misclassification is a prime example of how others continue to tell us who we should be. It is important for the US Census Bureau to publicly acknowledge and apologize for their mistake. Transparency, long-term engagement, and investment in the impacted communities are essential to building trust for the 2030 count.” 

May yer Thao, President and CEO of Hmong American Partnership and Hmong National Development, said, “The Hmong community is disappointed that the Census Bureau is unwilling to correct the 2020 Census misclassification of the Hmong as East Asian. We trust that the Census Bureau will not make this same mistake again in the future and that they will continue to engage our communities in productive dialogue resulting in accurate data and classification for our communities for future Census counts.”

Pao Yang, President and CEO of The Fresno Center, said, “It is very important that the Census Bureau correct the misclassification of the Hmong American people to ensure our community is not erased from the history books for their support of the US government during the Secret War in Laos.”

Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of SEARAC, said, “We thank Director Santos and the Census Bureau staff for meeting with our community leaders and the continuing dialogue on Hmong Census misclassification. While our conversations have focused on the impact on the Hmong community, this is a broader American issue around why and how our federal agencies engage and listen to our most vulnerable communities. As a member of the 2030 Census Advisory Committee, I am committed to working with the Bureau to ensure robust engagement of our most vulnerable communities and that our data standards collect disaggregated race and ethnic data that best reflect the experiences of our diverse constituencies.”  

Gregg Orton, National Director at NCAPA, said, “We are heartened by the Census Bureau’s commitment to connecting with our communities, and we encourage them to listen to Asian American advocates and reclassify individuals of Hmong descent as Southeast Asians. This would be a crucial step towards ensuring our community’s visibility. NCAPA will continue advocating for improved data classification and disaggregation for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.”

Terry Ao Minnis, Vice President of Census and Voting Programs at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said, “The meeting today was a prime example of how strong our voices can be in collective advocacy for race and ethnicity standards, disaggregated data, and recognition of the diversity within Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. We appreciate Director Santos and the Census Bureau’s staff’s willingness to engage directly with the community about the Hmong misclassification and the harms flowing from it. We look forward to finding ways together to ensure the community is educated about how best to access its data today as well as working together to ensure proper racial and ethnic classifications for the 2030 Census.”

Karthick Ramakrishnan, Executive Director of AAPI Data, said, “Transparency is an essential feature of good data science and good governance. The Census Bureau expressed a commitment to transparency in its response to the May 2023 recommendations of the Census National Advisory Committee Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations that addressed this topic. The Census Bureau needs to provide a public accounting and justification for its decision on Hmong classification, and needs to indicate what steps the agency will take to improve its racial and ethnic classification decisions in the future.”

Mai See Thao, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, said, “Recategorizing Hmong as East Asians is historically inaccurate and only reinforces that identities are static regardless of geopolitical boundaries. Race and ethnicity are social constructs that are produced by social, political, and historical factors. I am glad to have the opportunity to voice the importance of connecting Hmong American experiences to the historical conditions of being refugees because of America’s Secret War in Laos. These are conditions that have shaped the lives of Hmong Americans in the US for almost 50 years now. At the level of data, this recategorization systematically erases American histories that impact Hmong communities today. I hope the US Census continues these conversations with multiple stakeholders to ensure data equity and accountability.”