MILWAUKEE — A new year meant new space for high school students at the Hmong American Peace Academy.
This year, for high school scholars at HAPA, things will be a little different.
A new $30 million addition to its campus is up and bustling on day one. It’s the new learning hub for high school seniors like Aleana Xiong.
“Having a very updated high school for us helps us to truly be proud of who we are,” Xiong said.
For Xiong, this is a dream. She said walking into a fully renovated space run and occupied by people who look like her means a lot, especially as she enters her final year at the charter school.
“We never really had a space of our own, and it really helps us to be inspired knowing we do have a place of our own,” Xiong said.
The U.S. Census notes in 2019, Asian Americans made up just 4.3 percent of Milwaukee's total population.
“The three pillars of our school are it has to be focused on cultural strength, character development and rigorous academic standards,” said Chris Her-Xiong, CEO of HAPA.
Her-Xiong at a time was Milwaukee Public Schools’ first Hmong teacher. She founded the school with just 200 scholars. Today, in year 18, they have 1,800 scholars.
In the new space is an overall homage to the Mekong River in Asia, where Hmong refugees once crossed to escape communism in Vietnam.
“The Mekong River represents hopes for us, and throughout the building, we infused themes of the river,” Her-Xiong said.
It’s a subtle reminder of heritage and culture they hope to share outside of the walls of the school through their scholars.
“The overarching lining is without heritage, we are nothing. We want to instill the richness of our culture in our scholars, so they know who they are. That way we maintain the culture, but can share it with the community,” Her-Xiong said.
Even after growing its body of scholars to 1,800 through the years, HAPA still has great ambitions. Inside the academy, there’s a cafe they plan to open, as well as a museum, where students can work and learn about their heritage. It currently is seeking funders to help get both projects completed.