Neighborhood Design-Build Studio

Community Center & Library Remodel - Fall 2005

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Community Desires

1. Remodel the upstairs bedrooms into a library space that would accommodate books and resources on traditional Hmong, Khmu, and Mien culture, as well as culturally relevant literature for all reading levels and general quality literature for children and youth. The library should have shelves for books, areas for reading and writing and place for 4 computers.

2. Remodel the downstairs to create one large and flexible multipurpose meeting space as well as space for displaying cultural artifacts. The space should have flexibility, storage shelves, dry erase board, good lighting, sound baffling of some sort to reduce echo and window coverings on lower north and east facing windows, storage shelves in kitchen. The Altar is to remain where it is.

3. The exterior should have sheltered barbeque area, system for tenting over the patio area for large community functions that spill outside, gateway and sign, a traditional rice storage hut for children's play and as a cultural display, garden area, garden shelter, children's play area, volleyball, basketball and more parking.

4. A master plan for the entire site, interior and exterior, that the community can use as a guide as they make improvements to the property over time would be very useful!

5. Cultural Character - The community hopes that all improvements to the property would in some way be sensitive to and reflect Hmong, Khmu and Mien cultural identity.

Community Priorities

At this time, the library is the highest priority for the Lao Highland Association. The LHA envisions a community library that would serve two purposes:

Cultural Preservation - The community would like a library that would be a place where adults, youth and children could go to learn about their native culture. They would like to collect books and resources as well as artifacts from the 3 cultures of the Lao Highland communities in Seattle and make them available for community members to learn about and deepen their understanding of their culture. As in many refugee communities, there is a widening cultural gap between the older and younger generations - the older people remembering what they have lost and left behind in Laos, the young people growing up American and speaking English and looking to their future here. Those in the middle find themselves straddling two cultures and life ways, looking to create a way for future generations to be successful in this country while maintaining their cultural identity. They don't want future generations to forget who they are.

Youth Literacy - Members of the Lao Highland community have long recognized that their children and youth often struggle in school, have low self esteem, feel ashamed of their parents who do not speak English and do not understand how school works in this country, feel pressured to act American and to discard their native culture, do not understand or value their native culture and language and face a huge cultural and generation gap with their parents and elders who do not understand their struggles. At the same time, the parents in these communities, for the most part, have no formal education at all, do not read or write in any language, speak limited English, do not understand what school is about nor do they appreciate that education and literacy are keys to success in this country. These same parents typically work multiple menial jobs, struggling to make ends meet, stretched in terms of time and energy to meet the daily needs of their families.

Ultimately, through this project, the LHA seeks to improve the prospects for Lao Highland children and youth to succeed in school and to achieve their full potential. They want to establish a community library equipped with culturally relevant books in which the kids will recognize themselves, and quality literature for all reading levels, as well as computers for doing homework and space for culturally relevant literacy activities and reading and writing practice. They seek to spark the kids' excitement for reading and learning and to nurture in them a strong and positive ethnic self identity and positive self esteem, laying the foundation for lifelong learning.

More information about the community:

Article on the history of Hmongs in the Seattle Times
An article on the Civilization of the Hmongs and their relation to the US.