Written by Katie Rosenberg
When you first meet Dr. Maysee Yang Herr, you might not realize that you’re meeting an activist…
But if you talk to her for 10 minutes, you’ll find her encouraging leadership style irresistible.
“She’s inspiring. She’s charismatic. She just wants to help people,” said her friend Isaac Kou Lee. “She wants to get out there to the community and as many people as possible. She wants to bridge that gap in cultural diversity. She wants the mainstream to understand about the Hmong people. That is who she is, and someone like that is very hard to find in this area.”
Herr is embedded in the fabric of Marathon County because of her service to the community.
She grew up in Wausau but moved away as a college student to pursue her education, eventually earning a Master’s and a Doctorate degree from Indiana University Bloomington. Fortunately for us, she made her way back and for the last 10 years, she has trained future teachers as an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.
She says that her experiences as part of the first generation of Hmong immigrants who moved to the United States as children pushed her to advocate for students from all backgrounds.
“There were times when I thought students, and even some of my teachers, didn’t understand who I was, didn’t protect me when I thought that they could and as a result of that, I thought it was important to go and pursue education. I started off by teaching elementary grades, and I taught in Indianapolis before coming back to Wausau. I decided to come back and teach at the university level and in particular teach future educators because I realized that I can make an even broader, wider impact. I knew that teaching at the college level would mean that I could impact teachers who would go out and in turn impact many more students.”
Herr never just sticks to her day job, though. She served as an integral member of the Toward One Wausau project, the Marathon County Diversity Affairs Commission, and an entrepreneurial cultural and diversity consultant — each role working to create a community dialogue on diversity and inclusion.
She uses her position in the community to build people up, and she has her parents to thank…
“Starting at the time that they first arrived in this country and as early as I can remember, my parents would say, ‘We didn’t bring you here for nothing. We’re very active, we’re teachers, we are doers, and that’s what we expect from all of you, and you’re leaders.’ And so, I always took those things to heart. I witnessed a lot of the hardships that my parents went through in trying to raise all of us. A big part of that was trying to understand the culture of this new country.”
She is pleased to see the effects of her work to educate and foster understanding between people, especially students.
“I also helped start a fundraiser event called Dream Big 2056 that is under the Hmong American Center. This year, we’re approaching our third year holding this event and I’m so proud. I also helped create and co-direct the Hmong Phoojywng enrichment program, which is a culture and language program here in this community, and it’s only become more successful and we’re entering our sixth year. I’ve helped to move those efforts along to make this community more welcoming and inclusive and understanding of all people.”
But Herr insists there is still more to do.
“I think one of the greatest challenges is that people keep within their own circles. I think the challenge is to bring the community all together. Something that is very important to me is unity. I often hear that people just hang out with people they are comfortable with and that’s okay. And for me, that doesn’t seem to be enough. I think that a community needs to be a whole community, so what I have tried to do is to join efforts like the Toward One Wausau project, which is bringing people from various backgrounds together to find ways to bring the community closer together, to bring understanding, especially in relation to issues such as race.”
Herr’s friends held a going-away party on March 10, 2018, one day before she, her husband Asia, and their son Eli moved to Kansas City, Missouri.
At the party, Herr said that Marathon County is part of what developed her.
“This community has given me the motivation and inspiration to keep fighting, keep moving. I’m going to miss most, the people. The friendships. The connections I’ve made. I’ve been so fortunate to build relationships with many people in this community who have been willing to have the difficult conversations and to not only [do] that but to stand by me. These were authentic relationships. All of us have it within ourselves to be leaders, to speak up, to do what’s right, to not be complacent. I’m hopeful about that. I’m going to miss this community. The future of this community is bright.”
I invite you to watch the following video as Wausau bids farewell to Hmong leader Dr. Maysee Yang Herr on her move to Kansas.
Marathon County Board Supervisor | District 1
Katie Rosenberg is a Marathon County Board Supervisor representing District 1. She is passionate about engaging the community and is active on social media and in organizing neighborhood constituent meetings with her Wausau City Council counterpart, Alderperson Pat Peckham. In her free time, you can find Katie enjoying the outdoors with her husband on bike, on roller skates, and in trail shoes. She also enjoys attending all manner of political events, traveling the world, and cooking up a mean vegetarian soup. Email Katie Rosenberg
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