Mayhoua Moua is the Executive Director of an organization called SEAED, the Southeast Asian Educational Development of Wisconsin, Inc. The organization reaches out to Southeast Asian refugees in the Milwaukee area and helps them adapt to life in the United States. The organization also assists refugees in finding access to health care, education, and employment.
Ms. Moua was born in Laos during the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Her dad and uncle worked for the United States to rescue prisoners of war in Vietnam, so when communism came into the country in 1975 the family had to flee. Ms. Moua clarifies that refugees come to the United States for survival, not necessarily for opportunity like most immigrants. Her family is here because of their work rescuing American soldiers.
The family fled to Thailand, lived there for a year in the refugee camps, and came to the United States in 1976 when she was seven years old. As a child, Ms. Moua, helped her parents adapt to the United States by getting an education and being their translator. Because of this experience, Ms. Moua’s transition into her current line of work was natural.
Ms. Moua grew up in the Twin Cities, got married in her late teens, then moved to Appleton before settling in Milwaukee in 1991. At Milwaukee, she started working for the Lao Family Community, Inc. as a housing specialist. Then, she worked as an employment specialist helping Southeast Asians join the workforce. In 1993, Moua helped establish HAWA, Hmong American Women’s Association, Inc. Currently, she works for Southeast Asian Educational Development of Wisconsin, Inc. (SEAED). where she is the executive director and the project director for the Milwaukee Consortion for Hmong Health.
Ms. Moua decided to get involved helping Southeast Asian refugees because the life experiences of the new refugees reminded her of the struggles she went through. It is difficult for refugees to adapt to life and culture in North America because Southeast Asians are not accustomed to the system. Many don’t have any formal education. Families work in the fields together and are not used to working in "nine to five jobs." With large families, the newcomers find single-family homes in Milwaukee too small. As a result, many of them buy cheaper foreclosed duplexes in the city. Duplexes are two apartment units stacked vertically on top of each other. Hence these houses provide ample space for larger intergenerational families. Ms. Moua herself bought a two-story single home that had been turned into a duplex by the previous owner, and returned it to a single family home so there would be room for her three children. In addition, Southeast Asians adapt to their new homeland by growing vegetables, necessary for their traditional cuisine, that aren’t sold in grocery stores in the United States. The arrival of South East Asian refugees and immigrants into Milwaukee's neighborhoods created unintended positive results. They have helped prevent crime in the area, reinvigorated the physical environment, repopulated empty boarded up homes, and reused empty lots to grow food.
Refugees vs Immigrants