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How Hmong Village ‘Changed What It Meant to be Hmong in St. Paul’

Plus visualizing MN's threatened waters, how to be Racket, and a whale of a rebirth in today's Flyover news roundup.

5:21 PM CST on December 13, 2023

Visit St. Paul

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

Condé Nast Traveler Takes Readers to St. Paul's Hmong Village

As you may or may not know, St. Paul's Hmong community of 94,000 ranks as one the largest in the United States. The beating heart of that Southeast Asian culture is at 1001 Johnson Pkwy., where the Hmong Village shopping complex has existed since 2010. It's a wonderland of retail stalls, grocery stands, small biz offices, and restaurants, as I discovered for the first time this past summer while in pursuit of stuffed chicken wings. And, late last week, Condé Nast Traveler's global audience learned about Hmong Village through this deeply personal love letter authored by Minnesota's own Kao Kalia Yang. In it, she tells readers about her own family's refugee resettlement circa '87, and how celebrations of Hmong identity were rare growing up in St. Paul.

Hmong Village, with its sprawling array of tax preparers, herbalists, barbers, farmers, restaurateurs, and languages, instantly became "a place you go to to experience the diversity of Hmong America." For a diasporic people, Yang writes, that visceral sense of interconnectedness can feel especially profound. "On the outside, Hmong Village is a sign on a board, a sea of parking lots, and two connected buildings," she concludes. "Inside, there is the vibrancy of a culture and a people surviving and thriving as one—despite the fact that there is no Hmongland on the map of the world." Do yourself two favors and: a) read the whole piece; b) visit Hmong Village the next time you get a chance.

See Minnesota's Threatened Water

If you're anything like Save the Boundary Waters, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, or even former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, you understand the ecological peril that northern Minnesota waters face from proposed copper-nickel mines. Add another environmental alarm-sounder to the mix: occasional Racket freelancer Rob Levine, who recently launched a new website, Threatened Waters, that visually emphasizes the stakes of polluting our state's most pristine wilderness.

Inspiration for Threatened Waters came from Levine's frustrating experiences attempting to photograph the PolyMet facility by drone. So he shifted tack, and a new site was born. "Instead of photographing mine sites or proposed mine sites (which I would still like to do)," he writes, "I would focus on areas where waters could be harmed either by the day-to-day operations of a mine, an accident at a mine, or a long term degradation of the mine site. This opened up many new areas of exploration that were available by drone."

Using his own drone photography, Levine presents gorgeous, sky-high slideshow images of vulnerable locations like the Kettle River, Trimble Creek, and Birch Lake. Elsewhere on the site, he maintains an aggregated news scroll documenting the regulatory wins and, mercifully, losses experienced by mining concerns like NorthMet (FKA as PolyMet), Talon Metals, and Twin Metals.

Indulge Us, Will You?

The local connection with this story? Tenuous at best! But since you read a worker-owned, reader-funded publication (Racket), we figured you might be interested in how to start your own similar media company. That's the idea behind the guide put fourth by Kelsey McKinney and Aleksander Chan in The Nation, and it begins with: "PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS." (The folks behind McKinney's company, Defector, generously helped us steal almost their entire business model ahead of our launch.) McKinney and Chan's tongue-in-cheek tutorial begins by lamenting the ongoing hemorrhaging of news jobs before informing reader that, "The real key to starting your own media company is to become as traumatized as possible by the media." (In our case, having the Star Tribune unceremoniously kill City Pages after its C-suite brain trust brainstormed exactly zero ways to save it.)

The authors then lay out the dizzying blueprint for running your own newsroom—from developing a layoff-proof model (ours is direct reader support) to hiring a numbers guy (we've not done this!) to writing/reporting your little butts off (we've definitely done this). Finally, they conclude: "But if you’ve gotten this far, you may be a lost cause like us. You may have a silly little dream, and all you want to know is: Is it worth it? Of course it is." Amen. Thanks for supporting our silly little dream!

Thirsty Whale to Bake Again

It's a doughy Christmas miracle: Thirsty Whale, the "beloved" north Minneapolis bakery that closed last week due to financial stresses, will stay afloat after all. Alise and Luke McGregor, co-owners of Minnetonka's YoYo Donut, announced Wednesday that they have acquired Thirsty Whale and plan to reopen it next Monday with minimal changes. Old owner Kyle Baker (what an aptronym-ass name!) will come back aboard as lead baker. “The past few years have presented many challenges in running a business,” Baker says via press release. “I am grateful the community will still be able to enjoy Thirsty Whale Bakery and all the hard work that has gone into it over the years.” Thirsty Whale opened in 2018 at 4149 Fremont Ave N.; co-owner Megan Baker put the Camden treat shop in the national spotlight in 2021 as she competed on Food Network's Halloween Baking Championship.

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