When Kashoua Yang was a young girl, she had to translate for her parents whenever they had legal issues. “I can remember having to be their interpreter, having to be their secretary, having to be there at every appointment,” she said.
The experience inspired her to study law and work with the Hmong community. Now she is an attorney and a volunteer for the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic.
“Legal services are rendered by volunteer attorneys and volunteer law students,” said Julie Darnieder, director of the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic.
The newly launched Hmong legal clinic is held at the House of Peace, which assists families and individuals in meeting their spiritual, material, and emotional needs. The clinic will be open for legal advice every third Thursday and second Saturday of the month from 4 to 6 p.m. The House of Peace, 1702 W. Walnut St., is one of four legal clinic locations. A clinic for Spanish-speaking individuals takes place at the Hillview Building, 1615 S. 22nd St.
Clients typically seek advice on family, employment and housing issues, according to Darnieder.
Wisconsin has the third highest Hmong population in the U.S., behind Minnesota and California. However, there are few Hmong attorneys, according to Yang. In fact, she said, “I can count on my hands all the Hmong attorneys in Wisconsin.”
Although no clients came to the opening of the legal clinic, Yang said there is a definite need for a place where the Hmong community can be educated about their legal rights. “If they don’t know what the law is, how could they ever know they have an issue? That’s the first barrier we have to overcome.”
According to Darnieder, the volunteers were not expecting a large number of clients to attend because the Hmong population in Milwaukee is small.
Darnieder said the clinic is working to inform people about the clinic. “We are going to use the media people at Marquette to promote this and then (will do) what we do to promote all of our clinics; we (provide information) at grocery stores, banks, libraries, the courthouse.”
The volunteer attorneys are confident that the House of Peace legal clinic will be successful. Through referrals and word of mouth, they hope to build a steady clientele.
Yang said she hopes that the legal clinic will empower the Hmong community to understand and exercise their legal rights. “I think when we know more about our rights, we know when they’re being infringed on.”