Hmong Legacy Market: Bridging Cultures Through Food and Community

At Hmong Legacy Market, located on Madison’s South Side, you’ll discover a treasure trove of homemade Asian cuisine. From steaming bowls of beef pho to whole roasted tilapia seasoned with herbs and chili, and delightful sesame rice balls filled with mung beans and coconut, this independent Asian grocery store offers a culinary journey.

Ze Yang, one of the owners, can often be found expertly preparing dishes like squash curry. To her, food is more than sustenance; it’s a connector, a storyteller, and a unifying force that brings people together.

As a young child in the 1980s, Ze Yang lived in a refugee camp in Thailand with her family, having fled Laos during the aftermath of the Vietnam War. In 1991, Ze Yang’s family received the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, sponsored by a distant uncle who had settled in California. Their early days in the U.S. were marked by challenges—language barriers, cultural shock, and financial difficulties. However, their farming skills from Laos allowed them to grow crops like green beans, tomatoes, and peppers, which they sold to support their family.

After six years in California, Ze Yang’s family decided to move to Wisconsin, drawn by the promise of better public schools and economic opportunities. Ze Yang’s parents worked tirelessly, holding multiple jobs to make ends meet. This experience inspired Ze Yang to become a teacher, focusing on helping immigrant children adapt to the American education system.

Ze Yang’s family thrived. They bought a house, built a family, the kids went to school, but they also wanted to pursue their entrepreneurial dream. They longed to create a space where people from diverse backgrounds could gather, savor homemade dishes, and access pantry staples from across Asia. This is why they opened Hmong Legacy Market, offering an extensive array of products, from giant spring roll skins to bamboo shoot chili oil, and from mango mochi to traditional Hmong celebratory clothing.

More than just a grocery store, Hmong Legacy Market is committed to the well-being of the community. In 2021, it partnered with Public Health Madison and Dane County to serve as a mobile COVID vaccination clinic. Looking ahead, Ze Yang envisions the store’s legacy continuing to thrive, driven by the spirit of family and the desire to improve and grow.

Featured Image Source: Madison