Lee Vang radiates positivity and joy. It is immediately apparent that children would be drawn to her and parents would feel safe leaving their children in her care. Lee is the owner of Lil’ Stars Day Care in Rochester where she currently cares for children ages infant to 5 years old. When asked about her business, which she has been running for over 10 years, she replies, “I love my job, what I do and the children that are in my care.”
Lee’s mother brought her to Rochester from Laos in 1987 when Lee was 4 years old. Rochester has been home, for the most part, since coming to the United States. She graduated from Mayo High School and loves living here. “The Rochester community is friendly, accepting and loving. I like that it is diverse. You really get the Minnesota nice feel here.”
One of the reasons that Lee started her home child care business was so that she could be available for her own five children, two of whom are adopted siblings. Being a mother of five is super challenging but also incredibly rewarding. “This is my reward for being a parent in this world,” she says. “It is my purpose to support them and help them grow, to see them transform into wonderful human beings.”
Hmong identity and community
Lee expresses pride in being a Hmong American woman. “I’ve learned through my journey as a Hmong American that I am resilient, powerful and passionate. What I love about being Hmong is that I am proof of a beautiful and colorful culture. I’ve grown up in a multi-generation home, which has allowed me to love deeper and feel more compassion. The resilience of my immigrant parents and grandparents has shown me that I can do anything in this world.”
Growing up, she was raised to be patient, kind and a welcoming host. These lessons helped her to be strong, never give up and never break down. In her community, it is practice to consider family opinion and clan opinion when making decisions. Although sometimes there is a tendency to try to make everyone happy, it taught her how to be kind and considerate of others’ thoughts and feelings.
She is grateful for the opportunities that she has found in the United States and Rochester. She has benefited from the lessons from her family about being an Asian American woman, to prioritize family and home. In addition, she has incorporated the lessons from her community about power and agency for women. “It opened my eyes up. I continue to blend my cultural background with the American experience. You have to find yourself where that works out for you. It is definitely a journey. I feel like I am finally figuring it out,” she says.
Bravery and self-care
Lee doesn’t think of herself as brave, although that is what many of her friends would say about her. She has done what she needed to do to thrive. She admits to a time of despair about a year and a half ago, when she faced a divorce and the accumulated impact of years of taking care of others rather than herself. At that time, she realized that she had no choice but to take care of herself. She explains, “I felt like I got reborn. I had to re-discover myself all over again. I never understood what it meant to love yourself first. I made lists about why I love … my inner self, my physical form, and all the things about myself that I love. I began exploring what I like again. What do I like? Music? I forgot about all of that. I am discovering who I am again.”