Pang Lor’s parents, who are of Hmong descent, came to Milwaukee from Philadelphia after her second-oldest brother was born; she arrived shortly after. “[My parents] came [to America] during the Vietnam War so when they came here they were still relatively young,” said Lor.
Lor said she barely remembers living on the south side of Milwaukee but she does remember the Lapham Park Projects (near 6th & Brown), where they moved when she was about four years old. “It was kind of a rough neighborhood.”
Though Lor says living in the projects was fun for her, her four brothers and sister because they got to play with all of the other kids, hers and other parents were on high alert because of the level of crime and the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer was still free, at the time. “As soon as the streetlights came on the majority of the kids were already at home,” she said.
But, that sense of danger also led to families and organizations working together. Lor said it was the local Boys & Girls Club, if she remembers correctly, that was a bright spot in the neighborhood. “After school we would always go there and have snacks and they actually had activities for us and there was always somebody watching us.”
Then, in the early 90s, the Lors moved to Park View. Pang says the community, which mostly consists of one large cul-de-sac, is relatively quiet and safe because there are a lot of long-time homeowners. “Everybody knows each other in this neighborhood,” she said.
But even Park View isn’t the community it used to be. “There used to be a neighborhood watch, here,” said Lor. Now, the watch is gone and she said violence and crime, as in many Milwaukee neighborhoods, fluctuates. “I know there’ve been tons of random shootings, especially near this area, and it freaks us out a little bit.”
After a while, though, some things just don’t surprise you any more. “I was used to living in this kind of environment,” said Lor, “we just became more cautious as we grew up.”
It’s the same story with segregation. Growing up, Lor said she noticed there were certain places for certain races and that there were places some of her friends wouldn’t go because they felt unsafe or out-of-place. But that was, simply, how it was. “I thought that was normal growing up.”
That all changed when the family spent some time in Illinois, where Lor’s father owned a property and they had neighbors of all ethnicities. “That was new to me; it was refreshing,” she said. “It was kind of an eye-opener.”
Lor says she enjoys that kind of inclusive environment better because everyone can feel like they belong. “When it’s more diverse it just feels more comfortable – it’s not awkward, it’s not a sense of ‘you’re being outcast’ or ‘I don’t belong here.’”
In a year and a half, Lor will graduate from Waukesha County Technical College as a registered nurse. When that time comes, she’ll be looking for a new place to belong as she plans to move to New York where she has friends from her earlier days at UWM.
But, in spite of Lor’s plans to leave, Milwaukee is where her heart will stay. “I can’t imagine being in a different city,” she said, “it’s home.”
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