Gen. Vang Pao influence with Hmong enduring

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Leaders to use Pao's clout at anti-domestic violence conference

By Keith Uhlig • July 11, 2009

The ceremony was held at the home of Mao Khang, the Southeast Asian coordinator for The Women's Community in Wausau, and one of the leading organizers of Hmong in the Past, Present and Future Conference being held today in Wausau.

The conference is intended to bring the entire community together to battle domestic violence. Khang and other organizers expect hundreds to attend, including Hmong and non-Hmong leaders, advocates, social service workers, law enforcement officials and more.

Pao will be the keynote speaker at the forum, and organizers hope the 79-year-old's clout will galvanize the Hmong community to denounce domestic violence. Pao is revered among many in the Hmong community -- he is sometimes called the Hmong George Washington. He led the CIA-backed Hmong army against communist forces in Laos during the Vietnam War and led the Hmong refugees to the United States after the war. In the United States, he has been a revered cultural leader.

Friday's afternoon luncheon was indicative of Pao's enduring power over many in the Hmong community, especially those old enough to have served in or remember the war.

Mao Khang's father, WaChue Khang, who fought under Pao in the war, stood and spoke in Hmong about how happy he was to welcome Pao. His voice broke with emotion, and he used a napkin to dry his tears.

Joua K. Vang, 59, of Madison, one of the organizers of today's conference, was 16 when he joined the Hmong army in Laos and trained as a medic. He remembers Pao as a leader who could motivate troops with his words. But the general earned the undying respect of his troops with his actions.

"On the battlefield, he was in front of everybody, and after the battle, he stayed behind," Vang said.

Although Pao has gained a cult-hero status in some Hmong circles, his popularity is not universal. He can be controversial as well as charismatic.

He also has been under a legal cloud. In 2007, he was charged by the federal government as plotting to overthrow the Laotian communist government, and is in the midst of the legal process. Because of the case, he would not sit for one-on-one interviews with the media.


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