Monday, July 13, 2009
By Keith Uhlig • Wausau Daily Herald • July 12, 2009
A man who led a Hmong army in the fight against communism during the Vietnam War denounced domestic violence Saturday and spoke against the practice of Hmong men returning to Laos to take young or multiple wives.
Gen. Vang Pao, a revered cultural leader among many Hmong in America, gave the speech at a conference called "Hmong in the Past, Present and Future" held at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County. He was the keynote speaker at the event, which was designed to bring together Hmong leaders, law enforcement officials and those battling domestic abuse to find ways to stop the violence.
"Hmong men going over to Laos, you must stop that," Pao said in the speech. "You are creating a disease. We have to cover that disease with cement."
As far as organizers knew, the speech marked the first time Pao took such a public stand against polygamy and domestic violence.
"The message is strong," said Yer Yang, a teacher from Sheboygan who helped organize the event. "It is groundbreaking because we are facing the issues, talking about the issues."
Hmong men and women must respect each other, Vang Pao said, and he vowed to "hear about the problems of domestic violence" in the future. He said clan and community leaders must work together to prevent future violence. "We need this to be done very shortly."
The 79-year-old spoke passionately and strongly for an hour and a half to a standing-room audience of mostly Hmong people of all ages in the UWMC Theatre.
The most important part of the speech was the message that "we need to respect each other, the men and women," said Bryan Vang of Coon Rapids, Minn., who also spoke at the conference.
His sister, Bao Vang, was killed in Milwaukee in 2007. Her husband, Pheng Yang, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the murder.
Vang recounted how many in the Hmong community blamed his sister, accusing her of cheating, and openly wondering why her husband didn't kill her earlier. Vang and his family were isolated by the Hmong community after the murder.
"It rubbed salt in the wounds," Vang said. "Statements such as 'women deserve it' are wrong, and we need to put a stop to it."
Vang Pao's speech "is a start," Vang said, during a break in the conference, but changing attitudes among some Hmong will take time.
Domestic violence, he said, "is an epidemic that's happening in the Hmong culture right now."
Mao Khang, the Southeast Asian coordinator for The Women's Community in Wausau, one of the organizers of the conference, said she hopes the speech "will bring the community together as a whole, along with Hmong community leaders."