Thursday, July 9, 2009
Gen. Vang Pao expected to tell men 'they need to straighten up'
By Keith Uhlig • Wausau Daily Herald • July 9, 2009
Revered Hmong leader Gen. Vang Pao is expected for the first time this weekend to speak out publicly and formally against domestic violence and men taking multiple wives.
A controversial and charismatic figure, Vang Pao will be the keynote speaker at the Hmong in the Past, Present and Future Conference, a forum Saturday in Wausau that will feature hundreds of Hmong and non-Hmong leaders, advocates who are battling domestic violence, social service workers, law enforcement members and more.
Organizers hope Vang Pao's clout will help galvanize the community to help prevent domestic violence and spur social change. Vang Pao, who has been called the George Washington of the Hmong people, led a CIA-backed Hmong army against communist forces in Laos during the Vietnam War. In the United States, he has been a revered cultural leader.
Paula Yang of Fresno, Calif., who is an advocate for Hmong women and a spokeswoman for Vang Pao, said his speech will make two points: "It's going to be very, very positive toward women and children. And it's going to impact the men, that they need to straighten up. All the men will follow the general's order. (He'll talk about how) everybody has a responsibility, and no man should have the right to take another life."
The forum's aim is "to bring the community together," said forum organizer Mao Khang, the Southeast Asian coordinator for The Women's Community in Wausau. "We hope the message is that domestic violence and family problems hurt everybody."
Aspects of the traditional and heavily patriarchal Hmong culture have come under criticism from women's rights advocates and those battling domestic violence, and the issue has been divisive.
"Absolutely there was animosity between clan leaders," Yang said.
That's why Vang Pao's presence has so much power, said Pa Thao, a Southeast Asian advocate at The Women's Community and a forum organizer.
"I think it's really going to help and have a positive impact for the people," Thao said. "A lot of us view him as our leader, and if the leader says that, we should listen to him."