Vietnam veteran loses home to foreclosure, hopes for better future

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

By Nick LaFave & photojournalist Carrie Kohlmeier, FOX 21 News

DULUTH - A Vietnam veteran is losing his home. That is now unavoidable.

Fox 21 told you last month about Nhia Vang of Duluth , and the attempts to save his home from foreclosure after losing his job. That fight has been lost. But, Vang and his family are still hoping for a better tomorrow.

Nhia Vang is packing up his Duluth home of 11 years. Boxes are filled inside. Outside, there is barren grass where US and Hmong flags once stood.

"I'm thinking I'm gonna lose my house," says Vang. "So, I take my flags out and package everything. Get ready."

Nhia lost his job as a machinist earlier this year. He's recently secured a job at the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment. But, it was too late. A friend told him today, the house had already been sold.

"It broke my heart," says Terry mahoney, a social worker who broke the news. She's taken a personal hand in helping the Vangs. Public support has raised four-thousand dollars. But, it's not nearly enough to save the house. Instead it will cover moving expenses to public housing, which they have secured. But, is two-levels with uncarpeted stairs. Not ideal for Nhia's wife, Mai - paralyzed on one side from a stroke.

"So, we're looking to see if we can do some adaptations in there or find a house that's a little more accessible for them," says Mahoney.

Complicating Nhia's story... the fact that as an 11 year old in Laos, he took up arms for the US in Vietnam. For seven years he fought. But, his discharge papers are Laotian. And he doesn't not qualify for veteran's benefits.

Terry has written both Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Oberstar asking them both to support legislation that would provide benefits to all nationals who fought on behalf of the US. Benefits Terry says could have significantly helped Nhia and his family.

"Because there are benefits for veterans who are at risk of losing their homes," she says.

Nhia has three children yet at home. He's going back to school for a programming degree, which he'll complete in less than six months. But, even when that's complete... he still won't have his home back.

"Yeah. Makes me very sad."

If you would like to help Nhia and his family, they still need help moving and possibly making accomodations from Mai.

You can call Terry at either 218-786-8327 or 218-727-6072.



Thailand Dip Backs US Congress Laos, Hmong Pllan

Thailand Diplomat Backs US Congress Laos, Hmong Plan

Bangkok, Thailand and Washington, D.C. June 25, 2009, For Immediate Release

Center for Public Policy Analysis

A senior U.S. foreign officer, Edmund McWilliams, who served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, today commented upon and hailed a Congressional letter sent recently to the U.S. Department of State and Obama Administration regarding the Lao-Hmong refugee and human rights crisis in Thailand and Laos. The letter was sent late last week by U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and U.S. Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) along with 29 additional Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with copies forwarded to the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C.

"This is a powerful and very timely statement," said Edmund McWilliams, regarding the U.S. Congressional letter signed by 31 Members of Congress to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "The refusal of successive U.S. Administrations to address decades of abuse of the Hmong people by the highly authoritarian regime in Laos
is unconscionable," McWilliams continued.

Edmund McWilliams is a retired Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer, now working pro bono on human rights advocacy. While working for the U.S. Department of State he was assigned to US the Embassies in Vientiane and Bangkok, and elsewhere. Mr. McWilliams dealt with human rights issues, including the plight of Hmong in Laos and refugee status issues in Thailand. He is a military veteran of the Vietnam war.

Mr. McWilliams concluded: "The Hmong of Laos, like the Montagnard peoples of Vietnam,are forgotten allies from a forgotten war. Their self-sacrifice and loyalty included dangerous missions to save downed U.S. pilots and reconnoiter behind enemy lines.For those of us who served in the war in Indochina, their courage and contribution to our efforts, have left an enduring legacy and obligation..."

"Just last month, in May, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Doctors Without Borders, withdrew in protest from Ban Huay Nam Khao detention camp in Thailand, because of the Thai military's deplorable forced repatriation policy and abuse of the Lao Hmong refugees," said Philip Smith Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C. "This detention facility is the last remaining Lao Hmong refugee camp in Thailand. MSF was the only Non Governmental Organization (NGO) providing critically needed food and medical support to some 5,500 Lao-Hmong political refugees at the camp."

"Encouragingly, the recent bipartisan U.S. Congressional letter to Secretary of State Clinton urges decisive emergency diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the Thai military's forced repatriation of Lao Hmong political refugees back to the one-party Communist regime in Laos that they fled," Smith continued.

"Sadly and tragically, many Lao Hmong political refugees are now facing forced repatriation by the Thai military back to the brutal Stalinist regime in Laos that they fled and that continues to persecute and kill their family members," Smith concluded.

"Without a doubt, clearly, the Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand absolutely do not want to return to the brutal Communist regime in Laos that they fled and that continues to attack, persecute and kill many of their family members and relatives in Laos," said Vaughn Vang, Executive Director of the Hmong Lao Human Rights Council in Wisconsin.

In May, Laotian and Hmong-American community organizations from across the United States, including veterans and their families from Massachusetts, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and other states participated in National Lao Hmong Veterans Recognition Day Ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam War Memorial and the U.S. Congress. A major U.S. Congressional Forum and Policy Conference on Laos was held in the House of Representatives and Lao and Hmong community representatives went door-to-door in the U.S. Congress to discuss the Lao-Hmong refugee crisis in Southeast Asia.



Hmong Association Recieves New Car

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The local Hmong Association is very thankful to a local insurance company, who donated a car for them to use.

State Farm Insurance donated this 2005 Chevy Impala to the Wausau area Hmong Mutual Association. We were there as the keys were handed over.

Director Peter Yang says it will be used by about 100 Hmong refugee families from Thailand who live in the Wausau area.

"They will use it for transportation to Hmong families and provide education and training to Hmong refugees," said Peter Yang of the Wausau Hmong Association.

Yang says the car will help the refugees learn how to drive, and make sure they have access to services in the community.



Gran Torino

Monday, June 22, 2009

By CassyHavens

June 22nd, 2009

I’m still completely stunned that this film didn’t get as much acclaim as I thought it would. It was virtually shut out of all the major award shows, to the point that I started thinking it was some kind of conspiracy against Clint Eastwood and his phenomenal streak of films. In his last acting role, Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a crusty, racist Korean veteran who becomes involved in the lives of his Hmong neighbors.

Gran Torino

After just losing his wife, Walt has to face his life alone. His kids and grandkids are spoiled and selfish, caring more about looting Walt’s home and claiming his vintage Gran Torino. He’s the last white guy in a Detroit neighborhood that has seen better days. The real heart of Walt isn’t his gruff exterior, though. He’s a man who has seen great loss and destruction in war, and has not been able to let go of it. While he derides a young priest for knowing nothing of life or death, Walt himself knows nothing of life, or living. He’s gone through the motions, married, started a family, worked hard, but he now has no emotional ties to this world.

That is, until he meets his neighbors. After he breaks up a fight between young Thao and a gang trying to forcibly recruit him, Walt becomes the reluctant neighborhood hero. People drop off food and flowers, to Walt’s annoyance. Thao’s sister brings Walt out of his seclusion, befriending him and inviting him into her home. Walt discovers he has more in common with these people he has scorned his whole life than his own family. He takes Thao, a wimpy kid with no paternal influence, under his wing and teaches him to be a man.

Thao has a lot to contend with though, and it becomes quickly apparent that left on his own, he will be forced to join his cousin’s gang. After the gang attacks Thao’s family, Walt takes matters into his own hands.

This is where I think the movie transcends from good to great. Yes, if he was Dirty Harry he would go to the gang and shoot them all up to kingdom come. But he’s not. I like to think he’s older and wiser than Harry Callahan. He’s seen more of the world, and he knows that while it does help to walk softly and carry a huge ass gun, he also knows that violence just begets more violence. It’s not the expected, “American” type outcome that people probably expected, which may account for the lack of buzz surrounding the film.

Where other critics have seen exaggerations or parody, all I see is a man trying to find some way to leave the world a better place before he dies. There’s nothing exaggerated about that.

The one part of the film that resonated most with me is that in life sometimes you have to make your own families. It’s not the people who share your blood that are necessarily your only family. It’s the people you connect with, the people who share your life. Eastwood also addressed this issue to a certain degree in “Million Dollar Baby.” In both films the lead’s blood family is just so awful you cringe every time they do something. Maggie’s family visiting Disney Land before visiting her in the hospital, and Walt’s granddaughter more concerned with texting, and scoring the Gran Torino and his couch than in offering her condolences for the loss of his wife.

The DVD release continues this BS Warner Brothers streak of releasing very few special features on the DVD, while including more on the Blu-Ray version. I get it! You want us to switch to Blu-Ray! Man, I still have my damned HD-DVD player and a dozen HDDVDs. You need to make it worth my while first. Anyway, the DVD has two short features about cars as they relate to “Gran Torino” with very little insight or meaningful content. It’s fluff, and not even the good kind.

“Gran Torino” was released on DVD June 9th. You can buy the DVD from or learn more about the movie from .



New life challenging for some, rewarding for other Hmong immigrants

Larger view
Kou Hang and his wife live in St. Paul with their five children. (MPR Photo/Toni Randolph)

St. Paul, Minn. — The latest wave of Hmong refugees to the Twin Cities began five years ago this week. Since then about 5,000 new Hmong residents have made their homes here.

Life for them is very different from what it was in Asia, where many lived in a refugee camp outside a Buddhist temple in Thailand. For some folks, the change has been good; for others it's been very challenging.

37-year-old Chou Lee arrived in the Twin Cities on a cold day in December 2004. He, his wife and their six young children initially stayed with his sister's family. But he said he felt he was crowding her so he moved his family into their own place shortly after.

Lee said he was isolated. He spoke no English and he had a hard time doing simple things like going to the grocery store and to the laundromat.

"At the time we don't drive, so when we want to go shopping we can't go," Lee said. "Very sad life in this country if you not speak English and you not drive."

At first Lee was dejected and didn't know if he'd make it.

"I don't want to stay in this country in the first three months," Lee said. "Sometimes I cry in my house."

But by the end of the first year Lee had his driver's license and was taking English classes and he said things began looking up.

"I started feeling maybe I can continue life in this country because I can drive my family to go shopping, to the laundry or we can go to the park when we want to play," he said.

Lee is still studying English and also plans to study carpentry. In addition, he's working at Neighborhood House in St. Paul, a multi-cultural and multi-lingual community center that provides basic needs and educational services. His wife also works part-time at a Hmong home health care agency. And while he says life is better now, it's no bowl of cherries.

"Very sad life in this country if you not speak English and you not drive."
- Chou Lee

He said he still doesn't make enough money to do everything he'd like and he echoes the complaint of many of the new Hmong arrivals: unlike in Thailand and Laos, life in the United States has too many bills.

But other refugees have had a less difficult transition. Thirty-year-old Kou Hang embraced the challenges he faced when he arrived in July of 2004.

Hang spoke almost no English then, but he and his brother were determined to learn the language well enough to take the written exam for their driving permits in English, even though they had the option to take it in Hmong.

"We decided to do English because we say, 'OK, this is the U.S., even when you take Hmong, when you see the sign on the street, it's not in Hmong words," Hang said.

It took three tries, but Hang passed the test. And now he can drive to his job every day at Hmong American Partnership where, over the past two years, he worked his way up from receptionist to employment counselor.

Hang lives in Saint Paul with his wife and five children. They recently hosted a cultural celebration to mark their youngest child's first birthday.

Dozens of family members and friends crammed into his apartment for the event, including Fue Her, a former co-worker who helped with Hang's resettlement. He said Hang has come a long way since 2004.

Her remembers when Hang first came to work at Hmong American Partnership. He said Hang would walk around the office with a dictionary trying to learn new words and complete his work at the same time.

"I think he accomplished a lot within five years, like I said, graduating from school," Hang said. "He hit that right off the bat when he basically arrived on the tarmac at the airport."

Her said the birthday party was a good sign.

"I think the more parties you have, I think that means life is good," Her said.

And Hang says life is good. He now plans to go to college to study social work. And he also wants another piece of the American dream -- he wants to buy a house.

While Hang has done well, resettlement has been much more challenging for some members of the older generation, many of whom don't speak English and can't work.

Seng Yang, a refugee resettlement coordinator with Neighborhood House in Saint Paul, said some refugees in their 40s, 50s and 60s have to relearn the fundamentals of life as they tackle a new language and an unfamiliar system.

"You have to be a baby, try to walk, crawl, and then stand up and then go to work and then take care of yourself," Yang said. "It takes a long time."

Yang said it could take 10 to 20 years for the latest arrivals to adjust to the new culture in their new country.



Refugees again: Bleak economy driving S.J. Hmong to other states

By Jennifer Torres
Record Staff Writer
June 22, 2009 6:00 AM

STOCKTON - This month Pao Thao is relying on a check from his younger brother to help pay the rent, and if he can't find work in July, he says, he will move his family from their home on Kelley Drive and on to what he hopes are better prospects in Minnesota.

"As long as we can find employment, we want to stay," he said. "As we know in this country, everything is money. It's tough."

Thao; his wife, Chia Yang; and their 4-year-old son, Koua, came to California in 2004, among the last large group of Hmong refugees to be settled in Stockton.

Beginning in the late 1970s, thousands of Hmong - after fleeing their homeland in Laos where they were persecuted for their assistance to American military forces during the Vietnam War - were moved to the United States. The Central Valley has one of the largest Hmong populations in the nation.

For many, the challenges of language, poverty and low levels of literacy persist. Added to them now is an economy in which 46,500 San Joaquin County residents who want work are out of work. For many Hmong, continued survival means a migration out of California.

Pam Khang is health coordinator for the Lao Family Community of Stockton. Driving to visit the Thao family, who are clients of the social services agency, Khang said Hmong residents are leaving the Valley "left and right."

Lao Family was founded more than 25 years ago to help Hmong refugees adapt to a new culture, find work, communicate with schools and hospitals and complete immigration documents.

Its effort continues. Right now, CEO Ger Vang said, helping clients secure jobs is one of Lao Family's most challenging tasks. It's also an urgent one because welfare benefits for refugees end after five years.

For those, such as Thao, who came in 2004, that time is about up.

"Survival in this country is very difficult," Thao said. "Now it's close to the cutoff date. The clock is ticking."

Thao and Yang grew up in a Thai refugee camp. When he turned 13, Thao said, he began working: farm labor, construction and some carpentry.

Earlier this week, he opened his Stockton home to a couple who came to see his father, a shaman.

The woman was pregnant and worried. The shaman chanted and beat a cymbal and tossed water buffalo horns to communicate with the spirit world. He sat the woman in a folding chair and performed a ritual meant to protect her baby.

The community continues to rely on such services from Thao's father, but Thao has had a hard time finding a paying job for himself.

About a year and a half after his arrival, he said, he got a job at a window company. He was laid off in 2007. He has kept his final pay stub.

"I would do any type of work, any type of job, as long as I'm able to be employed and support the family," Thao said.

Census statistics are beginning to document the movement out of the Central Valley that Hmong families describe in their communities.

In 2004, there were 3,712 Hmong living in the county, a figure that nearly doubled to 7,100 two years later. In 2007, the latest year for which census figures are available, there were about 6,700 Hmong living in the county.

Meanwhile, several states that did not have a significant Hmong population in the past now are experiencing an influx.

Alaska, for example, has become a destination.

Tsia Xiong, a local community organizer, said many families are attracted to Alaska because of its fishing season.

"One of the dilemmas our community is facing is how can we expect our newest refugees to obtain jobs when they don't have the adequate skills to really compete," Xiong said. "That's a huge concern."

Arkansas has seen its Hmong population grow from about 1,400 in 2004 to more than 3,000 in 2007.

Tou Lee is president of the Hmong Association in Arkansas, founded in 2005 to offer translation and support - the sort of assistance Lao Family was launched decades ago to provide. "Language is the biggest challenge," Lee said. "Language is also a challenge for the schools and hospitals, because they cannot find any resource or anyone to help them out. At the same time, cultural difference is also a challenge. Many in the mainstream do not have any experience with the Asian community."

The association is based in Siloam Springs, in northwest Arkansas at the Oklahoma border. Most of the Hmong residents living there came from other states, including California, Lee said.

"Land is still cheap," he said. "They can acquire some land. They can do some farming for themselves as well as live peacefully."

Yang and Thao said they are grateful to have come to the United States. They remain hopeful of finding work.

"It's better to be here," Yang said. "If you are young, you have more opportunity in this country than in Thailand. If you're talking about making a living, it's more difficult."

Contact reporter Jennifer Torres at (209) 546-8252 or



Clovis organic garden helps cultivate community

Ryan Sweeney has transformed a bare patch of land into a one-man farmers market where it may be most needed -- a low-income urban neighborhood.

Sweeney, 31, grows fruits and vegetables on the once-vacant one-third-acre lot, turning it into a thriving organic farm that he hopes can serve nearby residents, many of whom don't drive and have to walk a mile to the nearest grocery store -- Food Maxx or Grocery Outlet -- for produce.

The neighborhood is along Jefferson Avenue, south of the Clovis Rodeo Grounds and bordered by industry, automotive businesses, low-rent apartments and more than 50-year-old housing tracts.

Studies have shown that poor neighborhoods lack access to fresh produce and have a high concentration of fast-food restaurants.

Rose Trejo, a neighbor of the farm, said she doesn't have a car during the day because her husband uses it for work, so the farm is helpful.

"It saves us the trouble of going to the store," said Trejo, who buys cucumbers and peppers from Sweeney. "It's organic and we know what we are getting. It's a lot fresher, too."

The land is the very definition of a family farm. Sweeney's in-laws, Neil and Kathryn Snodgrass, own the property.

In recent years, Sweeney, who farms hay and corn and has grown grapes and other crops commercially, has been discing the land to keep weeds down. This year, he suggested turning the dirt into a farm.

The original plan was for a summer salad or salsa farm. But three months ago, Sweeney installed drip irrigation and planted corn, tomatoes, watermelon, cucumbers, squash and several varieties of peppers that are starting to dangle and ripen on their vines.

The neighborhood, which has struggled in recent years, has been a target area for improvements by the city. It has about 50% single-family home rentals compared with 19% citywide, said Tina Sumner, the city's community and economic development director.

The produce neighbors buy from his farm will be fresher and less expensive than the stores, Sweeney said.

"I wanted something that the community could be proud of, kind of like a community garden," he said. "You know where it's grown, you know where it came from and it's a good product at a fair price."

Jessica Suarez said the prices are much cheaper than the grocery store and she can attest to the taste.

"The flavor of it was great," she said. "The hotness of the peppers ... my husband loved it."

Sweeney also has developed a commercial market for his vegetables. Three Clovis restaurants have said they will buy his produce, he said.

"People want to buy fresh and local," he said. "When you put a piece of food in your mouth it's good to know where it comes from."

Sweeney's farm is different from other urban farms like the Hmong community garden on city land at Belmont and Dewitt avenues in Fresno. Since the land is owned by his family, Sweeney doesn't need any special permits and does not risk being ordered to leave.

The Hmong garden in Fresno still exists, but Fresno city officials want to build a new police station on the site. Hmong gardeners rejected the city's alternative near Shields and Fowler avenues. Fresno officials are working on a second alternate site near Peach and Butler avenues.

Fresno's parks department also is working on a community garden in Al Radka Park on Belmont Avenue, east of Clovis Avenue. The city is teaming with Fresno Metro Ministries to create 90 plots for gardeners. It will open by August, said Heather Heinks, a Fresno parks department spokeswoman.

Next year, Sweeney said, he may lease land that developers planned for homes but were unable to build on after the foreclosure crisis hit. Some of those developers left irrigation pipelines, which Sweeney said he could use to grow crops.

As the corn ripens in the coming weeks, Sweeney said he expects to be open each afternoon until the corn runs out. Then he will plant for the fall and winter.

"I want to build it up to where it's year-round fresh vegetables," he said. "I will be growing depending on the season and that way people can have a fresh, steady supply."

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6166.



Madison Area Picked as Home of Statewide Hmong Cultural Center.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Madison area is set be the home of a new statewide Hmong Cultural Center. Organizers chose the state capital because of it's central location. They envision it as a safe place for all people to gather and learn about Hmong culture.

In addition to classrooms, a member of the planning committee says the facility will showcase Hmong history and art.

The state has allocated two million dollars for the project, and organizers say they are looking for financial support from the community.

No date has been set as to when the project will begin.



Rising text messaging fees bother Kohl

Washington - Sen. Herb Kohl is asking the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department to examine the state of competition in the cell phone industry, pointing to the rising costs of text messaging by major phone companies.

Kohl, who leads a Senate antitrust subcommittee, noted that the price charged by the four biggest providers for some text messages doubled to 20 cents each in the past two years.

The Wisconsin Democrat also pointed out the prices charged by the companies appeared to have risen in lock step.

"These sharp increases raise concerns," Kohl said during a hearing Tuesday on the issue. "Are these price increases the result of a lack of competition in a highly concentrated market?"

Four companies - Verizon, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA - now control about 90% of the cell phone market.

Industry officials at the hearing said most text messages are covered by cell phone plans and that the rates Kohl is citing are for texts not included in the plans.

In 2008, more than 1 trillion text messages were sent in the United States.

Wiretapping: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold grilled a key member of the Obama administration at a Senate hearing last week, pressing Attorney General Eric Holder on the issue of government surveillance. A vocal critic of the Bush administration over the National Security Agency's wiretapping program, Feingold complained about Holder's testimony on the issue afterward.

"I was disappointed by Attorney General Holder's unwillingness to repeat what both he and President (Barack) Obama had stated in the past - that President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was illegal. For an administration that has repeatedly stated its intention to restore the rule of law, this episode was a step backward," Feingold said in a statement.

During the Judiciary Committee hearing, Feingold noted Holder's past criticism of the wiretapping program and pressed him - "now that you are the attorney general" - to characterize it as "illegal."

Holder said the program was "certainly unwise" because it lacked congressional approval but said that has been "remedied by the fact that Congress has now authorized the program." He declined to use the term "illegal."

Feingold called such comments "awfully mild" and urged the administration to more explicitly renounce what Feingold called "unsupportable claims of executive power" made under George W. Bush.

War money: Feingold was one of only five senators who voted no Thursday on a $106 billion supplemental funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure, which passed 91-5, goes to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature. Kohl voted for the legislation.

Feingold has said he opposed the bill partly over concerns that Obama plans to leave up to 50,000 American troops in Iraq.

"We must not lose sight of the fact that our very presence has a destabilizing impact and the vast majority of Iraqis support a prompt withdrawal of U.S. troops," he said, adding that he worries Obama's strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan does not adequately address the problems in the region and could exacerbate them.

Hmong refugees: Wisconsin members of Congress are urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to pressure Thailand to stop the forced repatriation of Hmong refugees there back to Laos, where they fear persecution.

"The U.S. has been a champion of the Hmong since the Vietnam War, when many Hmong fought alongside U.S. soldiers and were a critical part of the war effort," the lawmakers stated in the letter, which was signed by 31 members of Congress, including five from Wisconsin. "We continue to have a vital national security interest in and moral obligation to assist our former allies, especially those with bona fide persecution claims."

Wisconsin has one of the nation's largest Hmong populations. The Wisconsin members who signed the letter were: Reps. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse), Steve Kagen (D-Appleton), Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee), Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) and Tom Petri (R-Fond du Lac).

Domestic violence: The House on Wednesday approved 425-4 an amendment authored by Moore to increase the funding for legal assistance to domestic violence victims.

The measure would add $4 million to a legal assistance program that helps victims of domestic violence obtain restraining orders, win custody of their children and navigate the criminal justice system.

"Nearly 70% of women who bravely take their abusers to court do so without legal represent- ation," Moore said in a speech on the House floor. "Too often, having an attorney present is the deciding factor in obtaining that life-saving personal protection order, getting custody of your kids or receiving transitional housing."

Polls: Roughly half of Wisconsin voters approve of the job that their two senators are doing in Washington, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling. About 53% of Wisconsin voters approve of Feingold, who is up for re-election in 2010; about 36% disapprove. Kohl, who is not up for re-election until 2012, has a 50% approval rating; 36% disapprove.

On TV: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) plans to appear on "Fox News Sunday" with host Chris Wallace to talk about health care reform.

Ryan, who has been critical of the Democrats' ideas for changing the country's health care system, is expected to discuss his proposals for reform.

Ryan is pushing for legislation that would tax employer-based health care in exchange for tax credits that would go directly to employees.

He also would set up state health insurance exchanges where people could shop for private insurance. The show can be seen at 8 a.m. Sunday on WITI (Channel 6) in Milwaukee.

Craig Gilbert of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.



Sheriff hopes that drowned boy’s body may be found

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand can’t swim.

He’s uncomfortable on the water. But he is more uncomfortable knowing somewhere near Lock and Dam 7 the remains of a 10-year-old boy wait to be found.

Two uncomfortable feelings for two years end with the same result _ one more search.

On a cold, foggy day last October, Brand mobilized about 30 volunteers in a last-ditch attempt to find Joshua Xiong, the 10-year-old boy who had drowned with his family 19 months earlier when their fishing boat was sucked into the Mississippi River at Lock and Dam 7.

Rescuers had found the bodies of his stepfather, Cha Kong Yang; his pregnant mother, See Her; and his sister, Amanda Xiong, in the days after the drownings. But nearly two years later, Joshua continues to elude them, perhaps, as some in the Hmong culture suspect, because the boy’s spirit is destined to forever haunt the waters where he died.

Brand doesn’t know much about Hmong spirits. But if finding the body will ease the pain of Joshua’s relatives, then that is the sheriff’s mission. And maybe, Brand figures, if he can find the body, he’ll stop seeing Joshua’s face when he lies in bed at night. He’ll stop seeing Joshua’s face each time he passes the dam. Maybe Joshua will leave him be.

As rescue crews in October puttered out into the fog, Brand stayed ashore, watching. Reserve officers from the Winona and Goodview police departments, the Winona County Search Operations and Rescue squad and the County Emergency Response Team trudged through damp, waist-high grass, scrambled over felled trees and poked through underbrush. A cadaver dog from Rochester sniffed the sand, bushes and trees of Minnesota Island for hours.

The chances of finding some sign of Joshua after so long were "as good as anything else," said Jeff Peterson, a CERT member volunteering that day. Brand pegged it at a disheartening 2 percent.

From sunup to sundown, the volunteers combed the shores and islands of the Mississippi up to 3 miles downstream of the dam. They went home tired, muddy and empty-handed.

"I don’t have any more areas where we can search," Brand said, defeated. "We’ve covered everything."

Joshua’s surviving family calls Brand the Big Teddy Bear.

The sheriff was their rock, a bridge between the Hmong culture that chanted and prayed along the banks and the volunteers who combed the waters.

Other volunteers also did their best to assuage the surviving family. They brought food from McDonald’s, Kwik Trip and Corky’s, and a local pizza and ice cream joint to feed the Hmong and up to 150 people on scene everyday. A woman who lived nearby baked more than a half-dozen homemade pies.

The volunteers gave blankets to the Hmong family to keep them warm as they burned incense and prayed. Overwhelmed by the volunteers’ generosity, the large Hmong group of relatives and friends offered to pay for the blankets. Fire Chief Gary Brauer of Campbell, Wis., was humbled by their humility.

"No, we’re giving these to you," he said.

The Hmong relatives were shocked that so many people would give up so much of themselves to help them.

Twenty relatives attended an awards banquet in February 2008, when several officers and firefighters received valor awards for their work during the August 2007 floods. Brand was given a plaque for his work in Dresbach. The relatives brought traditional Hmong dishes to share.

"It shows everybody that we’re no different. We’re all the same," said Ka Thao, who became the family’s representative after the drownings. "(The rescuers) are not my people, but I consider them family because they were there to help."

La Crescent Fire Chief Bernie Buehler accepted their thanks but brushed off the community’s response as nothing special.

"We’re all here to help each other," he said. "We care."

As the days passed and Joshua remained missing, the searchers began to give up hope of finding the body. Eventually, they stopped looking.

Except for Brand.

He deployed the dive and rescue boat at least once a week that entire summer, sometimes as often as every other day, to troll the waterways up to 9 miles downstream.

"The team never gives up," former Dive and Rescue Team leader Russ Marsolek said.

The summer faded to fall, and in October, a duck hunter flipped his airboat near Dakota, Minn., and drowned. His body was quickly recovered, but even during that rescue, the dive team kept an extra eye open for Joshua. Just in case.

The search literally went ice cold as winter came. Ice stilled the river and snow buried anything that may have been on the shore. Any other searches would have to wait until the spring thaw. When the snow melted, Brand scaled back the search, sending out the team only a few times.

No one involved _ not the family, nor the searchers _ will admit to completely giving up hope, but all have come to a solid consensus:

"Joshua is not coming back," said Thai Vue, the director of the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association in La Crosse, Wis. "He’s lost in the river."

The sheriff tried "everything humanly possible" to bring closure to the family, Marsolek said.

But _ through no fault of his own _ he failed.

"Finding the three, we feel very good about that," Buehler said. "And the other one, I guess you’d have to say that we’re convinced that his tomb is in the river."

Like Cha Kong and Joshua, Ka Thao and her husband, Xiong Yang, used to fish Lock and Dam 7. But they haven’t been back since the drownings. Yang said he still drives his boat upriver from La Crosse toward Dresbach looking for any signs of Joshua on the shorelines. He has never made it all the way up to the dam.

On April 4, nearly two years after the drownings, Thao and Brand decided to meet for one last search. Brand was determined to be in the search boat that day, despite his unease on the water.

Thao greeted Brand with a hug, calling him by the affectionate nickname, Big Teddy Bear.

Dive Team leader Brian Buerck angled the boat toward the dam, fighting a strong current, weaving through a dozen fishing boats.

As he navigated, Thao stood and stepped carefully to the bow of the boat with a small, sheathed sword in hand. The "shaman’s sword," as it is called in Hmong tradition, has a slight curve and looks like a Japanese katana. The sheath was hard black plastic adorned with a dragon, and the hilt had red ribbons tied to it. No more than a foot-and-a-half long, she said she brought it for good luck and that it would protect the boat from evil spirits and disaster.

Brand asked about the sword’s significance, and Yang made an apt comparison.

"It’s like your gun," he said.

Thao held the sword in two hands and pointed it downward, resting the sheathed tip on the bow. Standing stoically and staring at the dam in silence, she looked like Arthur just before he removed Excalibur from the stone.

After a moment, Thao, Yang and Brand sat on the bow as the boat bobbed over small waves, inching slowly toward the dam. Brand asked about a shaman’s ability to heal the human body, but the conversation quickly turned to whether Joshua’s body would ever be found.

Yang reminded him of the shaman’s predictions made two years ago that came true about the other family members. Then of the prediction about Joshua’s fate: He’d never be found.

But Yang continued.

Cha Kong’s sister recently became a shaman and had spoken with the spirit world. She had a revelation that piqued the interest of everyone on board.

She predicted the high waters of a winter thaw would wash Joshua’s bones ashore, Yang said. Someone would stumble upon them within the next year or two.

"Maybe we could look again in the summer and look at the shorelines," Yang suggested.

Brand looked into his eyes.

"Yes," he said, perhaps once the water goes down.

"We could go again."


Information from: Winona Daily News,




Hmong students win leadership awards

California State University, Stanislaus awarded the 2009 Student Leadership Awards to six individuals and six organizations, with two of the awards going to the Hmong Students Association.

The Hmong Students Association received the Outstanding Student Organization Award, and the group's faculty advisor, Kou Yang of the Department of Ethnic and Gender Studies, was honored as Advisor of the Year.

Two fraternities on campus were also singled out for awards. Kappa Sigma was bestowed with the Award of Excellence and Nu Alpha Kappa won the Greatest Achievement award.

Other group winners were: Math Club for Most Improved; Sociology Club won the President's Trophy; and the Cheer and Stunt Team won the Most Spirited award.

Individual recipients were: Richard Albert of Roseville, Outstanding Student Leader of the Year; Diana Heredia and Michael Sederquist, both of Turlock, Carol Burke Memorial Award; Tiffany Darling Gelbaum, Student Empowerment; Harkaman Ghag of Ceres, Miriam V. & John L. Keymer Memorial Award; and Margaret Stepro of Turlock, Judge and Alverta Hughes Humanitarian Award.

Mathematics, geometry programs

scheduled at CSU Stanislaus

The California State University, Stanislaus Office of Mathematics Grants, coordinated by CSU Stanislaus Math Professor Viji Sundar, will sponsor three instructional programs for junior high school and beginning high school students in June and July.

The Summer 2009 Math/Science Prep Camp is open to students entering the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. The camp will run from 8:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., June 22 through July 2, Mondays through Thursdays. The fee is $200.

Students who are entering high school this fall and have completed first-year algebra and geometry are eligible to participate in the High School Math Access Program Strategies for Success in High School Algebra program. Scheduled for July 6-30, the Monday through Thursday sessions are conducted from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The fee is $250.

A separate HiMAP session on geometry for entering high school students who have completed first-year algebra is also scheduled for July 6-30 at the same time. The fee is $250.

For more information, contact Rita Glynn in the Math Grants office at or 667-3780. Applications are available online at Sundar's Math Web site:

- Sabra Stafford



Need more visitors at multi-cultural festivals

Published: June 20, 2009

I attended last weekend's Multi-Cultural Festival, hosted by Hmong Community Development, and found it was pretty much one culture there. The festival appeared to be all Hmong vendors and shows. As an old white guy, I was one of only a few I saw there.

I had hoped to see a truly multi-cultural event; with information, vendors, exhibits and demonstrations from multiple cultures. Even if it was mainly Asian, I was hoping to find a local Korean booth. Hoped there would be a Korean food vendor since we don't have a Korean restaurant in town.

As a retired master sergeant, I've learned to appreciate many different cultures. I can accept language, food and customs that are different than what I was raised with. Shucks, I've even been married to a real Yankee. They have some unusual customs.

For all we talk about diversity and multi-culturism, and for all the different cultures that live around here, people still don't seem to appreciate other cultures. I regularly attend events where I stand out as different than the target audience.

Sure would love to see more of y'all at these events. Come on out folks, if for no other reason than to try the food and learn about your neighbors.

I applaud and thank the folks who organized this festival. I hope in the future they are able to bring in more exhibitors and vendors from all the many cultures represented by the people who live in our area.

Alan Dockery



US lawmakers press Thailand on Hmong refugees

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hmong refugee families stand behind bars at a Thai detention centre in Nong Khai province

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Thirty-one members of the US Congress appealed Thursday for pressure on Thailand to help Hmong refugees, voicing fear for their safety if they return to Laos.

Paris-based Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, last month pulled out of a camp where it fed some 4,700 Hmong, accusing Thailand of trying to forcibly repatriate them to Laos, where they fear persecution.

The lawmakers urged US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reach out directly to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Royal Thai Army to halt repatriations and allow outside access to the Huai Nam Khao camp.

The letter to Clinton, spearheaded by Representative Patrick Kennedy of America's famous political dynasty, voiced appreciation for Thailand's historical hospitality to refugees.

"We are confident that with the appropriate engagement by the US, the Royal Thai Government will recognize that maintaining a positive humanitarian record is in its best interests," the letter said.

The Hmong, a hill people, fought alongside US forces during the Vietnam War, incurring the wrath for years to come of the communist government in Laos.

Doctors Without Borders, in pulling out of the camp, said Hmong refugees who fled to Thailand recounted killings, gang-rape and malnutrition inflicted by Laotian forces.

The US lawmakers also urged Clinton to press Thailand to release 158 Hmong who sneaked out of the Huai Nam Khao camp and have been in detention since December 2006, despite being granted UN refugee status.

Nearly 250,000 Hmong have resettled in the United States. Australia has said it is willing to resettle some of the Hmong in limbo in Thailand.



U.S. Congress Urges Sec. Clinton, Thailand to Stop Forcing Hmong to Laos

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"This important new bipartisan Congressional letter to Secretary of State Clinton regarding the Laos Hmong refugee crisis was spearheaded by U.S. Congressmen Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and massively backed by leading Lao Hmong organizations and communities across the United States," said Philip Smith of the CPPA in Washington, D.C.
( - Washington, D.C.,and Bangkok, Thailand, June 17, 2009 - A U.S. Congressional letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the Lao Hmong refugee crisis in Thailand and Laos is slated to be sent today by some 25 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The bipartisan U.S. Congressional letter urges increased diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the Thai military’s forced repatriation of Lao Hmong political refugees back to the one-party Communist regime in Laos that they fled.

“Thousands of Lao Hmong political refugees and asylum seekers, including many veterans who served with U.S. clandestine and special forces during the Vietnam War, are now facing forced repatriation by the Thai military back to the brutal Stalinist regime in Laos that they fled,” stated Philip Smith, Executive Director for the Center for Public Policy Analysis ( CPPA ) in Washington, D.C. “This important new bipartisan Congressional letter to Secretary of State Clinton regarding the Laos Hmong refugee crisis was spearheaded by U.S. Congressmen Patrick Kennedy ( D-RI ) and Dennis Cardoza ( D-CA ) and massively backed by leading Lao Hmong organizations and communities across the United States in opposition to the Thai Military's, and Prime Minister Abhisit’s, deplorable and cruel forced repatriation policy against the Laotians and Hmong.”

“We wish to convey our deep concern about the plight of the Hmong at Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in Petchabun and at the Nong Khai Detention Center in Thailand. We strongly believe the deteriorating circumstances surrounding both humanitarian crises require renewed U.S. diplomatic efforts at the highest level of the State Department. We urge you to address this crisis,” the Members of Congress have written to Secretary of State Clinton.

“First, we ask you to directly urge the Prime Minister of Thailand and senior Thai military officials to halt the forced repatriation of the Hmong at Huay Nam Khao and allow independent third-party access to the refugees to ensure all protection claims and repatriations are resolved in accordance with international standards. As you know, there are currently about 5,000 Hmong refugees at Huay Nam Khao who claim to have fled violence and persecution in Laos,” the U.S. Congressional letter further says.

Last month, Medecins Sans Frontieres ( MSF ), Doctors Without Borders, withdrew from Ban Huay Nam Khao detention camp in Thailand, because of Thailand's forced repatriation policy and abuse of the Lao Hmong refugees. The camp is the last remaining Lao Hmong refugee camp in Thailand. MSF was the only Non Governmental Organization ( NGO ) providing food and medical support to some 5,500 Lao Hmong political refugees at the camp. Another 158 Hmong political refugees are being detained in harsh conditions at Nong Khai, Thailand.

“First, it should be noted that the recent protest by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Medicines Sans Frontieres ( MSF- also known as Doctors Without Borders ) is historical,” said Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, author of the award-winning book “Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, The Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos” and Nobel Peace Prize nominee for her human rights work on behalf of the abused in Laos.

Dr. Hamilton-Merritt further stated: “This organization deserves another Nobel for its courageous protest–-perhaps its first--to give voice to the suffering voiceless behind razor wire in Thailand. Many of the refugees in Thailand were our staunchest allies. Secretary Clinton should acknowledge this heroic act by Doctors Without Borders by reading the carefully documented reports of medically certified abuses, Thai mistreatment, and forced repatriation. Read the reports about the fear of those who are about to be forcibly returned to their abusers in Laos. Know their stories: Hear their cries.”

Dr. Hamilton Merritt continued: “Resolving this humanitarian crisis and protecting our former allies from harm is clearly a national security priority—or it should be if the U.S. hopes to attract or maintain alliances in the future. Those who are knowledgeable on this issue all agree that resolution is possible and frankly not complicated. This Congressional Letter succinctly describes the problem and the actions needed for resolution.”

"As a former political refugee, I am strongly urging Mrs. Clinton to work with the Royal Thai Government to stop the force repatriation of the Hmong refugees back to Laos; and at the same time open the refugee camp for NGOs and third countries to go in there and screen those refugees who want to resettle in third countries including those in Nong Khai detention center,” said Col. Wangyee Vang, National President and founder of the Lao Veterans of America Institute ( LVAI ) in Fresno, California.

Colonel Wangyee stated further “I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of many in the Laotian and Hmong-American community in across the United States to thank our Congressmen Cardoza, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Congressman Jim Costa, Congressman George Radanovich Kennedy Congresswoman Zoe Lofgreen and the over 20 Members of Congress who signed this important letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their crucial efforts and support of the Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand and Laos."

“Clearly, the Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand do not want to return to the brutal Communist regime in Laos that they fled and that continues to attack, persecute and kill many of their family members in Laos,” said Vaughn Vang, Executive Director of the Hmong Lao Human Rights Council. “This U.S. Congressional letter is an important step in helping to reverse the current forced repatriation policy in Thailand and the abuse of the Lao Hmong refugees by elements of the Thai Third Army and Ministery of Interior.”

The U.S. Congressional letter was signed in the U.S. Congress by Patrick Kennedy ( D-RI ), Dennis Cardoza ( D-CA ), Howard Berman ( D-CA ), Zoe Lofgren ( D-CA ), Ron Kind ( D-WI ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen ( R-FL ), Chris Smith ( R-NJ ), Madeleine Bordallo ( D-G ), Steve Kagen ( D-WI ), James Langevin ( D-RI ), Tammy Baldwin ( D-WI ), Frank Wolf ( R-VA ), Jerry McNerney ( D-CA ), Mike Honda ( D-CA ), Doris Matsui ( D-CA ), Tom Petri ( D-WI ), Jim Costa ( D-CA ), George Radanovich ( R-CA ), James McGovern ( D-MA ), Dana Rohrabacher ( R-CA ), Jim Moran ( D-VA ), Raul Grijalva ( D-AZ ), Gwen Moore ( D-WI ), Bill Delahunt ( D-MA ) and Ed Perlmutter ( D-CO ). Additional Congressional offices reportedly anticipated cosigning the letter even as the deadline for signatures and transmission to the U.S. Department of State approached today.

Last month, Laotian and Hmong-Americans and community organizations from across the United States, including veterans and their families from California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and other states participated in National Lao Hmong Veterans Recognition Day Ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam War Memorial and the U.S. Congress. A Congressional forum and policy conference was held in the U.S. House of Representatives and Lao and Hmong community representatives went door-to-door in the U.S. Congress to discuss the Lao Hmong refugee crisis in Thailand and Laos.



Maria Gomez
Tele. ( 202 ) 543-1444

Center for Public Policy Analysis
2020 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Suite #212
Washington, D.C. 20006 USA



Hmong Association, Fresh Start get stimulus funds

The Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association and Wausau Fresh Start are getting $123,000 in federal stimulus money that will fund 19 positions.

The money will go to helping youth with life skills, work readiness, construction training, financial literacy and leadership skills.

It’s part of $2.6 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment money going to AmeriCorps programs in the state, Gov. Jim Doyle announced today in a press release.



Health care providers focus on 'culturally responsive care'

By Julie Carroll

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Nyahrai Lah, 56, a recent immigrant from the Southeast Asian country of Burma, also known as Myanmar, didn’t know what to expect when she made an appointment at the HealthEast Roselawn Clinic in St. Paul.

It was her first experience of health care in America.

To her surprise, she said, the clinic provided an interpreter, and the doctor understood and respected her culture.

“Every time I go to Roselawn Clinic, I feel like all the staff there treat me very well,” Lah said through an interpreter. “I feel like the care is excellent and I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”

Patients at HealthEast Care Systems’ hospitals and clinics in the Twin Cities’ east metro area speak 157 languages and represent an even greater ethnic and cultural diversity, according to Pennie Viggiano, assistant director of government and special populations at the Christian-based health care provider.

As the Twin Cities become more racially and ethnically diverse, HealthEast and other health care providers in the region have begun to focus more attention on providing what Viggiano calls “culturally responsive care.”

For Catholic health care institutions in particular — such as St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, which is part of the HealthEast system, and Benedictine Health Center in Minneapolis — being culturally responsive is an integral part of their mission to serve, especially society’s most vulnerable.

Being culturally responsive can take many forms, such as providing interpreters so people can communicate with their doctor in the language of their choice, understanding traditional medicine and beliefs, and being aware of different communication styles.

Between 2000 and 2007, the seven-county region saw an estimated 28 percent growth in the number of people of color, many of them immigrants, while the region’s white population remained virtually unchanged, according to data compiled by Twin Cities Compass from U.S. Census Bureau statistics (see

All regions of the state will be more racially and ethnically diverse in the future, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center. By 2035, 48 percent of Ramsey County residents and 44 percent of Hennepin County residents are projected to be nonwhite or Latino. In suburban counties, the proportion of residents who are minorities is expected to double during that same period.

Differences matter

While many businesses in recent years have worked hard to overlook cultural differences in the name of political correctness, when it comes to health care, providers are finding that treating everyone the same is not the best practice.

In the past, Viggiano said, “we always spoke to our patients with the assumption of our own norms, and thus, that creates some barriers in care. What we’re finding . . . is if we look at every individual as someone with unique beliefs, cultural backgrounds and cultural norms, and really negotiate the care based on understanding what those cultural norms are, we can come to better outcomes and care.”

Take, for example, a Hmong patient who refuses surgery based on a traditional belief that illness comes from the spiritual realm. A culturally responsive health care provider might encourage the patient to practice his spiritual beliefs while continuing to receive medical treatment.

“Now we’ve got a patient who feels that they’ve got a team that respects their culture, they’ve got their shaman there, and if they ultimately end up . . . needing surgery, the patient feels really comfortable about that and complies with the surgery,” Viggiano said.

Language barriers are another concern when providing culturally responsive care, Viggiano said. HealthEast recently replaced all of the signs in its four hospitals with universal symbols, such as a picture of an X-ray to lead people to the radiology department.

HealthEast also instituted a 24-hour language line, where people can request an interpreter, get assistance in scheduling appointments, and communicate with a provider in their language; and increased the number of interpreters on staff.
Health care providers need to be aware of more subtle communication barriers as well, Viggiano said.

“Some Asian cultures emphasize respect and not disagreeing,” she said. “So somebody may be saying yes to you, but they’re saying, ‘Yes, I understand you,’ not ‘Yes, I agree with you.’

“Or, a person from a different culture may be very vocal and very emotional and seem like they’re upset,” Viggiano said. “But, [in their culture], if you don’t show emotion, it means you don’t care.”

HealthEast requires all staff members, from surgeons to billing clerks, to receive ongoing cultural sensitivity training, including classes, e-learning courses and lunch-and-learns.

Viggiano and Elizabeth Anderson, the newly hired system director for cross-cultural services at HealthEast, said they have been working to foster community partnerships through health fairs and building relationships with leaders from various communities.

As the official health care adviser to the Hmong community, Viggiano meets with Hmong leaders at least once a year to discuss ways to improve services to the Hmong community.

Recently, a Hmong leader told Viggiano not enough information was available in the community regarding the H1N1 flu. Viggiano contacted Emergency and Community Health Outreach, the state department responsible for communicating in emergency situations, and worked with them to get information to the Hmong community in their language.

Celebrating diversity

Benedictine Health System, another Twin Cities health care provider, also is making strides to be culturally responsive to both patients and staff members.

Benedictine Health Center of Minneap­olis, a Catholic-sponsored long-term care facility under Benedictine Health System, received a grant last year from the Min­nesota Department of Human Services to conduct a series of cultural diversity celebrations.

One of the celebrations, which focused on Native American culture, included storytelling, singing and dancing.

“It was time for lunch and the residents had to tear themselves away,” said Kath­ryn Grafsgaard, foundation director. “One resident said she is interested in reading more about the American Indian peoples, and for someone who lives in an institutionalized setting who doesn’t have a lot of community involvement, this is phenomenal to me that they would say, ‘I want to learn more.’”

Other celebrations focused on Latino, African and African-American cultures, Grafsgaard said.

“Our residents come from many backgrounds, and we want to provide them with tons of great experiences here where they can remember their cultural background, learn about a new cultural background, and be honored in their own traditions,” she said.

The celebrations fit with Benedictine Health Center’s mission “to advocate policies for the poor and powerless, eliminate prejudice and strive to develop a global vision personally and organizationally,” according to Grafsgaard.

“Even though our grant funding ended, I do know that we will continue the projects way into the future because they have brought such meaning and so much richness to people,” she added.



Thai military accused of human rights abuses

The World Today - Wednesday, 17 June , 2009 12:46:00
Reporter: Karen Percy
PETER CAVE: To Thailand now where the country's military and security forces are again being accused of riding roughshod over human rights.

Just over a week ago they were being blamed for a mass shooting in a mosque in the country's south.

Five months ago they were being accused of sending boatloads of Burmese Rohingyas out to sea without engines and water.

Now the respected NGO Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has pulled out of a refugee camp on the border with Laos because of what they see as the heavy hand of the Thai military.

South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports.

KAREN PERCY: Huai Nam Khao camp sits in Phetchabun province near Thailand's northern border.

It's home to thousands of Hmong people, an ethnic group from nearby Laos who assisted the United States in its war against Vietnam four decades ago.

Many of the people who live in the camp weren't even alive then but their government just over the border hasn't forgotten that role.

ANGELA MAKATA: MSF could not, you know, accept the conditions that it was living. You know, the pressure that the military gave to MSF, on our staff, the pressure that it gave to the community and the pressure that it gave to MSF itself.

KAREN PERCY: Angela Makata has been at the camp since March of last year. Now she's had to leave as part of a withdrawal by her organisation, Medecins Sans Frontiers, which packed up in disgust after the Thai army tightened its hold on the camp by restricting the movement of the people and arresting some of them.

ANGELA MAKATA: We are an independent organisation and we wanted to work independently and let the people have access to health care according to our principle.

KAREN PERCY: MSF had been operating at Huai Nam Khao for more than four years, dealing with 8,000 or so Hmong people.

Last week it handed operations over to a Thai aid group, concerned that the Thai army has been forcibly repatriating the Hmong.

Angela Makata understands that the military saw MSF's very presence as a barrier.

ANGELA MAKATA: The Thai authorities regarded the Hmong to be illegal immigrants and, you know, they regarded MSF as supporting illegal immigrants and because of our presence they felt that is why the Hmong are not volunteering to go back to Laos.

(Sound of video from Medecins Sans Frontiers website)

KAREN PERCY: On the Medecins Sans Frontiers website, Angela Makata is seen on a video escorting a visitor around.

She is clearly touched by the people she has treated, disturbed too by the experience they've recounted to her.

ANGELA MAKATA: There's a blind man inside the camp. He's young and he explains, the wife explains that his blindness was due to a chemical somewhere in the jungle, and there are all women who present with gunshot wounds. They show you in their stomach, back or legs and everywhere in the body. So we have had testimonies of people that are afraid to go back to Laos because they will be persecuted.

KAREN PERCY: Angela Makata is a midwife and was a key provider of maternity services, antenatal care and family planning for the camp residents. But she also had to treat other conditions.

ANGELA MAKATA: These people who they, you know, show scars of bullet wounds and the scars of machetes. They show that if they go back to Laos, they will get the same problem. They will be persecuted.

KAREN PERCY: And the scars aren't just physical, with reports of a high prevalence of psychological conditions in the camp, too.

ANGELA MAKATA: The military was continuously announcing that you are going to go back to Laos, you are illegal immigrants. This brought about anxiety, stress and fear amongst the population. And also in the, you know, the other strategy the military are using, they are counting down days for the Hmong and this really gives them stress because they can see that the days are numbered, the days are getting less and less.

KAREN PERCY: The Thai Government has accused MSF of politicising its humanitarian role.

It denies that anyone has been sent back against their will and says the additional security measures inside the camp are designed to ensure order.

But Thailand insists that the Hmong are illegal immigrants, despite the fact that the people in the camps have never been independently assessed.

This is Karen Percy in Bangkok reporting for The World Today.



Plan Commission to consider allowing funeral services at Hmong Community Center

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Oshkosh Plan Commission this afternoon will consider allowing Hmong funeral services at a new community center slated to open this fall at 910 W. Murdock Ave.

Currently, there is only one funeral home in Oshkosh, Konrad-Behlman Funeral, that can accommodate a traditional Hmong funeral service, which can last three days and can extend overnight in some cases, said Chiaxah Vang, president of the community center. With an ever-growing Hmong population in the area, the added space at the new Hmong Community Center, which will be housed in a vacant building, will provide room for such a service.

“This is meant to keep our tradition alive. Without this building it’s hard to keep with our ritual,” Vang said. “Konrad Funeral Home (is what) we have been using for the past 20 years. We think it’s time to be on our own feet.”

Over the past 20 years, Vang said the area Hmong population has grown from 400 people to 2,500.

The memorial funeral service will be one aspect of the community center, which will also have a retail store that sells Asian grocery items, an office and a kitchen. The building could also be rented for events throughout the year.

The plan commission will consider granting the Hmong Community Center a conditional use permit to conduct funeral services at a 4 p.m. meeting.

Check Wednesday’s Northwestern for an updated story.

Amie Jo Schaenzer: (920) 426-6668 or



Hmong Chaofa Indigenous Territories Call for the Governments of Vietnam and the Lao PDR to Demilitarize

From the Hmong Chaofa Indigenous Territories Xaysombun Special Zone

For Immediate Release

NEW YORK/EWORLDWIRE/June 16, 2009 --- The following is issued as an open letter to the public by the Hmong Chaofa Federation State Congress of World Hmong People, from Xaysomboun Special Zone ('') (International Communication no. 614/99):

Where as, we, the Hmong ChaoFa Indigenous People and Leaders, live in the Xaysombun Special Zone Territories, appears to Congress of World Hmong People to support this calling to be known to the international community that both, the governments of Vietnam and Lao PDR continue committing war crimes against humanity and continuing violating the fundamental human rights and the international bill of rights.
Both governments are organizing a joint-cooperation of their conventional armies to secretly using all necessary means destroying and waging war crimes against innocent families and children. From March of 2009 to the present time, they again, continue to occupy and colonize our territories, destroying our crops, surrounding us, using assassination and starvation tactics, and chemical warfare.
Currently, the Lao PDR battalions 209, 596, 597, 598 - including battalion 16 volunteer - in cooperation with Vietnam battalions 409, 117 and 462, are colonizing, occupying, and surrounding the Special Zone.

Their goal is to wipe us out by the end of 2009.

They also have continued to use conspiracy tactics, pressuring the Thai government to repatriate our Hmong Asylums in Huay Nam Khao, Thailand, to the Lao PDR's aggressive control.

The government of Vietnam currently sits in the U.N. Security Council; it fails to promote peace. Instead, it exercises influence in the framework of assisting and committing war crimes, along with the Lao PDR racist regime against the Hmong people.

The Vietnamese government should be removed from the Security Council immediately.

Since the Lao PDR came into power in 1975, it has systematically committed mass atrocities - war crimes and genocides, using Viet-mercenaries against our Hmong ChaoFa Indigenous communities in the Xaysombun Special Zone, central Laos. For more than 30 years, this racist regime aggression is centered around both genocide and attrition.

Proof of violations and ongoing atrocities, among many more current documents:

1. Report of Amnesty International: Laos Atrocities Against Children Are War Crimes (Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2004)

2. Seized Vietnamese Soldiers Passports attack Hmong in Xaysomboun areas (Dec. 1, 2005)

3. New York Time reports in 2007 about Hmong in the Mountain of Jungles

4. Reports by David M. Kinchen of Tong Hua: Her half of Tong's face is missing from bullet wound; Blia Soua: Her stand over the grave of a son killed in the remote jungles

5. Report of Fact Finding on Starvation (May 19, 2006)

6. Reports of Anthony LoBaido, World Net Daily, and Christian Hmong Fight for Freedom in Stalinist Laos (2008)

7. Hmong People Persecutions, Brussels (Sept. 6, 2007)

8. American journalist goes inside Laos to investigate massacre (Sept. 15, 2006)

9. Report from Fact Finding, The Killing Season Begins (Aug. 29, 2006)

10. Report from Fact Finding, Lao PDR Killings against unarmed innocent Hmong continues (May 6, 2006)

11. U.S. Probes Claims Hmong Facing Persecution in Laos (Feb. 5, 2008)

12. Military Unit RGM E. 584, Ministry of Defenses, Lao people Democratic Republic, Original Letter and English Translation (Nov. 29, 2007)

13. Plan to eliminate refugees before accepting them: Thailand back to Laos, Original Letter and English translation (Dec. 26, 1990)

14. Establish Economy in Foreign Country 1975-1980 Planning, original Letter and English translation

15. Presents of Lao Troops and Viet-Mercenaries Photos seized at the Zone (Jan. 9, 2007)

This racist regime has long caused families and children to suffer social, cultural and economic crisis. The people need peace, security, stability and economic empowerments.

The Congress of World Hmong People and the Hmong ChaoFa Indigenous Leaders, call upon both governments,

Vietnam and Laos PDR, to demilitarize from the Xaysombun Special Zone within 30 days to ensure a humane and secure transition for the people.

Both governments must comply with all forms of the Geneva Conventions, its Protocols, and the International Bill of Rights.

To this TRUTH, we signed and witnessed under oath to the Lord!

Congress of World Hmong People
James Her, President
Hmong ChaoFa Indigenous,
Gymbay Moua, International Spokesperson



Budget Crisis Closes Summer School Programs

SACRAMENTO, CA - In the last two weeks several Sacramento Valley school districts have reduced summer school classes or eliminated them entirely.

School officials said they waited until what seemed like the last minute because they hoped to find out how much money they were going to get from the state.

With no budget deal in sight Sacramento City Unified School District officials said the budget deficit forced them to severely curtail their summer school program. Spokesperson Maria Lopez said, "Since 2002-2003, we've cut more than $110 million. This year alone we cut $40 million."

The summer school reduction will save another $2 million. Lopez said, "What is gone is the regular education program for our elementary and middle students. About 550 students will be affected."

The district will have classes for high school students who need credits or need to pass the exit exam for graduation. A special summer school for Hmong and Laotian students who are learning English will still be available. The culturally based classed will cost the district $53,500.

Last week Vacaville schools officials decided they would only offer summer school classes to students who flunked math and English in the eighth and 12th grades.

Summer school has been completely eliminated in the Marysville, Eureka Union and Roseville City school districts. All cite a lack of money as the reason.

Some parents wondered if their child can attend classes in Sacramento. "We will put other students on our waiting list. We have to take care of our students first," Lopez said.

She added before bringing in extra students, the district has to make sure it could afford teachers and other staff members that would be needed for additional classes.

School officials told News10 that concerned parents in districts where summer school has been cut, should enroll thier children in another district and do it soon.



US moves to counter China in Southeast Asia

Monday, June 15, 2009

Updated June 15, 2009 13:18:04

The United States has removed Laos and Cambodia from a trade black list, opening the way for American companies to do business with both countries.

US President Barak Obama said on Friday, that both nations were no longer Marxist-Leninist countries. The White House says the policy change is in response to the commitment of both countries to open up their markets.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Arthur Waldron is vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Centre in Washington

WALDRON: Well, in market terms, we have about 2.5 Billion dollars of trade with Laos and about 60 million dollars of trade with Cambodia. You compare that Thailand at 30 Billion or Vietnam at 15 Biillion. I see this as a kind of tidying up operation and also an attempt to get the United States more involved in a part of the world where we should be more involved.

LAM: So it is in a way the White House's recognition of the importance of Cambodia and Laos in the region in strategic terms?

WALDRON: Well, and I would say more generally of South East Asia.

LAM: Yes, well what do you make of the view that China's interest in the region might be driving the policy change?

WALDRON: Well certainly China is very, very active seeking, they're very deeply involved, particularly in Burma, Myanmar, and seeking naval facilities there and so forth and this is a major concern. But I think there is also just a basic inconsistency in American policy. I mean we re-established relations with Vietnam in 1996, after fighting a war with them and losing, yet we have no ambassador in Burma at the moment. This is simply an inconsistent picture and this is too important a part of the world to treat in that way. But I do think that what you say about the unexpectedly large Chinese presence has got something to do with it. These countries after all deserve an alternative to dealing with China.

LAM: Well, you mention the fact that the US has no diplomats in or ambassador in Burma, but I mean are you suggesting then that America recognises the military regime in Burma, despite the way they are treating their own people?

WALDRON: Well, the way I look at it is this. There are a number of unsavoury regimes that we recognise all over the world. The largest of these by far, is China. China certainly treats the Tibetans badly, it treats the Uighers badly, it treats the Chinese badly, yet we have a robust relationship with China and I think on balance it's a good thing. And I think that is also the approach we should also take for smaller countries. In all the cases we're talking about, we're talking about unattractive and repressive regime.

LAM: Mmm. Well, what about, returning to Cambodia and Laos, what about the issues of corruption and human rights? How will this decision sit with Congress, given that both countries are a little bit backward on those issues?

WALDRON: Well, I think we have strong constituencies in Congress, particularly in connection with Hmong people who fought so valiantly in attempting to stop Communism in South East Asia and are now being persecuted from all we can tell, being expelled from Thailand and so forth and so on. They will speak up, the congressmen will speak up. But I don't see how the United States not being there and not having our people on the spot, so that their people can talk to them and how not having American business there as an alternative to say doing business with China. I don't see how that improves things in any way. Certainly this long history of sanctions against Burma or for that matter a long history of sanctions against Cuba has proven to be a failure.

LAM: But do you think this new commercial engagement with Cambodia and Laos, that in a way it might help if the US uses diplomatic persuasion behind the scenes, certainly, for instance, on Vientiane, where the hmong issue is concerned?

WALDRON: Well, I certainly am strongly in favour of that. I'm a strong believer that we should make our positions clear. We don't need to hector these regimes, but our ambassadors should have good access and they should be perfectly unambiguous about this. But we also have to be sure that we are consistent and that we treat these things consistently with respect from one country, another country and a third country so that China does not get a free ride, while Burma is being hammered. But yes, you're quite right, diplomacy should definitely be a tool here.



Hmong family longs for reunion

Chungsou Her of Wausau looks through photos of his cousin Cheng Leng Her and his family. Chungsou Her has been working to bring the young family to America. (Keith Uhlig/Wausau Daily Herald)

Cheng Leng Her, from left, daughter Foua Seng Her, wife, Yee Xiong Her, and younger daughter, Kang Chang Her, are now living in a refugee camp in northern Thailand. (Contributed photo)

While Cheng Leng Her and his family languish in a refugee camp in northern Thailand, their relatives in Wausau hold out hope that they soon will be able to join them here.

Cheng Leng Her, his wife and two daughters are among the "leftover" Hmong refugees in Thailand.

They are people without a country.

Cheng Leng Her was left behind as his father and mother, Wang Yee Her and Mee Yang, and his siblings immigrated to the United States in 2004 from Wat Tham Krabok. He and his family now are part of a group of about 5,000 Hmong living at Huai Nam Khao camp in Thailand's Phetchabun province.

The U.S. government in 2004 opened the door only to Tham Krabok refugees who had registered with the Thai government. When the registration was taking place, Cheng Leng Her was six hours away, planting crops, and for all practical purposes was incapable of signing up.

Since then, he and his family have lived illegally in Thailand, surviving with the help of money sent to him from relatives in the United States. His cousin, Chungsou Her of Wausau, is one of those relatives. Chungsou Her sponsored Wang Yee Her and Mee Yang in their move to Wausau.

Cheng Leng Her is only in his 30s, but he and his young family are being swept along in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Cheng Leng Her's father fought against communism in The Secret War as part of a Hmong army led by Gen. Vang Pao and backed by the United States. When the U.S. government pulled its troops out of Vietnam, it also pulled support of the Hmong army, and Hmong resistance against Laotian communists crumbled. Thousands, including Wang Yee Her and his family, fled to Thailand.

They first lived in United Nations refugee camps. When those closed, many held out hope that the political situation in Laos would change and they could return to their homelands. The Buddhist temple Tham Krabok gave those holdouts a haven. When Tham Krabok was closed, the current group of refugees was set up in Phetchabun.

Brutal conditions

Now Chungsou Her believes there might be a chance for Cheng Leng Her to come to the United States.

Cheng Leng Her, who has a cell phone, recently called Chungsou Her and said Thai authorities are asking for papers and registering the people in the camp.

"He gave me a Thai official's number," Chungsou Her said. "He told me that, 'you as a sponsor should give him a call.'"

That official told Chungsou Her that the Thai government is sorting through the Nam Khao refugees. "He told me to put all documents together, because they (Thai officials) will propose to the United Nations to get people out of there," Chungsou Her said.

If so, that's a departure from how the Thai government has handled this refugee situation so far, said Phillip Smith, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis, a Washington think tank that focuses on human rights issues in Southeast Asia.

The Thai government's policy was to send the Hmong refugees back to Laos, a part of an overall political strategy to strengthen ties with Laos, Smith said. The Thai government itself, however, has seen incredible political instability, and new leaders might be softening that policy.

Conditions in the camp have been brutal. Smith said the Thai military, which is overseeing Huai Nam Khao, has withheld food and water in an attempt to force the Hmong refugees to sign documents that would allow repatriation to Laos.

Those and other heavy-handed tactics have led Doctors Without Borders, a nongovernmental agency providing food, water and medical care to the refugees, to pull out of the camp.

"We can no longer work in a camp where the military uses arbitrary imprisonment of influential leaders to pressure refugees into a 'voluntary' return to Laos, and forces our patients to pass through military checkpoints to access our medical clinic," said Gilles Isard, head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Thailand.

Reunion hope

Chungsou Her said he has contacted the office of U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wausau, to enlist his help, but staffers there did not have encouraging news.

"They checked with the State Department," Chungsou Her said, "and told me that as far as Thailand, there are no programs (to bring the Hmong to the United States.)"

Chungsou Her's hope is based more on faith than anything else. Chungsou Her, who owns Wausau's Phou Bia Oriental Market with his wife, Mai T. Her, points to a cassette tape that sits on his

shelves. Its songs were recorded by Cheng Leng Her before Tham Krabok closed.

One of the songs he sang on the tape foretold that Cheng Leng Her would "fall behind" and be separated from family, Chungsou Her said. But the song's lyrics also predict that the family will come together.

"I think, in the end, we're going to meet again," Chungsou Her said.