US Hmong salute French colonel after suicide

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hmong exiles in the United States on Tuesday saluted a retired French colonel as a hero after he killed himself in a protest over treatment of the Southeast Asian ethnic group.

Robert Jambon, 86, shot himself on the steps of the Monument Indochine in the Breton town of Dinan, leaving behind a letter in which he explained how he fought along the Hmong during France's colonial rule of Indochina.

A suicide letter, published by the newspaper Ouest France, expressed shame at the "cowardly indifference of our officials in the face of the terrible misfortune that is hitting our friends in Laos."

"This is not a suicide but an act of war aimed at rescuing our brothers-in-arms facing death," wrote Jambon, a commander in the French Legion of Honor.

Wangyee Vang, national president of the Lao Veterans of America Institute, called Jambon "a hero."

"The Lao and Hmong veterans salute the supreme sacrifice of Colonel Robert Jambon," Wangyee Vang said in a statement.

Jambon offered his life "to help bring international attention to the ongoing military attacks and human rights violations in Laos and Vietnam directed against the freedom-loving people, including the Hmong," he said.

Bounthanh Rathigna, president of another group, United League for Democracy in Laos, said that Laotians and Hmong "will never forget Colonel Robert Jambon."

The Hmong live mainly in mountainous areas in China, Vietnam and Laos. Many Hmong joined French forces during the war in Indochina and later fought alongside US forces in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s.

The Hmong say that they have faced widespread persecution since the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. Some 250,000 Hmong have taken refuge in the United States, with smaller numbers in France and Australia.

The latest annual US State Department human rights report said that Laotian authorities remain suspicious of the Hmong but that violence has abated.



Robert Jambon: A Bold Life & Death For Laos and Hmong

Wednesday, 14 December 2011, 1:20 pm
Press Release: Centre for Public Policy Analysis

December 13, 2011, Washington, D.C., Paris, France, Bangkok, Thailand and Vientiane, Laos

The Center for Public Policy Analysis, and a coalition of Lao and Hmong non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have issued a statement today honoring the life and legacy of retired French Colonel Robert Jambon and his valiant fight for human rights and freedom for the Laotian, Hmong and Vietnamese people. The NGOs also expressed their condolences to the Jambon family. According to his final statements as reported recently by an investigation concluded by French police, Colonel Jambon sacrificed himself in Dinan, France, as a veteran of the Indochina war, where he took his own life in seeking to bring international attention to the ongoing persecution and killing of the Lao Hmong people in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

“The Lao and Hmong veterans salute the supreme sacrifice of Colonel Robert Jambon in seeking to offer up his life to help bring international attention to the ongoing military attacks, and human rights violations in Laos and Vietnam, directed against freedom-loving people, including the Hmong,” said Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI), the largest Laotian and Hmong non-profit veterans organization in the United States ,with chapters and members in France and internationally.

“Colonel Jambon wanted to help to save our Lao and Hmong people and the refugees, and ordinary people, who are being persecuted now in Laos by the military and communist regime,” Colonel Wangyee Vang stated.

“Colonel Jambon is a hero to our Laotian and Hmong people; He recently killed himself in France as an dramatic and important international statement of protest to try to help our people and to try to save those in the jungles and refugee camps in Laos and Thailand who have fled terrible religious and political persecution, genocide and bloody military attacks,” Wangyee Vang said.

“The Laotian and Hmong people will never forget Colonel Robert Jambon for his sacrifices in defense of the Royal Kingdom of Laos during the Indochina war and his efforts to bring awareness about the plight of Laotians and Hmong people who are the victims of human rights violations,” said Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc. (ULDL).

“Colonel Robert Jambon’s life, and recent suicide in France, is an important and symbolic act of selfless love, and of calculated moral war, against systemic injustice and oppression that continues to be directed against thousands of innocent people in Laos, including the Hmong minority,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C.

“Robert Jambon’s final tragic act of love, and war, for the forgotten nation of Laos, and the persecuted Lao Hmong minority people there, has been heard in Washington, D.C. and has resonated with many in the Laotian community around the world,” Smith observed.

The CPPA continues to document human rights violations in Laos and Southeast Asia regard the Hmong and other peoples. Thousands of Hmong from Vietnam were arrested, or killed, earlier this year by the Vietnam Peoples' Army (VPA) in Dien Bien province after staging peaceful gatherings and protests. Hmong Christians in Laos have suffered increased persecution, atrocities and attacks by the Lao military and VPA forces.

“Despite the indifference of the international community, the war in Laos is, unfortunately, not over for the Lao Hmong people,” Smith continued. “The Lao People’s Army, and the secret police of the Stalinist regime in Laos, backed by military leaders in Hanoi, continue to kill and persecute the Laotian and Hmong people in the most brutal and egregious manner resulting in many refugees fleeing to neighboring Thailand and the ongoing deaths and casualties of thousands of innocent civilians as well as political and religious dissidents.”

“Colonel Jambon’s bold death, like the self-immolation of Tibetan and Vietnamese monks, is a fiery monument to heroism and self-sacrifice on behalf of the Hmong people of Laos and Vietnam whom he loved and knew, and served with in combat on behalf of France during the first Indochina war,” Smith commented.

“The violent forced repatriation of tens of thousands of Lao Hmong refugees from Ban Huay Nam Khao in Thailand, back to the communist regime in Laos, where they fled mass starvation and genocide in recent years, remains as a stain upon the international community as well as the hearts and minds of those concerned about human rights in Southeast Asia,” Smith stated.

“Colonel Robert Jambon rightly understood the horrific crimes, and incomprehensible abuses, that are still being violently inflicted upon thousands of innocent Hmong and Laotian civilians and religious and political dissident groups in Laos,” Smith continued.

“Colonel Jambon’s passionate and Gauguin-like suicide at the Indochina monument in Dinan, France, is a powerful symbol of devotion and understanding regarding the suffering plight of the Lao and Hmong people,” Smith concluded. “Robert Jambon’s courage in speaking truth to power to a world that has largely forgotten thousands of Lao Hmong people who have been abandoned by France and the United States in the mountains and jungles of Laos, and the refugee camps in Thailand, speaks volumes; The themes of love, war, betrayal, and the need to address the ongoing social injustice in Laos and Vietnam, resonate in the final gunshot that ended Robert Jambon’s amazing and important life”

Joining the CPPA, LVAI and ULDL in issuing a statement on behalf of Colonel Robert Jambon’s life and legacy include the United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy (ULHRD), Laos Institute for Democracy, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., Lao Students for Democracy, Hmong Students Association and others.

Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders (MSF - Medecins Sans Frontieres), the CPPA and independent NGO and journalists have reported about the forced repatriation, persectution and human rights violations directed against the Lao Hmong people in Thailand and Laos.



Protesters demand answers from Merced police in death of 21-year-old man

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Was there a gun? Was it pointed at police officers? And did the officers announce themselves before discharging about half a dozen rounds into a crowd of people, killing one and wounding two others?

An official statement from the Merced Police Department said yes.

Eyewitnesses disagreed.

Vang Thao, shown here in traditional Hmong attire, was fatally shot by Merced police during an incident at a Buckingham Court party. Chief Norm Andrade said Thao was caught in the officers' line of fire after another man, Kong Xiong, pointed a gun at police. SUBMITTED PHOTO.

Tuesday afternoon in front of Merced police headquarters, about 100 people, including friends and family of Vang Thao, 21, held signs all bearing the same message:

"We Want Answers." They chanted the same thing.

Some drivers honked in support. A candlelight vigil was held Tuesday evening at the location where Thao was killed.

Thao, a Merced College student, was shot and killed at a Buckingham Court residence on Saturday. His friends and family members say officers shot Thao without any provocation. Police maintain another man, a gang member named Kong Xiong, was pointing a weapon at the responding officers — and Thao was caught in the officers' line of fire.

Thao was struck by one bullet and pronounced dead at the scene.

Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade extended his sympathies to Thao's family and friends Tuesday in a statement. "He was a young man who had just gone out Saturday night to a party," Andrade said.

Andrade also placed the blame solely on Xiong, the gunman in the case. "Kong Xiong is responsible for the death of Mr. Thao," Andrade said in the statement. "If Xiong had not pointed a weapon at our officers, they would not have opened fire and Mr. Thao would not be dead. Tragically, Mr. Thao was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Andrade said the department's investigation is going slowly, due to the sheer number of witnesses. Police have interviewed about 20 people, and there were between 30 to 40 people at the Buckingham Court residence, where a party was happening. He added that police are keeping some information in the case under wraps, because it "could inadvertently influence the statements made by other witnesses."

According to the department's official statement, police dispatchers received a call of a man brandishing a gun at a party Saturday night in the 1500 block of Buckingham Court in North Merced. Responding to the call, officers on the scene "heard the sound of a weapon being prepared to fire." Officers then saw a man, later identified as Xiong, 18, holding a gun. "Officers pointed their weapons at the man and told him to put the gun down. Instead of putting the gun down the man turned towards officers and pointed his gun at the officers. The two officers fired their weapons."

Tuesday, eyewitnesses said Xiong didn't have a gun and police officers didn't announce themselves before shooting through a fence into a private residence where five or six people were drinking beer and socializing.

Fred Camacho, 21, lives at the house where the incident took place. He said he was less than 10 feet from Xiong when bullets ripped through the fence behind which he, Xiong and other friends were standing. "We didn't hear no cops say nothing about getting down, drop a gun, nothing like that," he said. “All we heard was gunshots fired. And after that, everybody just started running in the house because we didn’t know what was going on. The guy that died, his cousin she was telling everybody, 'call 911.'"

Both Camacho and his sister Nancy, who was also present during the incident, said they had no idea the police were the ones shooting. They also both said Xiong didn't have a gun. "First I hear that they said they got called out here because someone brandishing a gun or something, which wasn't true," she said. "I know no one was going to have a gun here. Everyone knows that there's kids here in the house. There was no gun and they didn’t find a gun as far as I know. If there really was a gun, where is it?"

Next-door neighbor Jacob Khaoone, 18, said he was cleaning up his kitchen when the shots were fired. He said he didn't hear the police officers announce themselves. But after the shots were fired, he said he heard one of the officers say, "I can't believe I just shot someone right now."

"There wasn't no arguing or nothing," Khaoone said. "The cops, they're lying about the argument. They didn't even say Merced PD or nothing. My window right here it was open. If they would have said 'Merced PD,' everyone there, they would have just stopped what they were doing. But the cops didn’t do that. And plus they didn’t have their spotlight on."

Thao's sister, Mai Thao, drove to Merced from Fremont for the protest and said the family was upset that they learned from news reports about her brother’s death. They want to know why police hadn't contacted them. "That's devastating, considering that we’ve been looking for him, calling hospitals, calling the jailhouse, calling anywhere he might be. So right now our question is, what happened? We don’t know."

The alleged gunman, Kong Xiong, 18, was shot in the leg. He was taken to a hospital in Modesto and is being held by law enforcement. An unidentified 17-year-old was also struck in the leg. He was taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced.

Xiong was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, participation in a criminal street gang, felon in possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition by a person prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Police said they have the gun Xiong was holding. Lt. Bimley West said the matter is being looked at by Internal Affairs. He said the department doesn’t notify the families in case of a death, which is up to the coroner or the sheriffs department.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or



MN VOICES | Sai Vang combines art and activism at Center for Hmong Arts and Talent

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 05, 2011
Sai Vang began to look at activism differently when she was a high school student at South High school in Minneapolis. “It was around the time that a Hmong girl in Wisconsin was at her prom," she recalls. "She had given birth to a stillborn and she threw it in the trash. KQRS made racist and prejudiced comments about her situation and the [Hmong] community in general."

Some people organizing around the issue came and spoke at an assembly at South. “I was just kind of like, ‘Whatever, this is just another presentation,’" says Vang. "During the Q&A section, some of the white male students spoke up and made the same comments that the KQRS DJ had made and that got me really angry. At the end of the presentation, they asked us if we wanted to be a part of the movement, take action, and protest against this radio station, and I went along. That was the first time that I realized that there are injustices in our world and that I could do something.”

Vang went on to St. Catherine University in St. Paul, where she got her degree in studio arts with a concentration in photography. “St. Kate’s is a very social justice-focused school," said Vang, "so it really helped me channel all that anger, all that fear, and my identity issues that I was going through and really put them into context for me. Those were really informative years for me. I really got to study and learn about things that I really cared about or that I had passion for.”

Right out of college, Vang was hired by the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network to work with a photographer. Their project involved driving through Minnesota with a truck full of photos of immigrants and the stories that they’d shared. This, she believes, is what inspired her passions for art, working with others, and exploring her culture. Vang says that it was “eye-opening to really see how we can really use art outside of the context of a gallery to really shape the way our community understands issues.”

Sai Vang describes herself as a Hmong American artist, community organizer and now, the executive director of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT).

CHAT‘s mission states that the organization “exists to nurture, explore and illuminate the Hmong American experience through artistic expressions.” The organization, located in St. Paul, adopted its mission in 2008 and continues to “address social injustices through Hmong American artists and youth that express their inner truths through contemporary arts by 1) raising awareness, 2) initiating action, and 3) building community.”

As the executive diretor, explains Vang, “My main task is the day-to-day running of the organization. It’s also setting the ground for the vision of the organization and making sure that we lift up the voices of our community, my Hmong community, by bringing our voices and artistic expression to the forefront of the Minnesota art scene and creating awareness about what other issues are going on in our community. I work so that our voices are reflected in the policies that are made in the state of Minnesota and for us to really have an influence and build our culture and heritage and embrace our culture as well.

“Art is something I’m very passionate about. Young people are something I’m very passionate about, too. I did a lot of youth development work before I came to CHAT. It’s about understanding the role models that you’ve had in your life: seeing how important it is to have individuals who support you, who understand you, encourage you and challenge you to do things outside of your comfort zone. So I continue to do that.”

Vang wasn’t sure when she realized what she wanted to do with her life. “I think it just happened,” she said. “I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t take that job right out of college and went around Minnesota with that mobile gallery. At the time, I definitely knew that I didn’t want to do commercial photography and that I wanted t focus on fine arts and continue to document what I thought was important involving my life and my identity.

“I think that things happen for a reason, so I think it was just what my destiny was calling for. I don’t know if that was the right move, but I know that all of the things that happened, happened for a reason and I couldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t experience those things.”

Vang said she is still trying to achieve balance in her life. “I’m still very young and I’ve got a lot to learn, but I also understand how important it is to find a balance in life. Part of that is having a support network that supports you and I’m very fortunate that I have a great family that supports me and also friends, allies and mentors that are also there for me. They keep me sane. But finding a balance is learning about your own individual boundaries as well. I’ve come to learn about where I need to step back for my own sanity and my own health. It’s a continuous journey – a continuous process, and hopefully I’ll find it one day.”

Vang’s words of wisdom: “Do what you love. Everything else will fall into place.”



Laos Human Rights Advocate Dies

Monday, November 28, 2011

Laos Human Rights Advocate Dies

Washington, D.C. , and Vientiane, Laos, November 25, 2011, For Immediate Release
Contact: Jade Her or Philip Smith
Center for Public Policy Analysis
Tele. (202) 543-1444

Khampet Moukdarath, a human rights advocate for the people of Laos, and a survivor of the Lao gulag and reeducation system, died on November 6, 2011, in the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area. He was honored at recent events in Washington, D.C., by the Laotian-American community, the United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc. (ULDL), United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy (ULHRD), Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and others.

“Because of his devotion to his Buddhist faith and his love of the nation of Laos, Colonel Khampet Moukdarath suffered from torture and abuse in reeducation camps in Laos for over 13 long years following the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) invasion of the Royal Kingdom of Laos and the Pathet Lao communist guerilla takeover,” said Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc.

“We remember the Lao veterans and Lao people who suffered unbelievable torture and pain for their beloved nation and people following the brutal communist military takeover by Vietnam, and for those Laotian people who were persecuted, tortured and killed in the reeducation camps,” said Colonel Khamthene Chinvayong, of the Lao Veterans Association.

“We will never forget Khampet Moukdarath’s deep and compassionate love for the suffering Laotian people, and his devotion to their future as well as the historical legacy of the sovereign nation of Laos, the Royal Kingdom of Laos,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C. “On many occasions Khampet Moukdarath courageously testified at the U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos and at other policy events in Washington, D.C., about the plight of Laos and the Laotian people and about human rights violations in Southeast Asia.”

“Colonel Khampet Moukdarath’s life, and unique kindness, in the face of overwhelming difficulty, and suffering, has been a great inspiration to the freedom-loving people of Laos and to so many in Washington, D.C., and internationally,” Smith continued.

Smith concluded: “We are grateful for Khampet Moukdarath’s important life and his compassionate efforts over the years; we are especially mindful of the incomprehensible and prolonged suffering he endured for 13 years as a reeducation camp victim and survivor—as well as his vision and hope for a brighter future for the freedom-loving Laotian and Hmong people.”

“We remember all those who suffered and died for their country, as veterans of the conflict in Laos, in defense of the Royal Kingdom of Laos,” said Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of American Institute.

Khampet Moukdarath rose to the rank of Colonel in the Royal Lao Army during the Vietnam War.

Following Moukdarath’s release from reeducation camps in Sam Neua and Xieng Khouang provinces in Laos, he fled Laos as a political refugee and lived in Thailand before being granted asylum in the United States. He frequently participated in pro-democracy and human rights events on Capitol Hill and in front of the Lao Embassy in Washington, D.C. On numerous occasions, from 1998-2010, Moukdarath served as a keynote speaker at the U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos held in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and Library of Congress.

Colonel Moukdarath was affectionate and fond of the Laotian people, as well as the minority peoples of Laos, including the minority Hmong ethnic group, whom he often worked with on key human rights issues. He advocated for the release of the Lao Students Movement for Democracy demonstrators, who were arrested in October of 1999 in Vientiane, Laos, and who continue to be subjected to harsh imprisonment in Laos.

In 2009, Moukdarath spoke out at international policy events held on Capitol Hill, and at the National Press club in Washington, D.C., in support of Kay Danes and other political prisoners, who were imprisoned in Laos’ notorious Phonthong and Sam Khe prisons. Three Lao Hmong-American citizens from St Paul, Minnesota, including Mr. Hakit Yang, who were also arrested and imprisoned in recent years in Laos, were also the subject of Moukdarath’s concerns and testimony at the U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos held at that time. Moukdarath boldly called for their immediate release by the Lao government.

Colonel Moukdarath was honored by the CPPA and many others at funeral ceremonies held in Alexandria, Virginia, that were attended by hundreds from the Laotian community across the United States on November 14-15.

Organizations honoring the life and legacy of Colonel Khampet Moukdarath include the ULDL, CPPA, United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy, Inc. (ULHRD), Lao Veterans Association, Lao Veterans of America, Inc., Lao Veterans of America Institute, Laos Institute for Democracy, Laos Students Association, Hmong Advancement, Inc., Hmong Advance, Inc and others.



Wahroonga woman's 'school of change' for Hmong refugees

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jen Spoor at home in Wahroonga. Picture: JOE MURPHY

MOST people would find it hard to sleep at night after witnessing extreme hardship and poverty but unlike most people, Wahroonga woman Jen Spoor actually did something about it.

In 2008 after seeing children from Laos locked up in Thai refugee camp being educated in a tiny classroom, she returned home and set about initiating change.

“When you looked over the fence and saw those little children with these big eyes, it was really quite horrific,” Ms Spoor said.

“When I came home I was devastated, an absolute mess. I thought about how we live in such a privileged place and how surely there was something I could do.”

Steps with Hope was born out of help from the West Epping Uniting Church.

After a few jazz, trivia and garden parties at her home, Ms Spoor had enough money for a high school to run alongside the infant school.

Unfortunately in 2009 the refugees were sent back to Laos but Ms Spoor did not give up.

She teamed up with the Sangtawan Children’s Home Foundation, to support a school for Cambodian children being run on the Thai border.

“The children go to school in the morning, then walk home across the border to work in the fields all afternoon,” she said.

“They are very poor but just the most joyful children you have ever seen.”

It has been transformed from three tiny rooms into a whole new building catering for 70 children with three teachers, a co-ordinator and maintenance worker.

Steps with Hope now want to add guttering, a fence and a playground as well as holding a Christmas party.

If you can help Steps with Hope visit or phone Jen Spoor on 0414 230 162.



Laos, Vietnam Human Rights Appeal Issued in Washington

2011-11-15 18:05:31 - "We have gathered here in Washington, D.C., to memorialize and remember all of the Laotian, Vietnamese, Hmong and Asian people who continue to suffer human rights violations, religious persecution, torture and harsh imprisonment, without due process, and the rule of law; We remember, and are here, to demonstrate against the oppressive corruption and ongoing attacks by the secret police and military forces of the Lao regime in Vientiane, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, against ordinary Lao and Hmong people who seek political, religious and economic freedom for Laos," stated Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc.

November 15, 2011, Washington, D.C., Vientiane, Laos and Bangkok, Thailand
For Immediate Release

The United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc., (ULDL) has released the text of a seven-point international appeal and statement following events it hosted last week in Washington, D.C., which included representatives of the Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong and Asian-American community The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and other non-governmental organizations (NGO) and policymakers were invited to speak and participate in policy events, Capitol Hill meetings and a human rights rally held in front of the Lao Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The following is the text of the statement issued by Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the ULDL:

Statement of Bounthanh Rathigna, President
United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc.
Washington, D.C.
November 5-8, 2011
Laos International Policy Conference &
Demonstration and Protest Rally In Front of the
Lao Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Honored Guests, American policymakers, Members of the U.S. Congress and staff, Fellow Laotian leaders, Lao and Hmong students, fellow NGO and non-profit organization leaders, representatives of the Free Vietnamese Community and other freedom loving people of Asia and America, Ladies and Gentleman, I am Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc. (ULDL) and I welcome you here today at our international policy conference and protest rally and demonstration in front of the Lao Embassy in Washington, D.C.

It is good to see so many friends and supporters from across the country and from Laos gathered here in Washington to discuss the problems of the one-party, corrupt authoritarian regimes in Laos and Vietnam that continue to persecute their own citizens. I deeply appreciate your efforts to discuss and to protest human rights violations in Laos and the dictatorship of the Hanoi-backed Stalinist regime in Laos that continues to imprison and persecute the freedom-loving Laotian people.

We have gathered here in Washington, D.C., to memorialize and remember all of the Laotian, Vietnamese, Hmong and Asian people who continue to suffer human rights violations, religious persecution, torture and harsh imprisonment, without due process, and the rule of law. We remember, and are here, to demonstrate against the oppressive corruption and ongoing attacks by the secret police and military forces of the Lao regime in Vientiane, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, against ordinary Lao and Hmong people who seek political, religious and economic freedom for Laos. We especially remember the Lao Student Movement for Democracy protesters of October 26, 1999, who peacefully demonstrated in Vientiane for democracy, human rights and political and economic reform but were arrested and continue to suffer in jail. After 12 years they are still suffering in prison in Laos for their beliefs and for their efforts to bring about reform and change in Laos.

We are here to bring attention to and remember the Laotian and Hmong hiding in the jungles and mountains of Laos who continue to suffer military attacks by Vietnam People’s Army Forces and the Lao Army because they wish to live in peace and freedom apart from the Communist regime in Laos’s persecution and religious freedom violations and human rights violations.

We, therefore, are calling for:

1.) An end to the dictatorships in Laos and Vietnam. In Laos, we are calling for the hosting of truly free and fair multi-party elections in Laos monitored by the international community and an end to one-party Communist rule in Laos by the Lao People’s Army, and its military junta, that controls the Politburo in Vientiane;

2.) The immediate withdrawal of all Hanoi-backed army units and secret police of the Vietnam People’s Army that remain on the territory of Laos in support of the Lao communist regime’s (the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party) efforts to oppress and persecute the Laotian and Hmong people and exploit the economic resources of Laos and destroy its environment; We want the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to immediately withdrawal alls its troops, soldiers and police from Laos—as well as its covert security advisors;

3.) An immediate end to illegal logging by Vietnam People’s Army owned companies in Xieng Khouang, Sam Neua, Khammoune, Luang Prabang and other provinces in Laos that is destroying the environment, killing minority peoples such as the Lao Hmong people, and exploiting the natural resources of Laos without just compensation to ordinary Laotians;

4.) Stop the persecution, imprisonment, torture and killing of religious believers in Laos, including dissident Buddhists, minority Catholics, Protestant Christians and independent Animist believers; We, the Laotian people, want true freedom of religion for all Laotians of all religious faiths;

5.) Allow international humanitarian access to, and release, all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and foreign prisoners, including the Lao Students for Democracy Movement leaders, Hakit Yang and other two other Lao-Hmong American citizens from St. Paul Minnesota;

6.)Allow international humanitarian access to, and release, the over 8,500 Lao Hmong refugees and asylum seekers who fled persecution in Laos and who were tragically and brutally forced from Huay Nam Khao, Thailand, back to the regime in Laos in 2009 and 2010;

7.) Release the Ban Vang Tao patriots, the Laotian citizens, who were forced back to Laos from Thailand after their courageous efforts to raise the Royal Flag of Laos, the true and traditional flag of Laos, in opposition to the arrest and imprisonment of the Lao Student leaders and in support of freedom for their beloved country of Laos.

At these events in Washington, D.C. and the demonstration and protest in front of the Lao Embassy, we are here to give voice to the millions of suffering people of Laos and Vietnam who continue to live under the brutal Stalinist regimes in Vientiane and Hanoi. We are here to call for freedom and human rights for Laos, Vietnam and all of the people of Asia.

Thank you.
(End Statement by Bounthanh Rathigna, President, the United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc.)

Invited participants and cosponsors included the ULDL, CPPA, United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy (ULHRD), Laos Institute for Democracy, Inc., Lao Students for Democracy, Lao Veterans of America, Inc., Free Vietnam Community, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., and other NGOs and Asian-American organizations.

Laotian-American, and Asian-American, delegations from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island and other states, also attended and participated.

Thank you.


CPPA -- Center for Public Policy Analysis

Contact: Jade Her or Philip Smith
Tele. (202) 543-1444

2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Suite 220
Washington, DC 20006 USA
York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island and other states, also attended and participated.

Thank you.


CPPA -- Center for Public Policy Analysis

Contact: Jade Her or Philip Smith
Tele. (202) 543-1444

2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Suite 220
Washington, DC 20006 USA


Kathy Walsh Nufer column: Hmong students learn about past through play

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"A long, long time ago and many thousands of miles away, there lived a beautiful group of beings who had originated from China.

"Beauty flourished within their culture and much hard work and dedication was put into the making of their traditional foods and clothing. Dance and ball toss were both well-known sources of entertainment.

"But, above all, these peaceful, strong-hearted people loved each other very much. These people were known as the Hmong."

And so begins "We Are Hmong," a play that tells the story of the origins of Hmong clans, the critical role they played in helping the American CIA and U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, their persecution by communists and dramatic escape from Laos to the refugee camps of Thailand, and eventually, their resettlement in America.

Kreston Peckham, Renaissance School for the Arts drama teacher and director of West's theater program, introduced the play project last school year in a Renaissance elective course, "We Are Hmong."

Having directed a play about the Jewish Holocaust, he noted the strong presence of Hmong students in Renaissance and thought, "Why not do a play about them? It's important their stories get told."

He had his students gather stories, and those stories were woven into a script, written mostly by the class.

"My plan was to turn it into theater that could be acted out and performed as part of West's theater season," he said.

The collaboration brought together 46 West and Renaissance students, most of them Hmong and many with no prior performance experience.

In Peckham's words, this is "heavy material," and sharing family stories of survival against great odds, layered with loss and grief, has been an emotional journey for students.

Like many immigrants in transition, new generations of Hmong are not as fluent in their native language or as connected to their culture and customs as their parents and grandparents would like.

While eager to see their children educated and successful in pursuit of the American dream, elders also fear they're becoming too Americanized.

"A lot of us don't know how to speak the language and little about our customs," said junior Kasheng Lee, 16, who feels like she has gained a deeper understanding of her culture through writing and performing the play.

She and others also see the importance of remembering the hell their families went endured in the jungles and refugee camps and the price they paid for freedom and a future.

"It's a good way to teach everybody," Lee said. "We didn't write down everything about our history. We don't really have a textbook on this. All this information is from stories and off the top of our heads."

The family stories compel your attention, from personal accounts of seeing their villages destroyed and loved ones killed by the communists, years on the run trying to survive before crossing the Mekong River to Thailand, and then life in Thai refugee camps and the shock of traveling across the world to the U.S. to start new lives.

Senior Connie Vang, 17, said reading her mother's story during auditions was a powerful moment.

"It almost felt like I was meant to read that," she said. "I felt like I was there. The loneliness, being left behind (after her village was bombed), the loss they felt. I cried."

"Every other play, we act out another person's culture," said sophomore Choua Rosemary Xiong, 15. "This play is our culture and it's emotional because you can really relate to it. A lot of those stories did happen. People don't realize the Hmong went through all this."

"So many Hmong have wanted to say so much but haven't had an opportunity to share," said Yer Chang, 17, a senior who was born in a refugee camp.

"This is a big step to help the Hmong share what they went through. It's important for audiences in general to learn about the Hmong, but I think the Hmong will learn something about themselves, too. I found out a lot of things about my family I never knew."

She said she never fully appreciated the fact that her mom and relatives risked their lives crossing the Mekong River.

"I knew it was big and they swam over, but all I could imagine was a big pool," she said.

Her family members have always been stoic about their ordeal, she added.

"They didn't show you expressions of fright."

The play stresses the role of education in the lives of Hmong and the responsibility that many young Hmong feel to be worthy of their family's sacrifice.

"We don't take education for granted," Xiong said. "Hmong kids feel they have to do something good and get somewhere in life."

The girls have high hopes that their performances, including two matinees for nearly 2,000 school children, will inspire respect for the Hmong from their audiences.

"I want people to learn our ancestors and parents sacrificed everything to survive," Vang said. "They sacrificed everything for us."

Lee wants to make sure the Hmong merit more than a footnote in a history book.

"They didn't just come over here that easily or quickly," Lee said. "They had to go through war, and they faced death to be free. There's a lot more to it."



Laos, Hmong Veterans' Burial Honors Advanced in Congress

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Washington, D.C., November 1, 2011

Key leaders of the Laotian and Hmong-American community have joined with the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C. to seek to honor Lao and Hmong veterans and their families and work to grant the veterans burial rights at U.S. national cemeteries. Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI) is on Capitol Hill leading a major campaign to educate U.S. policymakers and Members of Congress about the history and plight of Laotian and Hmong veterans of the “U.S. Secret Army” in Laos, who served as allies alongside U.S. covert forces during the Vietnam War.

Over the last two weeks, Laotian and Hmong veterans and their families converged upon the U.S. Congress and delivered letters and petitions of appeal. Thousands of letters were delivered to the U.S. Congress by the LVAI and Lao Veterans of America.

U.S. Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Thomas Petri (R-WI), Jim Moran (D-VA), Tim Holden (D-PA) and a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives recently helped to re-introduced legislation, H.R. 3192, to honor Laotian and Hmong veterans and permit their burial at U.S. national veterans’ cemeteries.

“We are here in Washington, D.C., in the U.S. Congress, going door-to-door on behalf of the Laotian and Hmong veterans and Lao Hmong-American community,” said Colonel Vang of the LVAI, a national non-profit organization. “Lao and Hmong veterans deserve to be buried at U.S. national veterans cemeteries to help restore honor to the Lao Hmong-American community and as long overdue recognition for their important sacrifices in support of their defense of the United States and Kingdom of Laos during the Vietnam War.”

“Today, we are again here on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with many of our chapters and members from across the United States, to follow-up on Lao and Hmong veterans burial bill and to educate Members of the U.S. Congress in the House and Senate about the ongoing needs of the veterans and their families in the United States,” Colonel Vang said.

Wangyee Vang concluded: “We are fighting to educate and persuade the Congress and policymakers to continue to honor and respect the legacy of our veterans and their refugee families in the United States and Southeast Asia.”

“We want the U.S. Congress to act now to help our veterans,” said Wangmeng Vang, a Lao Hmong special forces combat veteran of the Vietnam War from the Midwest.

H.R.3192 would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to inter in national cemeteries, by honorary burial or cremation rights, individuals who supported the United States in defending the Royal Kingdom of Laos during the Vietnam War era.

"We are, indeed, deeply honored and pleased to join Colonel Wangyee Vang and the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI) as well as the Lao Veterans of America (LVA) and other Lao and Hmong non-profit organizations to participate in this important initiative to further educate U.S. policymakers and Members of Congress about the history and plight of Laotian and Hmong veterans and their refugee families,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based CPPA.

The CPPA is a non-governmental research organization focused on U.S. national security, foreign policy, human rights and refugee issues.

Smith continued: “The Laotian and Hmong veterans of the ‘U.S. Secret Army’ in Laos, who served as allies alongside U.S. covert forces during the Vietnam War, should be honored at U.S. national veterans cemeteries and permitted interment, with official ceremonial burial or cremation honors .”

“Hmong veterans served side-by-side with American forces in Vietnam, and these veterans deserve the honor of a final resting place next to their brothers in arms,” U.S. Congressman Jim Costa stated. “These veterans defended our American ideals long before any of them called our country home. Extending burial benefits to our Hmong veterans recognizes their sacrifice and honors their patriotic service.”

"These (Laotian and Hmong) veterans fought and bled in our common struggle in Southeast Asia. Extending burial benefits to those who came to the United States following the communist takeover of Laos recognizes their sacrifice and honors their service," stated U.S. Congressman Thomas Petri (R-WI).

Laotian and Hmong community organizations helping to lead recent efforts in Washington, D.C. include the LVAI, LVA, CPPA, United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc., Laos Institute for Democracy, Lao Students Movement for Democracy, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., Hmong Students Association and others.

Ms. Jade Her or Mr. Philip Smith
Tele. (202) 543-1444

CPPA – Center for Public Policy Analysis
2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20006


Night Terrors: Can You Be Killed by a Nightmare?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Nightmares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection

by Shelley Adler

Rutgers University Press

They were all Southeast Asian immigrants, young and healthy -- and dying in their sleep.

Doctors were baffled by the cluster of deaths that began in 1977 and peaked in 1982. By the end of the decade, 117 Hmong tribesmen from Laos had died in the middle of the night without explanation.

Why were these men -- median age 33 and having lived in the US, on average, for 17 months -- mysteriously perishing? Bereft of answers, physicians dubbed the phenomenon Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome.

But a new book about the cases raises a chilling and provocative question: Can a dream scare you to death?

Drawing on professional literature and folklore, University of California-San Francisco medical anthropologist Shelley Adler, author of “Sleep Paralysis,” makes a compelling case that the deaths may have been triggered by the men’s belief in “dab tsog” -- a demon that visits in the night and smothers.

While the physical cause was likely a shared heart condition prevalent in Asian men, Adler concludes the trauma they suffered in dream-state encounters with a malicious spirit played a part.

One Laotian man described his encounter with the dab tsog to Adler: “A dark shape was coming to me. It came to the bed, over my feet, my legs. It was very heavy, like a heavy weight over my whole body, my legs, my chest. My chest was frozen like I was drowning.”

Adler found such night demons are ubiquitous across cultures and similar to the Western concept of “sleep paralysis” -- described as feelings of wakefulness coupled with intense feelings of fear and the inability to move or speak. It’s caused when the transition into, or from, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is disrupted. Hallucinations occur during this not-quite-dream state.

“You’re paralyzed but your mind is still going. In some sense it’s like dreaming with your eyes open,” explained Harvard clinical psychologist Richard McNally.

Every culture has its own phrase for the sleep-paralysis “monster.” China refers to it as “bei guai chaak” (“being pressed upon by a ghost”), Estonia has “luupainaja” (“the one who presses your bones”), and Newfoundland dubbed it “Old Hag.” English speakers know incubus and succubus, images immortalized by the 1781 painting “The Nightmare” where a demon sits on a woman’s chest as she sleeps.

Eight percent of the general population experiences sleep paralysis (though some estimates are as high as 30%). Those with psychiatric conditions and PTSD have higher rates.

A 1999 study broke down sleep paralysis into three sub-types that occur cross-culturally: intruder, incubus and an out-of-body experience.

But while sleep paralysis is universally terrifying, can it hurt you?

Adler says yes. She points to the study of nocebos -- placebos’ ugly flip side, which translates to “I will harm” -- when a negative outcome is a consequence of a person’s belief.

Anthropological research on voodoo and hexes, she argues, show that adverse beliefs can harm and even kill. In one study, women who believed they were prone to heart disease were nearly four times as likely to die as women with the same risk factors but no negative beliefs.

“There is both ample scientific evidence and much lived experience that show that the human mind has as great a capacity to make us sick as it has to heal us,” Adler writes.

In the end, she concludes, the Hmong men likely died from a combination of the Brugada syndrome, a cardiac arrhythmia common to Southeast Asian men, and sleep paralysis.

“Although the overwhelming terror brought on by a nightmare attack appears to be a trigger,” she said, “it is the Brugada Syndrome that functions as the mechanism of death.”



Wrongs of the past, traditions are our ghost images

Mai Neng Moua read a draft of her memoirs about “bride price” at a recent Talkabout session at Homewood Studios. With Carolyn Holbrook and three other writers, they’ll present a reading on Nov. 8 at Homewood, with Roberts moderating. “That’s how we include the men,” she said. (Photo by Margo Ashmore )

By Margo Ashmore, North News
October 30, 2011
The readings may be called “Ghost Stories” but the rest of the title assures us it’s not Halloween fare. “Five Writers Read Works on Historical Trauma” at Homewood Studios Tuesday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. tackles that which is “not talked about, but always prevalent, and still impacts us, like a ghost image.”

Impacts like the intense opposition Mai Neng Moua had to her future husband paying a bride price for her. “When I heard my mother’s story about bride price,” Moua was certain she did not want to observe that Hmong tradition. She said it took her a long time to write about it, and “I wouldn’t have been able to start without” the encouragement of the group that will do the readings.

The event announcement says, “African-American, Hmong, Japanese-American, Jewish and White Earth Anishinabe writers explore how the stories of their parents, grandparents and historical communities impact the writers’ own lives. From the ridiculous to the tragic, the writers examine the legacies of Holocaust, war, racism and genocide.”

Moua, who co-founded the Hmong literary journal Paj Ntaub Voice and edited Bamboo Among the Oaks, an anthology of contemporary writing by Hmong Americans, met “co-conspirator” Margie Newman at the Loft Literary Center. They received small grants to take their readings to four different venues in a variety of neighborhoods, and produce a chapbook. “I knew Carolyn [Holbrook] and Marcie [Rendon] and Margie knew Joan [Maeda Trygg].

They’ve had two readings so far, each with 50 to 60 people attending. “Our point is to use the arts, the writing, to promote healing,” Moua and Holbrook said in an interview. “We also need to hear from this community” of North Minneapolis. Moua lives in North Minneapolis and Holbrook in North Loop.

At the Wilder Center for Communities in Saint Paul, most listeners agreed that in order to know how to heal, one needs to know about the trauma. “How many generations does it take? One asked. We counted back; it took five generations to find an intact family,” Holbrook said. “Line up the symptoms of what’s called post traumatic slave syndrome and the symptoms are the same as PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder.”

As is Moua, Holbrook is writing a memoir to “work through the dysfunction that happens, looking at how we all react. South Africa acknowledged apartheid. The U.S. hasn’t [acknowledged slavery]. There’s a black Holocaust. I get upset when I hear ‘the Holocaust’ because there’s been more than one. It would help to be healed if we’d acknowledge what happened.” They drew distinctions between recent African immigrants, and African Americans, some who descended from slaves, some not.

Holbrook’s piece about a bizarre trip to a cemetery demonstrates how socially normal it used to be, to equate black with bad. “It took me 20 years to write that story,” and for the founder of SASE: The Write Place, that says a lot.

Moua chimed in with, “when we came to the US, we thought all Americans were white. I was told, you see a black person coming toward you, cross the street.”

Holbrook: “Africans are told that. The people most surprised are the Africans, hearing stories about slavery.” There are two stereotyped concepts, “you’re either rich like Will Smith or like the guys you see on the news.”

Another previous reading was at the American Indian Center, and the final will be in February at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in St. Paul. Preparing for the Homewood reading, they wondered aloud about the Japanese and Native American history in North Minneapolis.

Ghost Stories: Five Writers Read Works on Historical Trauma will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, 7 p.m. at Homewood Studios, 2400 Plymouth Ave N., Minneapolis.

The Readers: Carolyn Holbrook, Mai Neng Moua, Margie Newman, Marcie Rendon, Joan Maeda Trygg. Admission: $5 includes a chapbook containing work by the five writers. Light refreshments will be served.

The project was made possible, in part, with the support of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, and with the support of the St. Paul JCC. This project is funded, in part, with “Legacy Amendment” money.

For further info contact: Mai Neng Moua,, 612-226-6046.



Protests mark election of Hmong community leader

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Voting began Tuesday for leadership of the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association amid protests and cries of fraud from one of the candidates and his supporters.

The election marks the end of a tumultuous two years for the 29-year-old organization founded to help refugees assimilate and build lives in La Crosse. The strife over control of the group has even split family members.

Not set to end until Saturday, voting Tuesday had already exceeded turnout in most of the organization’s previous 16 elections, said executive director Xong Xiong.

For the Hmong community, the elections are on par with the spring recall elections. And they’re getting just as complicated and nasty.

The accusationsMai Vue, one of two candidates for board president, denounced the election in a news release that accuses incumbent president Gina Yang and other officers of attempting to steal the election through manipulation of the rules. Vue also alleges the election was scheduled on short notice after the Sept. 24 date was abruptly canceled and then rescheduled nine days before early voting was to begin.

At the heart of Vue’s complaints is a last-minute decision to allow voting by non-Asian members and to expand voting to two Minnesota counties.

Yang did not return messages left Tuesday, but Xiong said HMAA membership is open to anyone who supports the organization’s mission. She said voting traditionally has been restricted to Hmong and other Southeast Asians, but according to the group’s bylaws there’s no ethnic restriction on voting.

There are about 3,000 people of Hmong origin in La Crosse County. HMAA membership is a little less than 500, Xiong said. She estimates non-Asians account for about 2 percent of membership.

Xiong said the board was simply following its bylaws, but Vue contends that announcing that interpretation just two weeks before the election was unfair.

The decision also surprised the head of the group’s election committee, who resigned her post over it.

Pang Moua said she worked for nearly a year to set up the election but heard only four days before voting was to begin that the board wanted it open to Minnesota residents and non-Asians.

“If HMAA had their own vision, how come they didn’t tell me when they appointed me?” she said. “I’m not a mind reader.”

Xiong said the board directed Moua to follow the bylaws and she interpreted them according to tradition. Moua says that’s untrue.

Moua said she asked for at least six weeks to reorganize an election but was told it had to be held in October. That prompted her resignation.

“They made it impossible for me to fulfill my duty,” she said.

Because of the election committee’s resignation, Xiong said the HMAA asked the League of Women Voters to conduct the election.

Vue did not return messages from the Tribune, but running mate Moua Lee said they do not object to non-Asians voting, only to the timing of the decision and rescheduling the election on short notice.

“We feel they purposely tried to cancel the election so they can win,” she said. “Anybody can vote if that’s what the board wants, but at least allow them some time to campaign to those people.”

‘Bad blood’The protests are the culmination of a period of change and strife for the group, say its members.

Vang, elected to a two-year term in 2009, is the first woman to head the organization and one of the first female Hmong leaders in the state.

In April 2010, longtime executive director Thai Vue was fired amid a struggle to pay off about $560,000 in debt for the acquisition of the Hmong Cultural and Community Center. Vue has since sued the agency claiming breach of contract and defamation.

The HMAA was also sued this spring by a group of members who say the organization broke its contract with them when it asked for more money to pay off the loan.

“I think there’s no secret that there’s a split in the Hmong community since Thai Vue was replaced. There’s a little bit of bad blood,” said John Medinger, the former La Crosse mayor and longtime advisor to the Hmong community who led the fundraising effort to renovate the community center.

“This election will not heal all the wounds. It is an honest election, but they need to feel that.”



Bill would extend burial benefits to Hmong vets

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Sixth District, recently joined other members of Congress to introduce bipartisan legislation, H.R. 3192, honoring the service of Hmong veterans in Wisconsin and nationwide. The legislation would extend burial benefits in national cemeteries to Hmong veterans who fought alongside and supported U.S. forces during the Vietnam War era.

"Hmong troops were America's determined and reliable allies in Laos," Petri said. "These veterans fought and bled in our common struggle in Southeast Asia. Extending burial benefits to those who came to the United States following the Communist takeover of Laos recognizes their sacrifice and honors their service."

Hmong men from Laos were trained and led by officers from the CIA's Special Activities Division during the Vietnam War. Tens of thousands of these men performed direct missions against North Vietnamese troops and local Communist guerillas. Following the war, thousands of Hmong veterans resettled across the United States, including in Wisconsin. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed legislation granting them refugee status.

Currently, burial benefits are available to veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Services, their spouses and dependents, reserve officers, Public Health Service officers, Merchant Mariners from World War II and members of the Philippine Armed Forces. This legislation would add Hmong veterans to the list of people eligible for interment in national cemeteries after they undergo a verification and documentation process by the Department of Veterans Affairs to certify their service. Hmong veterans must be American citizens or legal permanent residents to be eligible.

Approximately 6,900 Hmong veterans would currently be eligible for burial benefits.



Hmong refugee comes full circle with U program’s help

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Freshman Kaoxue Vang tutors through a program that helped her adjust when she immigrated to Minnesota.

University of Minnesota freshman Kaoxue Vang, left, helps Pao Lee, center, and Pao Xiong, right, with an assignment on dinosaurs. Vang tutors every Sunday night through the Sunday Tutoring Program hosted by the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing. Vang was tutored in the program when she was in grade school. Marisa Wojcik

When Kaoxue Vang arrived in Minnesota seven years ago, the only English words she knew were “I love you” — a common phrase in the Thai refugee camp where she was born and raised.

On the ride home from the airport, she was first introduced to streets with names and green grass where she was used to seeing dirt.

Soon after, she was also introduced to the challenge of navigating the education system without a full command of the English language or support at home.

But with the help of University of Minnesota-based programming and community support, Vang pored over her studies and overcame the odds.

Within seven years, she went from only knowing three words of English to applying and earning admission to the University where she is currently a freshman.

Heidi Barajas, associate dean at the University’s College of Education and Human Development and executive director of the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center, has extensively researched issues of equity and access to education.

She has also observed Vang as part of a research project about Hmong student success.

Barajas said Vang quickly realized the key to educational success for any student.

“One thing I’ll say about anybody successful in education is that they’re able to seek out support,” she said. “In [Vang’s] case, she had a lot of support and knew where to go for help.”

‘A powerful message’

On Sunday evening, Vang stood over her 14-year-old sister Maixoua Vang’s shoulder at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and helped guide her through her ninth grade advanced composition homework.

“This is really weird,” Maixoua Vang said, about her sister’s new role as a tutor. “We used to come for help together and now she’s the one helping.”

Kaoxue Vang said she probably never would have stepped foot on the University campus without help from Jay Clark and the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

Vang said Hmong students were the victims of bullying and inadequate education standards in North Minneapolis schools.

She said she remembers sitting in classrooms where she didn’t learn anything because of her limited English and relying heavily upon Hmong classmates and relatives whenever she needed something.

“It was frustrating and boring,” she said. “We couldn’t do anything. We only left for school and came back.”

Clark said he encouraged them to seek enrollment elsewhere through the “Choice is Yours” program, which allows low-income students to enroll in suburban school districts where they would have access to more challenging academic environments that would encourage them to learn English faster.

Vang and her six younger siblings enrolled in Hopkins School District. They also became regulars at the Sunday Tutoring Program held at the Humphrey School when it began in 2008.

“That’s when my English really started to improve,” Vang said. “It helped so much.”

Each weekend, Clark and Yia Yiang, a CURA Hmong neighborhood community organizer, transport 15 to 30 Hmong students from their North Minneapolis homes to Humphrey for homework help, student support and activities.

University students typically volunteer as tutors for work-study jobs, service learning courses or through the Hmong Minnesota Student Association or Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence.

This semester, Vang became the first to make the transition from student to tutor.

“I’m really proud of her,” Maixoua Vang said, about her older sister. “I saw how much she went through to make it to University and maybe now she can help when it’s time for me to apply.”

Yiang said Kaoxue Vang’s success has had a positive impact on students in the program and helps achieve the secondary goal of the program — to make students believe they belong on university campuses.

“Kaoxue used to be in the very same van with them, now she’s walking around at the University. I think that really sends a powerful message,” he said. “It gets them thinking, ‘If Kaoxue can do this, I can do this.’”

‘Hard work’

Vang spends most of her time studying in her dorm room at Comstock Hall, where she is a member of the Hmong living-learning community. She said she works twice as hard as most of her classmates to keep pace as she continues to improve her language skills.

“If something takes them 30 minutes, it will probably take me an hour,” she said. “But I always challenge myself to learn more and do my best.”

Though she said college is hard work, she admits it’s a welcome break from home life.

Like most eldest daughters in Hmong families, Vang said she carried a lot of the burden of housework and caring for her younger siblings, but Yiang said that responsibility may have provided the discipline she is known for in the classroom.

“She doesn’t have the mindset that she’s only been here for six years,” he said. “It’s not easy being the oldest Hmong girl, and for her that experience transferred into her studies.”

Neither of Vang’s parents have a formal education. Vang said their primary source of income growing up was what little her mom made sewing Hmong clothing that was shipped to America and sold. Her father is a factory worker.

Though she said it is difficult for them to understand her University experience, she knows she’s “made them proud.”

Barajas said Vang earned admission to the University through the Trio Program, which provide federal support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Though she attended workshops and asked for help, she completed most of the application process on her own.

Her college application essay was about all of the challenges she’s overcome since coming from Thailand.

Vang dreams of a future in medicine — possibly pharmacy.

In the meantime, her biggest challenges are finding a student job and tackling psychology, which she said is her most difficult course.

“Sometimes I feel jealous of students who don’t have to work hard to make good grades,” she said. “But I don’t like to think of that stuff. I just keep doing what I can and trying to be a good student.”



Hmong leader from Madison honored in DC for work against domestic violence

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Photo by TRUE THAO
Kabzuag Vaj speaks at the Capitol during a rally in the spring. On Thursday, she will be recognized at the White House for her work against domestic violence.

A local Hmong leader is being recognized at the White House on Thursday in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Kabzuag (pronounced Kaj-u-wa) Vaj is co-founder and co-executive director of Freedom Inc., a Madison nonprofit organization that works with poor and low-income communities of color focusing on the root causes of violence against women and children.

"It's kind of surreal because we don't know too many people who get this type of award," said Vaj, 37, Wednesday by phone as she arrived in Washington, D.C.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, will join Lynn Rosenthal, White House adviser on domestic violence, in hosting 14 leaders who are dedicating their professional lives to ending domestic violence on a local level.

At the event, part of Obama's Champions of Change program, participants will share their personal stories and discuss lessons they've learned.

Vaj was born in Laos and arrived in Madison in 1981 as a refugee with her mother and siblings. None of them spoke English.

She started doing domestic violence work in the Hmong community in 2000 with the Milwaukee-based Hmong American Women's Association Inc., but she was located in Madison. When the organization lost state funding, she started her own group.

Freedom Inc. was incorporated in 2003, but it is not a typical domestic violence services organization, Vaj said.

In order to eliminate violence, an organization needs to go beyond providing services, she said.

"There should be a more holistic approach looking at different forms of oppression that contribute to violence against women and children," she said.

Freedom Inc. provides a niche where women of color can come for services and also build leadership abilities, Vaj said.

True Thao, youth program coordinator for Freedom Inc., who has worked with Vaj for 10 years, calls her a mentor and credits Vaj for helping her turn her life around.

"She's an incredible woman. Her vision, the work she does, her energy," Thao said.



Hmong Fresh Traditions fashion show going strong in fifth year

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Photos By: Jeff Rutherford

Friends, family and fashion lovers filled McNamara Alumni Center Friday for the Center for Hmong Arts & Talent’s (CHAT) annual fundraising-fashion show, Fresh Traditions V.

The excitement generated by the fashion show could be felt within minutes of walking into Memorial Hall. Everything and everyone in the room seemed to be in constant motion, generating an atmosphere of energy and exhilaration. Audience members shifted and moved trying to find the most accessible spot to view the long, black runway in the center of the hall. Any noise produced by the audience was quickly enveloped by the DJ’s music.

The fifth annual event began with master of ceremonies, Katie Ka Vang, walking onto the runway, urging viewers to support CHAT in various ways–from direct support of buying drinks to free publicity of Fresh Traditions by photos from mobile phones.

“Take a picture and put them on Facebook,” she said. “This is not an event where you hold back.”

The show did anything but hold back. Female models came up and down the runway, each showcasing the work of the designers, in everything from gowns and pants to Christmas light head decorations.

According to CHAT’s website, it is their goal to nurture, explore and illuminate the Hmong American experience through artistic expressions. Fresh Traditions takes these ideas and links together Hmong community with the fashion industry by highlighting Hmong designers.

The five designers chosen this year for Fresh Traditions were Sai Chang from St. Paul; Marlena Thao from Minneapolis; Dokiang Thao from Madison, Wisconsin; Ashley Yang from St. Paul; and Kao Lee Thao from Savage, Minnesota.

Once chosen, designers were given artistic freedom but with the added challenge of making a garment that reflected the traditional Hmong fabrics: neon pink, neon green, blue satin, black satin, and black velvet.

For some of the designers this was their first show, while others were seasoned veterans, even studying design.

For Kao Lee Thao, who is not normally a designer, Friday was her first stab at sewing clothes. The artist said it was a good opportunity for her to try a new art medium. Thao’s elaborate collection, Once Upon a Time, combined Hmong colours and folktales.

“I am an artist,” Thao said. “I’ve never sewn a collection before. I see it as more of an art project.

Sai Chang studied Apparel Design and Development at University of Wisconsin Stout and assisted designer Chong Moua last year, but said this year was her first solo collection.

“This [year] was my first collection, so it was really special for me,” Chang said.



Fresh Traditions Hmong fashion show joins MNFashion Week

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

This Friday Fresh Traditions, the annual fashion-show fundraiser for the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT), joins MNFashion Week, offering the only runway show in the Twin Cities that features all Hmong designers.

The event began five years ago when a group of Hmong designers approached CHAT in hopes to create a platform to showcase their work. According to Oskar Lee, who does public relations for the organization, the decision to become a fashion designer is a bold one for someone from the Hmong community. "Our parents encourage us to have strong, successful careers, but fashion is rarely one of those visions," he says. Still, Hmong culture has a tradition of making intricate clothing from rich fabrics. "At a very young age, we are exposed to the arts and culture of paj ntaub, Hmong hand embroidery, often in forms of special-occasion garments worn at the Hmong New Year or for when we marry," says Lee, "but also in story cloths about our culture, history, and traditions."

For the Fresh Traditions show, designers have complete control over their collection's vision, styling, models (all Asian), and runway music, but are also challenged to create one outfit made of five traditional Hmong fabrics: a neon pink, neon green, black velvet, black satin, and a deep navy satin.
While the Fresh Traditions designers are all Hmong, they come from quite a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. Some have design degrees and training, others in art, and some are giving fashion a first try.

Marlena Thao is one of the more experienced designers being featured, having had six runway shows under her belt at venues such as Epic Nightclub, Taj Salon, and the U of M, among others. Thao has been sewing since middle school. She took sewing classes in high school, and was delighted when she found out you could major in fashion design. She enrolled in the U of M's apparel design program, but after two years she decided to transfer to something smaller, attending MCTC for a semester. She then decided that she wanted to branch off and do what she wanted to do: runway shows. She took a year off from school and focused on what she loved doing. Thao had a friend who did Fresh Traditions last year, which inspired and motivated her to apply for this year.

Her line is based on a 1940s pin-up theme. "I wanted to go for more sexiness and sassiness," she says. "I like to work with a lot of feminine clothes. I'm bringing in a lot of different pieces, to show how versatile I am."

For Shai Chang, this will be her first fashion show, although last year she was an assistant to designer Chong Moua. She studied fashion at UW Stout. Chang says that she is very drawn to black and white, so much of her designs will use those colors. "I love the contrast," she says, "even though there's two colors, you can do a lot. The possibilities are endless."

Chang says that aside from the one requirement to design a look using the five fabrics, the designers were pretty much given free reign to do what they wanted.

Chang enjoyed the challenge of creating an outfit out of the traditional fabrics, designing something new out of something old, "without making it look too literal and from the past," she says.

Chang watches Project Runway and America's Top Model in order to learn from what other folks in the field are doing. "I want to be a freelance designer," she says. "It gives me more of an opportunity to be creative. If you work for a company, you have to design for a specific target market. I don't want to be too restricted. I want to be able to step outside the box."

Eventually, Chang hopes to open up an online T-shirt company, because she finds that women's shirts tend to be not as interesting. "Many times the graphics for womens T-shirts are a little cheesy for me," she says. "They say, 'I love farmboys' or something like that. I'm always searching for graphic tees that have cool designs."

Chang is utilizing a number of graphic prints in her line this weekend, on T-shirts, as well as a dress. A lot of her graphics include skulls. "My line is kind of punk rock with an urban edge," she says.

Kao Lee Thao, whose background is in animation and painting, will also be participating for the first time as a designer, though in previous years she has exhibited her body art. This year, she received a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, and had plans to have models go down the runway with her paintings of Hmong folktales. However, she decided that she wanted to bring the paintings to life, and has been giving herself a crash course in sewing in order to create her collections, called Once Upon a Time.

"I just decided to push myself," she says. "I have no fashion background. I'm just an artist using this as a medium." Thao went to the Art Institute (AI). She now runs her own 3D animation company, and paints as well. In the future, she says her dream job would be costume designing for Cirque de Soleil.

In Thao's collection, each of the folktales tells a different story, and she casts each of the models as a character. For example, in Hmong Cinderella, the main character turns into a tree, her kids get trapped in a beehive, and her husband becomes a bird. In the design, Thao turns the model into a black-and-white bumblebee, with an animated beehive hairdo. She uses visual prosthetics, as well in a number of other pieces.

Thao says her training in 3D animation helped her build the designs. "It's more like an art project for me. 3D does help me visualize -- it's basically trial and error."


6 p.m. Friday, October 7
McNamara Alumni Center
200 Oak St. SE.
$15/$20 at the door
For VIP tickets, email


History through textiles: Hmong textiles

I went to a very interesting exhibit at the Center for Hmong Studies. Lee Pao Xiong, executive director for the center told me that the exhibit is about looking at Hmong History through Textiles. He went on to say how the hand production of hemp cloth has been an integral part of traditional Hmong culture from birth to burial. While I was familiar with some of the finer elements of Hmong embroidery--including paj ntaub and story clothes (I did my college honors project on these) the exhibit got me thinking about how much what we wear says about us.

Examples of Hmong embroidery.

Detail of embroidery.

I have been known to knit, crochet, sew, embroider and once tate. It is a very worthwhile and calming experience and it is such a sense of accomplishment when you finish a project.

Hmong tradition dictates that a mother make 2 of these handmade skirts of each of their daughters--one to be married in and one to be buried in. If you factor in the process to make the cloth, dye the cloth (including some batik) and embroider it it can take 1 year or more to make one skirt. I wrote in an article about these pieces that they were a visible manifestation of a mother's love and devotion. While machine made clothes are faster and cheaper they loose the art, love and devotion required to produce these works of art.

I suggested that the Center host a 1 year challenge asking young people to come together and encourage each other in the process of learning an old art.

The really wonderful thing about art is once learned you can make it your own. Here is a picture of a couture evening dress on display at the Center. Using very traditional elements it becomes an all new art form. It has me thinking about projects I would like to work on this winter season. More to come.



Hmong 'killed' in forced return to Laos

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An elderly Hmong man and his son were allegedly killed when the forced repatriation of several dozen hilltribe people to Laos last week turned violent, according to rights advocates in the US.

Yang Chao, 68, and his son Peng Chao, 21, were reportedly beaten by Lao officials because they tried to resist being put on boats to go back across the Mekong to Vientiane on September 28.

Witnesses rang Hmong advocates in the US to say that Yang Chao, who was handcuffed at the time, was knocked senseless, then allegedly dumped from one boat when it was halfway across the river.

They claim his son Peng Chao was also beaten unconscious in Nong Khai while arguing against being forcibly returned. His body was also allegedly thrown into the river, advocates said.



Synagogue deals in poker champ

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One more example of the valley's diversity:

Congregation Beth Shalom is holding a poker tournament Saturday, the proceeds of which will benefit the synagogue's education program.

They'll play Texas Hold 'em, a game named for a state that's in the thick of the immigration debate.

The tournament's star attraction will be Jerry Yang, who was born in Laos, migrated to the United States and won $8.25 million in the World Series of Poker in 2007.

And Yang, a born-again Christian, was recruited for this event by Loren Gonella of Modesto, whom I wrote about awhile back because he's a Jewish guy who plays Santa Claus for the kids at the Redwood Center.

The poker tourney offers the chance to test your skills against Yang, who ranks 19th on the career earnings list with $8,370,927, and teaches others how to play high-stakes poker.

His story is compelling, and it certainly didn't begin or end four years ago with a fortunate hand of cards at a Las Vegas table.

Yang, 43, is a Hmong born in Laos in 1967. The CIA had recruited his father to serve in a guerrilla army, led by Gen. Vang Pao, that fought against the communists. Yang's family tried to flee the communist regime in Laos when he was only 7. They were nabbed by a communist patrol and had rifles pointed at their heads before his father talked the captors into letting them live.

The Yang family came to the United States when Jerry was 11, and after moving to Fresno, he progressed through the school system to become his high school class valedictorian before going on to earn his master's degree in health psychology at Pacific Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Napa.

Yang then moved to Temecula, where he spent eight years in social work.

One day, watching poker on TV, he decided he wanted to play. He began studying the game and entered his first tournament in 2006. He left social work and, a year later, won the World Series of Poker from a field that began with 6,000 players. He took home the $8.25 million from the $19.4 million pot. Yang has had two other notable paydays: $75,000 and $30,380 in tournaments last year.

After winning the 2007 event, he began his practice of donating a percentage of his winnings to charities by splitting $825,000 among the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children and the Ronald McDonald House. Overall, he's given more than $2 million to charitable causes, including Hmong causes.

He's also opened restaurants in Madera and Merced he calls Pocket 8's Sushi and Grill. He met Gonella at the Merced restaurant about 18 months ago.

"I go in there once a month or so," Gonella said. "Generally, I'll see him there. We struck up a conversation about what's going on (the synagogue's fund-raiser). He said, 'It's a good organization and a great cause. I'll be there.' "

Texas Hold 'em for charity at a synagogue with a world champion from Laos recruited by a Jewish guy who plays Santa Claus.

Diverse enough for you?



Achievements of First-Generation Hmong Youth: Findings from the Youth Development Study.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Author: Swartz, Teresa, Jennifer C. Lee, and Jeylan T. Mortimer
St. Paul is home to the largest urban Hmong population in the United States. The first generation of Hmong immigrant children have come of age in this country, passing through American schools, beginning their work life, and starting their own families. The Youth Development Studyラan ongoing longitudinal study of youth development started in 1987 that focuses on education, work, family, and mental healthラis the basis for this article, which explores how these young Hmong people are faring as they embark on their adult lives. The authors found that although Hmong refugees came to the United States with few economic resources and faced significant cultural and linguistic barriers, the combination of family, community, institutional, and public social supports have promoted the academic achievement of Hmong children. With respect to labor force participation, the authors found that a lower proportion of Hmong respondents participated in the labor force both before and after high school. To some degree, they attribute this to the Hmong emphasis on eduation and parental restrictions on adolescent work. Finally, the authors found that Hmong adolescence and the transition to adulthood take distinct forms than for other ethnic groups. Early marriage and teen childbearing have not had the same negative educational consequences for Hmong young women as they have for non-Hmong young people.

Journal: CURA Reporter
Publication date: 2003
Publisher: Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, University of Minnesota.
Sponsor: Supported by grants from CURA's Fachlty Interactive Research Program.
Pages: 33 (1): 15-21.



Hmong youth learns from childhood rebellion

KITCHENER, Ont. — As a child, Peter Her went to First Hmong Mennonite Church with his mother and younger brothers, but during his teenage years he tried to distance himself from his Hmong roots, his faith and the church.

“I didn’t want anything to do with God or with my people. I didn’t want to be Hmong. I didn’t want to be Asian. I wanted to be like everybody else. I wanted to be accepted by cool people,” he said.

Today, 22-year-old Her wants to use his education, Hmong language skills and understanding of Hmong culture to stop the trend of youth leaving the church and Christian faith.

“I definitely don’t want to see other young people go through the same problems that I did,” said Her, the eldest of six boys born to parents who came to Canada as refugees in the 1970s. Both of his parents were born in Thailand.

Her spent the summer working with youth and children at First Hmong Mennonite Church, a congregation of Hmong refugees who resettled in Canada in the 1970s.

His service assignment was made possible through Summerbridge, a Mennonite Central Committee-supported program open to people from Mennonite congregations of diverse cultural background.

The program is supported by MCC Canada, provincial MCCs and the home churches of participants. Her was among 15 program participants this summer.

Looking back, Her said his childhood rebellion led to dropping out of school and a life of drug abuse and violence.

“I worked 40 hours a week, and on weekends I would drink and have fun. But I wasn’t having fun. It wasn’t satisfying,” he said.

He started paying attention to how his co-workers lived. One man in particular, he noticed, didn’t talk about his Christian faith but lived his faith.

“His life was different than most people,” Her said. “He was loving, caring and compassionate. He had a purpose for life. He had direction. He knew where he was going, and I didn’t have that. My life was going downhill.”

From his early childhood churchgoing, Her knew he could find answers to his problems in the Bible. So he started reading the Bible and listening to sermons posted on the Internet.

Knowing that “God loves me so much, even though I have done all this crazy stuff” has given him new direction and purpose. Two years ago, he quit his job to go to school. He is a now a second-year student at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener.

Summerbridge enabled him to work not only with youth but also with older people.

Respecting elders, he said, is an important part of Hmong culture. Although he already speaks and reads the Hmong language, he improved his language skills and understanding of Hmong culture.

One of his goals is to return to Thailand and get to know his relatives living there.

“The Hmong population is very small, and life is hard for the Hmong minority,” he said. “I want to go back and let them know about God’s love and the peace that God can bring.”

First Hmong Mennonite Church is a congregation of about 200 people. Her’s mother and many others in the congregation were sponsored by churches through Canada’s private sponsorship program.