Vang Pao funeral schedule released

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A photograph of General Vang Pao in his youth sits amid candles, incense and flowers on the alter during the vigil at the Hmong Palace Church of Sacramento.

The tentative schedule for Hmong General Vang Pao's six-day funeral in Fresno from Feb. 4 through 9 has been released online. Services are free and most events are open to the public. Here's the link :

On Feb. 4, Vang Pao's body will be brought to the Fresno Convention Center by color guard with more than 300 Hmong Special Guerilla Unit veterans from across California who served under Vang Pao during the Vietnam War.

In advance of the funeral, the city of Fresno and community and veterans organizations will hold remembrances starting Tuesday through Feb. 3 from 5-10 p.m. at the Hmong Veterans' Statue, Fresno County Courthouse Park, said community organizer Paula Yang.

"We will have candles, photos and flowers in his memory, and we will let the world know of his legacy," Yang said.



Valley food memories too many to recount

Fresno, I'm not yet done telling you stories.

For my column last week, it was hard to narrow down a list of local treats that capture the local history, culture, climate and flavor. It's impossible to fit all of those memories into a single story, so I wanted to tell you about one more place.

The University of California's Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier is a gem of a research station that offers occasional public tours. Consider what I discovered:

A Hmong research garden that may be the only one of its kind in the country.

It offers the public a rare look at medicinal and culinary herbs, including common and scientific names for the plants.

I toured it in 2009 with local Hmong herbalists who showed the overlap between the culinary and medicinal. To treat a rash, bruise some garlic chives and rub them into the skin, May Xiong says. Vietnamese coriander (also known as Vietnamese mint, laksa leaf and luam laws in Hmong), helps blood clot.

Fresh Sichuan (or Szechwan) pepper, which nearly choked me with its sourness and numbness.

In the United States, the opportunity to taste fresh Sichuan pepper is rare; the dried spice typically is imported from countries such as China and Japan.

UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser Richard Molinar planted Zanthoxylum armatum trees, a species of Sichuan pepper grown in Nepal. He was studying the possibility of turning backyard Sichuan pepper trees into a California crop.

More than 20 varieties of mini watermelons.

With mini watermelons a popular segment of the market, lots of California farmers were interested in Molinar's trials.

On a glorious, blistering afternoon in 2007, Molinar cut into these watermelons for a taste test. The red flesh of the Little Deuce Coupe was pleasingly crunchy but not super sweet. And the sunny interior of the Mini Yellow was sweeter but not as crisp.

Jujubes, a small, sweet, crisp fruit.

Among a small group of California growers, jujubes are an important crop for Asian communities, especially in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, New York and Canada.

Hungry for your own discoveries? To find out more about UC Kearney's research, call Molinar at (559) 456-7555.

There's one more little event I'd like to tell you about. Apparently, some folks called Jo Ann Sorrenti of Sierra Nut House and asked her to invite me over so I could say good-bye in person.

I'm flattered -- and will be in Sierra Nut House at Blackstone and Nees avenues 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Feel free to stop by if you like, so I can thank you properly.

After all, it's your generosity that's allowed me to have a fantastic time here. You sent in tips, you opened your kitchens to me and most importantly, you shared your stories.

Please continue to explore the Valley's food -- and think of me when you're enjoying a Fay Elberta peach.



Speaking for a new Hmong generation

Monday, January 24, 2011

Saikong Yang, seated, and Dan Le in a scene from Katie Ka Vang's "WTF" at Mixed Blood Theatre.

For more than 150 years, the children of immigrants -- the first-born generation on U.S. soil -- have faced a dual challenge: fighting their new country's intolerance and resisting the legacy of their parents' homeland. Playwright Katie Ka Vang voices the experiences of Hmong-Americans within this context, with her new play "WTF," which Mu Performing Arts opened last weekend in Minneapolis.

Vang's story gives us the experience of True, a young woman depressed after her mother's death, and True's friend, Sunday, who is equally sad. Over the course of two hours and 45 minutes (including intermission) these two mopey souls hash through their personal demons and end up with a hopeful outcome. Side plots loop in True's brother, Rush, who has escaped the family nest by joining the military, and Sunday's sister, Hope, a bright student who sees her goal as nothing less than saving the world.

Vang has nestled trenchant points into her play, which is directed by Randy Reyes. "Where are the tools to live," True asks Sunday after Sunday's father has dragged him into an opium-deal fiasco. In other words, how do these kids learn not to react in the self-destructive ways of their parents while also respecting the older generation's culture? It is a cycle that must be broken with great care.

However, mundane dialogue and scenes that have barely a spark of purpose inflate "WTF" to epic proportions. Vang has created a pageant of sorts -- with dance, spoken-word and hip-hop moments that highlight performers -- rather than a tight drama. Perhaps that is her intention, but the result can wear out an audience.

Reyes' direction appears hamstrung by Vang's purpose: Sun Mee Chomet as True and Saikong Yang as Sunday take low-energy monotone approaches that illustrate their emotional exhaustion. In contrast, the younger characters -- Gaosong Vang as Hope and Mimo Xiong as a kid who pesters True at her office -- are bolts of electricity. Well and good, but when principal characters shuffle through a perpetual daze, the direction needs to quicken the pace.

Vang has good dramatic instincts. Daniel Sach Le has fun as a crusty furniture designer who employs Sunday. Billy Xiong gives Rush a soft-spoken sweetness, and Fres Thao's hip-hop breaks freshen the moment. And Vang's story significantly contributes to Hmong-American literature and expression. There is work to be done, but then isn't that always the case?

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299



Hmong community awaits U.S. decision on leader's burial

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hmong men pray during a nightly vigil for Gen. Vang Pao in Fresno. After commanding Hmong forces aiding in the U.S.'s 'secret war' in the jungles of Laos , Vang Pao became a revered leader of the expatriate community in California's Central Valley. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / January 24, 2011)

As they seek a federal waiver allowing Gen. Vang Pao to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the issue brings up flashbacks of aiding the U.S.'s 'secret war' and a simmering sense of betrayal.

The evening shadows have to fall just right. And the grave shouldn't be on a slope.

In traditional Hmong culture, the burial site matters for eternity, to the living and the dead and the spirit world that connects them.

So the old Hmong men — once young soldiers in a CIA-backed "secret" war in the jungles of Laos — light candles for Gen. Vang Pao, their leader in that war, and hope that he will be allowed to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

They fought a war on behalf of the Americans and lost everything: their land, their way of life, their country and the lives of tens of thousands of their people. This is what is left to them: hoping for a grave site on hallowed American military ground.

The question of Vang Pao's final resting place has become a reckoning of one of the most shadowy chapters of the Vietnam era and a coda to a strange legal case. Because Vang Pao did not directly serve in the U.S. military, it will take a waiver from the federal government for the man former CIA Director William Colby once called "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War" to be buried at Arlington — the same government that three and a half years ago arrested Vang Pao as a terrorist.

Several lawmakers, led by Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), have asked for the waiver to be granted. An answer is expected this week.

Until Vang Pao's arrest, many former Hmong soldiers were invisible. In Fresno, home to one of the largest Hmong communities, they stayed within their own enclaves, depending on their children and grandchildren — and on the man they called General — to navigate the outside world for them.

In Laos, they were clan and village leaders of the Hmong, an ethnic minority who lived high up in cloud-shrouded mountains. They were Vang Pao's loyal, ferocious soldiers who attacked the Ho Chi Minh trail, the main artery between North and South Vietnam. They directed American planes where to bomb and rescued pilots downed in Laos.

"But in America, they feel like nothing. They are poor refugees" said Paula Vang, a spokeswoman for a Hmong veterans group. "Still, they are the General's soldiers and they fought for America. This gives them identity."

In 2007, Vang Pao and 11 others were accused of trying to buy $10 million worth of AK-47s and Stinger missiles from an undercover federal agent in an alleged plan to overthrow the communist government of Laos. Courtroom sketches showed a 78-year-old Vang Pao, obviously ill, his ankles shackled together.

Shock waves moved through the Hmong community. In the Cold War years, Vang Pao had openly called on the U.S. to liberate Laos but now he was an elder statesmen, speaking at New Year's celebrations across the country, pleading with the U.N. to help Hmong still hiding and starving in Laotian jungles 35 years after the war. Had he really turned to plotting a violent coup?

Supporters gathered in Fresno and Sacramento. Old soldiers who had never cried in front of their families now wept openly. They rolled up their pant legs and pulled up their shirts to show bullet wounds and missing limbs. If the American government had arrested Vang Pao, did that mean their service to the country held no value?

Past and present collided. Many Hmong had flashbacks, dwelling on those they had seen die. America had betrayed the Hmong before, they said, when Saigon fell in 1975 and tens of thousands of Hmong rushed to Long Tien, the CIA headquarters in Laos, looking for American planes that never came to evacuate their allies. The Hmong were executed by communist troops, drowned crossing the Mekong River and killed by disease in squalid refugee camps.

Cha Vang, 61, a former soldier, found himself dwelling on the past and exploding over small things in the present. Before, he said, he was "never this kind of man."

"Before 2008 I was happy. I think there is no country on Earth like the United States. I always listened to the General. He led me from war to the middle class," said Cha Vang, who runs a janitorial business with his wife in Clovis. "After 2008 I have been confused and angry."

Lately, he has been reliving the same day over and over in his mind. It was July 1971 and he was 20 years old, the guy on the radio telling American pilots where to bomb. He only spoke "Army English": Alpha, Bravo, Charlie; Incoming. His orders were to rescue any downed American pilot, no matter how many Hmong casualties it took.

In the Plain of Jars region, Cha Vang called for planes to bomb enemy snipers. Two F-4 fighter planes came in. One was shot down. Cha Vang could see the pilot's parachute and enemy troops rushing toward him. He led his men to the pilot.

"It was the hardest, most dangerous 10 minutes of my life. So many bullets flying around you every minute, but we got the pilot out and to a helicopter. No one died. Sometimes 10 or 20 Hmong would die to save a pilot."

Cha Vang wants to find that one pilot from that one day. He said he needs to know that something from the war still matters.

In 2009, prosecutors dropped charges against Vang Pao. On Jan. 10, four days after Vang Pao's death, they dropped charges against the others.

Critics complain that the case dubbed Tarnished Eagle was a bizarre sting operation. It included a federal agent posing as a gun dealer, pushing for a plan to overthrow Laos — a plan provided by an unemployed Fresno screenwriter that featured mercenaries overtaking Vientiane, the capitol of Laos. No money or guns ever changed hands.

U.S Atty. Ben Wagner released a statement defending the handling of the case.

"While some defense attorneys have raised claims of misconduct, I believe the case was investigated and prosecuted properly and professionally.… The agents and attorneys who worked on this case have done so with honor and good faith," Wagner wrote. His office declined further comment.

Seng Vue, 72, was facing life in prison if convicted. In his Fresno apartment, he rests his hands on a walker. He suffered two strokes during his month and a half in jail.

He said he spent the time in his cell rethinking his past and the Hmong decision to help the U.S. Maybe thousands of Hmong soldiers should never have died to save American pilots. Maybe America was never their friend, he said. He remembers a French priest in his village begging them not to take up arms.

But then, Seng Vue's face darkens and his body quakes with sobs. The Hmong love America, the Hmong died for America, he said. Vang Pao is the leader of the Hmong. He should be buried in Arlington National Cemetery so the world can see that he is an American hero, he says.

"It is a small gesture if they do, but if they don't, it is forever true they don't care about the many Hmong who fought and died," said Vue, almost spitting with scorn.

Sombat Vue, 34, an Iraq war veteran who is translating for his father, is shaken by his father's outrage.

"The past is always there. But this anger is new," he said. "When I was growing up it was always 'Woo-hoo America.' I hope if they do bury General Vang Pao at Arlington, it also buries some of my father's hurt."



Getting to know Sor Lo: One of two finalists for appointment to the City Council

Friday, January 21, 2011

CHICO — When Sor Lo came to the lectern at Tuesday night's Chico City Council meeting, for many, it was the first time they had heard of the Chico resident.
That night Councilor Jim Walker candidly admitted, "I don't know Sor Lo other than through this process."

But the council and the residents of Chico may soon get to know Lo much better, as the Hmong business owner is now one of two finalists vying for the Chico City Council seat left vacant by newly elected Butte County Supervisor Larry Wahl.

Though Lo, 45, has never campaigned for public office before, the father of eight is now contending with retired Lifetouch manager Bob Evans for a chance to sit on the city dais.

From his southeast Chico home Thursday morning, Lo, who moved to the United States in 1988 from a Thai refugee camp, discussed his desire to join the six other members of the Chico City Council.

"It's my time to serve people in any way I can," Lo said.

Up until this point, Lo has largely avoided the local political scene, admitting that he doesn't like to "play politics."

He acknowledged that although he is a registered Democrat, he has never voted in a local, state or national election — including the most recent Chico City Council election.

Lo is not a regular attendee at council meetings, has never attended a 2030 Chico General Plan meeting and his only experience in city government has been as a recent member of the newly established Chico Police Advisory Committee.
Still, Lo said he brings something to the table that no other City Councilor can boast — a connection to a population that Lo says is underrepresented in Chico government.

Throughout the course of an hour, Lo, a full-time advocate for Independent Living Services of Northern California, repeatedly stated his intention to serve as an ambassador and liaison to the Hmong community, as well as to those in Chico who live in poverty, or with disabilities.

He said by having a minority representative on the council, more Chico residents will feel comfortable sharing their opinions and concerns with the council.

"I want their voice to be heard too," Lo said.

But just what does Lo's voice represent?

As an immigrant who has no idea of his exact birthdate and who learned English while living in the refugee camp, Lo certainly demonstrates the epitome of hard work and tenacity.

He owns the Asian Market on Nord Avenue, speaks, reads and writes five languages, owns rental property in Chico and has earned an associate, bachelor's and master's degree from Butte College and Chico State University.

He was born along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and literally grew up in a jungle as his family fought for democracy.

Lo spent 13 years of his life living in a tent with his family of nine, behind a fence that bordered the Thai refugee camp. He married and had two children while living in the camp.

Lo carries shrapnel in his right leg from a communist explosive that was shot into his family's tent, likely because his father was a CIA agent who helped the United States government during the Vietnam War. That same blast killed Lo's sister.

Addressing the council Tuesday night, Lo said his past only serves as a strength for his potential future as a city councilor.

"I served the U.S. in war time and want to serve the citizens of Chico in peace time," Lo said.

With a warm smile, Lo admitted Thursday the learning curve for serving as a city councilor will certainly be steep.

He was unsure of the exact figure for the city budget deficit and though he was familiar with the city's budget crisis, he has not been as intimately involved in the discussion as other members of the public have.

Lo offered little in the way of concrete policy decisions that he would support or oppose, other than to say he would like to see businesses, nonprofits and city government work better together.

But Lo contends — and has definitely proved — that he has no aversion to hard work.

"I work seven days a week, no vacation, no time off," Lo said.

Lo said it was that dedication to his work, along with the illness and subsequent death of his father, that prevented him from running for council this past year or applying to serve on a city board or commission in late 2010.

"I just had no time," Lo said.

Now, he believes he is ready for public service. With Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilors Andy Holcombe and Scott Gruendl supporting his appointment over 19 other applicants, it seems Lo has a steady chance at that opportunity.

The council is scheduled to choose its final selection at its Feb. 1 meeting, but if it remains deadlocked between Lo and Evans as it was on Tuesday, a special election will be forced.

Lo said he would run for the position in that election and added that if the appointment is given to Evans he thinks it "would send a message to minorities that they are not welcome in this community."

When asked about any advantages he may hold over Evans, Lo responded, "He's the same people as we already have."

Still, as much as he identifies with his Hmong heritage, Lo said his ultimate goal is to give a voice to all Chicoans.

Lo said as a city councilor, he will undoubtedly bring diversity to city government, but much more than that, he said he will be a servant to the city's residents.

"I'm not just representing Hmong people," Lo said. "I'm representing the whole city."

Staff writer Toni Scott can be reached at 896-7767 or



Hmong divided on Vang funeral

A bitter dispute between organizers of competing Hmong New Year celebrations in Fresno has grown since the death this month of Gen. Vang Pao -- and the conflict is affecting plans for the Hmong leader's funeral in two weeks.

One organization has been told it will not be welcome at the funeral, and its presence could cause a disruption. Some members said they have heard rumors they could be spit on if they show up.

And without the general as a mediator, it's unlikely the issues can be resolved before the funeral, many in the Hmong community believe.

Most Hmong viewed Vang -- who led guerrilla forces against the communists during the Vietnam War -- as a father figure and leader in helping Hmong immigrants settle in the United States.

Individuals do not need invitations to attend the funeral, but organizations wishing to speak and participate in the ceremonies do.

We investigate work at home jobs and what we found may shock you!Ads by YabukaThe Hmong 18 Clan Council wants to deliver a
speech honoring the general as a leader and a hero during the Vietnam War. The general's family turned down the request.

The group held a controversial New Year's celebration competing with one that another organization has held for a dozen years. The group hopes to meet with the general's family to resolve problems in the next two weeks so it can attend the funeral, said Pao Yang, a council spokesman.

"The Hmong public doesn't want to see a division at the general's funeral," Yang said.

Chai Vang, one of the general's sons, said the family wants the same thing, and that's why the organization is not invited. "The family wants a funeral fit for a king, and we don't want any disputes and engagements and the possibility for fighting," he said.

The split

Tensions in the Hmong community have festered since December, when the Hmong 18 Clan Council -- a group with representatives from each of the 18 Hmong family clans -- broke away from the traditional Hmong International New Year at the Fresno fairgrounds to host its own celebration at the city's Regional Sports Complex on Dec. 26.

Members of the council claimed money from the Hmong International New Year has been misspent on trips abroad and not for goals such as building a Hmong community center. The organizers of the Hmong International New Year denied the claims.

Vang, 81, was admitted to Clovis Community Medical Center on Dec. 26, the first day of the Hmong New Year celebrations. He apparently was admitted shortly after making his annual appearance at the Hmong International New Year event at the Fresno Fairgrounds. Vang lived in Southern California.

Animosity against the Hmong 18 Clan Council has intensified since the general's death on Jan. 6, some in the Hmong community said. Members of the council requested permission of the general's family to participate in the funeral, but were rebuffed. Instead, they held a candlelight vigil to show respect and honor the general on Jan. 10, Pao Yang said.

Chai Vang said his father did not officially recognize the group as a "credible organization," and out of respect for the family it was not extended an invitation to the funeral.

Yang of the council said the general had not given his recognition, but "the Hmong community recognized the 18 Clan Council ... their intent to lead Hmong to the next generation."

Ze Her, a volunteer at the council and president of the Hmong Student Association at Fresno City College, said the council is trying to honor the general as a great leader in the community.

"Its a wrongdoing to the community" for the group to be excluded from the funeral, he said.



Hmong-American stories on stage

Sun Mee Chomet and Saikong Yang in a scene from Katie Ka Vang's "WTF"

'Here's the thing that bothers me about the Asian-American stories we often see onstage," actor and playwright Sun Mee Chomet said last week. "So many of these plays are immigration stories about people escaping through rice paddies or dodging bullets. Those FOB [fresh-off-the-boat] stories are interesting, but at some point we're just Americans, and our plays should be about living here with all its joys and heartbreaks and secrets."

Chomet is getting her wish. She stars in Katie Ka Vang's "WTF," a contemporary look at a group of Hmong Americans. It tackles taboo subjects in the Hmong community, including intergenerational conflicts, polygamy and drug addiction.

The play, which premieres Friday at Mixed Blood Theatre under the aegis of Mu Performing Arts, is Vang's first full-length work.

"It's been both an exhilarating and nerve-racking experience," said Vang, who started writing "WTF" two years ago. "For me, the biggest hurdles haven't been that I'm airing laundry. I'm not trying to write for the Hmong community -- to be a spokesperson. My challenge has been stylistic. I'm a poet who's just trying to write a little love story about two people who, despite all odds, end up together."

Vang uses hip-hop and spoken-word aesthetics in "WTF."

The nine-character play centers on two twentysomethings: True, played by Chomet, and Sunday, her best friend from childhood. True is reeling from the death of her mother, who was her father's third wife. She is one of 16 siblings. Sunday's parents both struggle with addiction.

Vang may not want to be a spokesperson, but because there are so few works from the Hmong tradition -- and because she has been building a reputation in performance circles -- it's an almost futile struggle.

"There really is no Hmong literary tradition to speak of," said Chomet, who served as a dramaturg on the play. "You can look at that as a tragedy or as an opportunity. Katie is courageously creating that canon."

History of displacement

The Hmong were engaged by the Central Intelligence Agency to fight secret wars in Southeast Asia. When the conflict wound down, they fled the battlefields and mountains, and many arrived in the United States in the mid-1970s. Today, there are about 250,000 Hmong in the United States, with one of the largest populations residing in Minnesota.

Vang, 31, is part of that diaspora. Born in Santa Ana, Calif., she was partly educated in Colorado, where she faced challenges that bicultural kids confront.

"My parents were refugees or immigrants," she said. "I was the only one out of my parents' seven children born in this country. My family grew up Christian, but many of my friends practiced animism, shamanism, spiritual calling. There is no one narrative that defines all of us."

Vang moved to the Twin Cities in 1999 to be closer to her two older sisters and their families. Since then, she studied marketing management at Concordia University. She also became a fixture on the poetry and performance scene, releasing a chapbook, "Never Said," and doing one-woman shows.

While she has been honing her voice as a poet and playwright, she had other ambitions as a child.

"I always wanted to be a singer, to be in music," she said, remembering how she once was the lead singer of a Christian rock band and served as a youth choir director for a church in Colorado. "The best way to say it is that I've always wanted to tell stories."

Vang has won grants from the Jerome Foundation, which gave commissioning support for "WTF," and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She is part of a national leadership initiative sponsored by the Theater Communications Group and helps to develop artists as a part-time job at the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent.

'Limbo generation'

"Katie is part of the limbo generation," said Mu co-founder Rick Shiomi. These "children of immigrants struggle with balancing their parents' tradition while bending to a new culture. Katie has captured that intergenerational tension in a really fresh, compelling way in substance and style."

For her part, Vang said the play is a way to explain herself, and to show "how we create ourselves in a contemporary society when the blueprint that we have, that our parents have, no longer works.

"When the Hmong came over here in 1975, it wasn't the end of their story," she said. "It was a beginning."

Chomet said that she is excited to be part of the play, and to witness the literary birth of a new playwright.

"'WTF' is not just a new play by a new playwright," added Chomet. "It's about a member of a misunderstood, stereotyped community stepping bravely into her power, her own voice."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390


Vang Pao funeral to be broadcast worldwide

A magazine featuring a picture of General Vang Pao sits on the alter during the vigil at the Hmong Palace Church in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Jan. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Autumn Cruz) (AP)

APPLETON – Hmong refugees scattered around the world can tune in to the funeral of revered Hmong Army Gen. Vang Pao thanks to the efforts of an Appleton communications entrepreneur.

Kor Xiong, president of Appleton-based Hmong Wisconsin Radio, is playing a role in organizing national and local memorials to Vang Pao, best known to the non-Hmong community as the leader of a CIA-sponsored "Secret War" against communist forces in Laos during the Vietnam War.

Vang Pao, 81, died Jan. 6 in Fresno, Calif., of complications from pneumonia. Hmong guerillas led by Vang Pao were credited with diverting the attention of significant numbers of communist troops away from U.S. forces during the war.

Thousands of Hmong from across Wisconsin are expected to travel to Appleton over the course of nine days beginning Jan. 29 to mourn and honor the general, known not only for his military leadership, but also for his devotion to the education of Hmong children.

There are no formal memorials planned for Vang Pao in the Sheboygan area, said ChaSong Yang, executive director of the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association of Sheboygan.

Reverence for Vang Pao is so strong that his name is still written and spoken in the traditional Hmong fashion — with last name before first name — instead of the English-language fashion of first name before surname that most Hmong in the U.S. have adopted.
"When Gen. Vang Pao was still in Laos it didn't matter if it involved traveling to the bottom of the biggest hill or the top of the highest mountain. If a school needed a teacher he would find a helicopter if necessary to get a teacher to that school," Xiong said.

Xiong is attempting to emulate Vang Pao's desire to reach all Hmong by establishing the first Hmong satellite television station, currently known as Hmong Satellite TV, which will offer Hmong-oriented broadcasting 24 hours a day.

The station was due to inaugurate service in mid-April, but Vang Pao's death pushed forward the unveiling to Feb. 4.

Using rented equipment, Xiong will coordinate live, around-the-clock video coverage of Vang Pao's memorial and funeral set for Feb. 9. An estimated 40,000 people are expected to view Vang Pao's body in California.

Those wishing to view the memorial and funeral can watch via a satellite feed or online at

The Appleton memorial is expected to attract about 3,000 mourners to Richmond Hall, 2531 N. Richmond St., including Hmong military veterans from all corners of Wisconsin.

As many as 700 Hmong veterans of the Vietnam War could travel to Appleton for the memorial service said Za Blong Vang of Appleton, chief councilor of the Hmong 18 Clan Council of Wisconsin and a local Hmong leader who fought alongside Vang Pao during the Vietnam War from 1961 through 1975.
The Appleton memorial begins Jan. 29 with participation from Hmong military veterans and presentations by Hmong leaders. Vang Pao's family opted last week against bringing his body to the Midwest for viewings, saying it would be impossible to preserve the body during the trip.

On Jan. 30, Hmong youth are encouraged to attend the memorial service. From Jan. 31 through Feb. 4, Richmond Hall will be open each day to mourners from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

A community dinner is set for Feb. 5 at Richmond Hall.



Performance artist Katie Ka Vang opens first play

Thursday, January 20, 2011

ST. PAUL (December 22, 2010) - "WTF", the first play written be local performance artist Katie Ka Vang, will open the Mu Performing Arts 2010-2011 Season and run from January 21 through February 6, 2011 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.

Directed by Randy Reyes, the cast includes: Billy Xiong, Dan Le, Fres Thao, Gao Song Vang, Pam Xiong, Saikong Yang, Sunmee Chomet and Tom Thao.While Vang calls it a love story that gives an inside-out look at some unique cultural issues, director Randy Reyes says the play is groundbreaking in its exploration of the Hmong American experience.

WTF is an expletive slang abbreviation made popular with texting. The term exemplifies the frustration that Vang says is at the heart of the story.

"Being a performance artist and a poet you begin to name stuff and make metaphors around it," she said. "At the same time we are using texting technology to express things in the play."

Vang said this is a contemporary perspective of the Hmong fairy tale tradition. It is her representation of story based on observation and experiences. She said it is a fictional story with generalizations on both youth and elders as exhibited through the mind of one Hmong American woman.

"I am biased," said Vang, emphasizing that the work is art and meant to inspire discussion in the pursuit of a more reflective life. "I hope that the audience realizes that this is just one perspective."

As an underground spoken word artist, Vang said the "pimping of the culture" comes without even knowing it. She doesn't add motif without reason and said there were long discussions over suggestion to add cultural elements to the story.

"It is told in a terrific way through the perspective of a young Hmong American artist," said Reyes, adding that as a Filipino American raised in Los Angeles and New York, the play opened his eyes to a community and a culture he wasn't familiar with until he moved to Minnesota.

"I had to learn this just as if I was not Asian at all," said Reyes, noting that common APIA threads are with degrees of assimilation, learning a new language and a sensitivity of how one's culture is perceived by others.

The story began with a little inspiration from "Life and Debt", a song by a Seattle-based hip-hop group, The Blue Scholars. The line in the song goes: "Take a deep breath, baby, let's rearrange the mess we've inherited."

Vang began to pool together her feelings about youth and maturing, about family and culture, addiction, careers and marriage. She began to write in her monologue voice but said the complex and overlapping topics were voiced more completely through composite characters.

"It is about how to rearrange something that is there but is not working; but also understanding what our parents raised us with, and then deconstructing that without losing what I want to use for a different blue print," said Vang.

The theme contains issues of polygamy and opium use in the elder generation that is presented with the emotional repercussions and choices of the younger characters. She said it is less a direct social statement than of how its subtle pervasiveness impacts lives.

"I am not trying to dissect it but want to show that it still exists in peoples' lives," she added. "The best way to portray it is with regular people."

Vang submitted the play for a reading in the New Eyes Festival last year and with so many talented playwrights she was surprised to be named for the nurturing program made possible by a Jerome Foundation grant.

Reyes said a strength of the story is its glimpse at the quiet way the Hmong American family unit functions in terms of sharing feelings - but being able to express something without always having to say it. He contrasted this with a "verbose and open" family unit in Filipino culture.

He said it is significant that non-Hmong don't always see a difference, visually, between other ethnic Asians - calling this a common APIA experience.

"It's about the new generation of Hmong Americans; the younger generation who are born here and who are now trying to find their way in the world - and being caught between the American culture and their traditional Hmong culture," said Reyes.

The issues of the American Hmong family and of how the younger generation deals with them is quite unique, he added.

Reyes said the audience would identify with themes of love and family, coming of age and responsibilities. Not all sides are represented in the story and he felt it was important to "spark" the questions and a desire for insight" at some level rather than presenting it as knowledge or representing culture.

"The didactic is not art - its record keeping," he said. "If you want that then read the historical books. When your doing theater you do it as an art form. It is not there to answer all the questions but to spark the conversation."

The author of a chapbook and several performance art collaborations and solo-works, Vang said she is comfortable writing aesthetic monologues and prose for herself, but has to work a writing a story using dialogue for actors.

She stayed true to her story by keeping her characters "raw and honest." She also welcomed actor feedback to give the actors the "accurate portrayal" they wanted.

Reyes said the language stems from Vang's background in spoken word and poetry. It has a rhythm that is not verbose and the silence has a language all of its own.

Vang scoffs at descriptions of her work as "revolutionary" or "groundbreaking." She is proud of her work but says these are all stories that have been told before and is perhaps just bringing a fresh, contemporary perspective.

"This is only way I know how to write," she said. "For them its experimental and it works. Its street theater-style and spoken word style theater, and everything comes from performance art."

The story is set in the Twin Cities and in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The characters are composites of people that Vang said has shaped her perceptions on issues and generalizations.

Sun Mee Chomet (show-met), portrays True, a 23 year-old woman who has lived a difficult life. She is smart and but her own upbringing being raised by three mothers is contributing to her own situation.

"That's just the way she is," said Vang. "She just wants to be a very simple girl - rough around the edges, centered and down to earth."

Chomet, a Detroit native and Korean American who earned an M.F.A. from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, once played Liang May Seen, the first Chinese woman-Minnesotan, in Jeany Park's History Theater production of "100 Men's Wife". She also performed in the 2009 Guthrie production of "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures."

The settings are minimal: a skyline and a street corner, a living room and an office. The scenery is designed to enhance expression and not to recreate the culture.

The colors of the paj ntaub are expressed through lighting, and Hmong hip hop culture is captured through sound and projections.

"It an abstract expression of the soul or the mind of the character," said Reyes.

In addition to writing and spoken word performing Vang worked part time at Center for Hmong Arts & Talent, where she taught youth dancers and mentored young artists. Vang is now working on "Hmong Bollywood", an autobiographical performance art piece about addiction and family history, using Bollywood as an aesthetic.

WTF contains adult content and cursing. It is recommended for adults and teens above the age of thirteen. For more information visit Mu Performing Arts online at Mixed Blood Theater ( is located at 1501 South 4th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55454.



General Vang Pao

Taken from my friend, Chanh Vang, who she took from her friend, Noah Vang, on Facebook.

Please help and thank you -

General Vang Pao and his family are in need of your HELP! We are writing to the President, Secretary of Defense, and Secrteary of the Army to have our leader General Vang Pao's body to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. We asked that you download the file and write to your congressional leaders to support this much-needed effort. Thank you.

General Vang Pao Memorial


Van Pao vigil: A son's duty

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the weeks before Gen. Vang Pao's funeral, the son of the Hmong legend presides over mourning in St. Paul.

Every day since his father died more than a week ago, Lu Vang has stood vigil at the elaborate shrine created for the late Gen. Vang Pao.

From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., he takes his post inside the auditorium of the Lao Family Community of Minnesota offices on W. University Avenue in St. Paul, waiting to welcome the parade of clan elders, soldiers, politicians and ordinary folks.

The son has vowed to stay there for 12 hours every day for the next two weeks, until he must leave to attend his father's funeral in California.

So far, more than 1,000 people have stopped to pay their respects to the general, considered a hero for his role in the Vietnam War and in leading the first waves of Hmong refugees to the United States.

Lu Vang greets them with a handshake and a slight bow.

As the oldest son of Vang Pao's children living in Minnesota, "it's my job," he said.

A five-day funeral beginning Feb. 4 in Fresno, Calif., has been set for the general, who died of pneumonia Jan. 6 at age 81.

Originally, the plan was to keep the St. Paul shrine open to visitors only on the weekends leading up to the funeral. But the family pushed for a constant vigil.

"My father always committed to the Hmong community," Lu Vang said. "It's my duty to open it 12 hours a day until I leave."

The way he sees it, some maybe walk in at any time, and when they arrive, they should be received by a family member.

A man of small build, Lu Vang appears even smaller standing in front of the billboard-sized photo of his father at the center of the shrine.

"I talk to him all the time. I ask him for wisdom and ask him to help out and bring more people," Lu Vang says.

With the passing of the general, many Hmong elders feel rudderless.

"Right now the Hmong are still divided," Lu Vang said. "All leadership is gone. Right now, we're going to go through a stage of [people] challenging for leadership. I have to try to keep everyone together. I'm only a little guy, so it's going to be hard."

Each day begins with Lu Vang entering the room, lighting candles near the large shrine, then greeting his father.

"I tell him, 'Good morning, Dad, I'm here to reopen this room. Forgive me if I do something wrong. I ask you for the good wish for the Hmong people to come back together.'"

Then he makes a pot of coffee and places a cup at the shrine.

An auto mechanic, he's had no trouble taking time off from his job because he works for his nephew.

Weekends are the busiest time, when large groups of mourners show up.

Sunday was a day for many important guests, including the special guerrilla unit, made up of men who fought with Gen. Vang Pao in Laos against the Communists. They marched in wearing their khaki uniforms and saluting his photo.

As the afternoon wore on, more people arrived.

They brought gifts of incense and flowers -- and cash to help pay for funeral expenses.

Lu Vang greeted them all, directing them to sign their names in the guest book.

By 9 p.m. the auditorium was still humming, as clan leaders at one table toasted the general with whiskey shots. Soon after, trays once full of chicken and rice were empty.

Lu Vang joined a group of mourners praying before his father's photo.

He bowed deeply, talking to his father once more before calling it a night.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488



Vang Pao legacy is the future of Hmong in U.S., Laos and world

General Vang Pao, commander of the Hmong resistance to the Laotian and Vietnamese Communists, community leader in exile in the United States, and charismatic leader, died in California at the age of 81.

Writing in the Minneapolis Tribune, Stephen B. Young, friend and associate of General Vang, gave a personal eulogy. In addition to his emotional and loving reminiscences, Stephen declared but did not fully explain that Vang Pao was an historical hero: "He was a warrior chieftain, a throwback to ancient societies. He had the special charisma of a great founder of a dynasty. He was a Sitting Bull, a Cochise."

Sadly, both Sitting Bull and Cochise were tragic figures: they were heroic fighters against American settlers but eventually surrendered and were abused by the American government.

Sitting Bull(1831-1890) had fled to Canada after the slaughter of General Custer and his men. Upon his return, he made peace with Washington D.C., but was shot to death by the Indian Agency Police. Cochise (1805-74) fought heroically yet unsuccessfully at Apache Pass. His relatives were taken hostage by the Army, and subsequently executed. He fled to Mexico and from there engaged in raids into New Mexico which resulted in the slaughter of thousands of settlers and Indians. He, too, surrendered and lived on a reservation where he died-possibly of stomach cancer.

I would have chosen a comparison with Quanah Parker, a Comanche chief and warrior who engaged in guerrilla warfare resulting in great slaughter of Indians and settlers for many years and finally surrendered to his arch enemy General Mackenzie. Surprisingly, the two became fast friends and the General gave support to the Comanche's career. Quanah went into the cattle business and became very wealthy. He built a mansion and opened up his farm and residence to all guests - including poor and homeless Indians. He became active in the community: he was the Director of an Indian school, and later had a county named after him.

Vang Pao's fate was created by the fact that the Laotian communist party would not tolerate Hmong autonomy in Laos. The futile battles that raged in Laos resulted in "killing fields" of one third of the Hmong population and the flight of another third. The rest suffered under the oppressive policies of the regime.

On the other hand, the U.S. government was initially opportunistic in arming the Hmong against the communists. This was not unlike their use of Indian tribes to fight each other. At the end of the war, Washington D.C. was reluctant to recognize its obligations to and the rights of the refugees. It treated the Hmong like it had treated many native American tribes. Vang Pao did not have support from a man like Quanah's Mackenzie. Nor was he able to secure a broad constituency outside of the Hmong community.

Quanah was fortunate. The Indian wars subsided. The settlers could work in relative peace with the Indians. For Vang Pao, the Cold War intensified the conflict. Loyalty to anti-communism became the political test for his support from both the U.S. government and his Hmong constituency. Although he tried, as Young relates, to compromise with Laos and perhaps Vietnam, this was stymied by both the U.S. and China. Near the end of his life, the U.S. government even brought charges against him for supporting the rebels in Laos. The result was that Vang Pao was even further alienated from important support in the broader American community.

Vang Pao's legacy will be fulfilled if there is a way for the Hmong in Laos and those abroad to live in peace and be able to attain a rich quality of life. For the historian, his is another example of the treacherous politics of colonialism, whether communist or "western," and the struggles for independence and survival in the modern world. The love of his followers should not prevent or hinder them from looking both admiringly and critically at his life and times.

Richard C. Kagan, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus and former director of the East Asian Studies Program at Hamline University.



More than 200 turn out for vigil for Vang Pao

Monday, January 17, 2011

More than 200 people turned out to for another candlelight vigil to remember Vang Pao, the former Laotian general who was a key U.S. ally in the Vietnam War.

The vigil Saturday night in Fresno was the third for the former Hmong leader since he died at the age of 81 on Jan. 6 after losing a battle with pneumonia.

The Fresno Bee reports that 20 men who fought with the former general were among those attending the vigil.

The former general led Hmong guerrillas in a CIA-backed battle against communists in Laos and was credited with resettling tens of thousands of Hmong in American cities.

A four-day funeral set to begin Feb. 4 at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center is expected to draw thousands of people.

Vang Pao's family is seeking a burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.



Ceremony to honor Hmong general

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Area Hmong residents plan to hold a candlelight vigil this evening in Wheaton to honor Vang Pao, a charismatic Hmong general who led his mountain people in fighting Communist insurgents and assisted the United States during the Vietnam War.

ao, who was in exile in the United States after the Communists took over Laos in 1975, died Jan. 6 at age 81 in Clovis, Calif.

A New York Times obituary said Pao achieved "almost kinglike status" among the Hmong, a tribe in the mountains of northern Laos, bordering China.

During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited by the United States to fight Communists, and Pao, a general in the official Laotian Army, was their military leader.

"Gen. Pao is like a father to all Hmong people," said Cheng Leng Vang of Fairview, comparing the general to George Washington.

"We believe he's a savior for everyone," said Vang, noting area families hang Pao's portrait at their homes.

Vang said Pao helped bring civilization to the Hmong living in the jungles, and the general wanted to bring freedom and democracy to the country.

Vang's father was a soldier under Pao and later served as a mayor in Laos, Vang said.

When the Communists prevailed, the Hmong faced persecution, torture and death, and many followed Pao to the United States.

Once in the U.S., Pao remained the leader of the Hmong, motivating his people to "work hard and study hard," Vang said.

He has raised the profile of the Hmong, Vang said, and "a lot of people know about Hmong because of Gen. Pao."

In southwest Missouri, there are about 180 Hmong families, Vang said. They have moved to the Ozarks for its warmer weather and farming opportunities. Many Hmong families raise chicken for poultry processors such as Tyson, George's and Simmons.



Death of the general who led the Hmong into exile

TO HIS followers, General Vang Pao was “the earth and the sky”, a natural-born leader of the mountain-dwelling Hmong tribes of Laos who fought with the Americans during the Vietnam war. When the Pathet Lao seized power in 1975, Vang Pao led his people into exile in America, where he died on January 6th, aged 81. He never set foot again in his native Laos.

Mr Vang’s guerrilla army, backed and financed by the CIA and opium sales, was a vital cog in the American war machine. His men attacked Communist forces along the Ho Chi Minh trail that snaked through north-east Laos, and rescued downed American bomber pilots. Some 35,000 Hmong died in battle.

Vang Pao’s war was a secret one; Laos was officially neutral. That stopped neither North Vietnam’s Communists nor the Americans nor Mr Vang. Leading his troops into battle, he was badly wounded. Yet he found time to marry several wives and was said to have fathered at least 20 children.

The Hmong picked the losing side in a conflict that spilled over into civil war in Laos. After Communist victory in 1975, tens of thousands of Hmong fled overland into Thailand, and then California and Minnesota. Vang Pao leant on his network of former spooks, soldiers and diplomats to twist arms in Washington, DC, and win help for his kinsmen.

Rag-tag Hmong rebels remain in the remote jungles of Laos. For Vang Pao, it was unfinished business. In old age he may have dreamed of a comeback. In 2007 American prosecutors accused him of plotting the overthrow of the Lao government by recruiting mercenaries to seize the capital. The charges were later dropped, and the whole case then collapsed. Asked last week about his death, Laos said it had no comment. Its Communist rulers have other matters to attend to. On January 11th Laos opened its first stock exchange. Times have changed.



Gen. Vang Pao Services to Start Feb. 4th

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

General Vang Pao
Funeral plans have been announced for General Vang Pao who died last week at the age of 81.

The traditional Hmong funeral for the Hmong leader will begin at the Fresno Convention Center on Friday February 4th.

Assemblyman Henry T. Perea has been helping out. "I expect a huge turnout. Our local office has been engaged to help plan as much they need. It is an honor to be a part of the services"

The ceremony is expected to last for four days and be attended by as many as 40,000 mourners a day.



Editorial: Vang Pao's death means loss, change for area Hmong

The death last week of Laotian Army General Vang Pao is a great loss for Hmong Americans and marks the end of an era for this country's Southeast Asian refugees.

Pao, 81, died Thursday in Clovis, Calif., from pneumonia.

The charismatic leader was revered by tens of thousands of Hmong people who fled to the U.S. following the Vietnam War. He gained prominence first as part of the Royal Lao Army and later as head of a CIA-backed secret army, leading Hmong guerrillas against communists during the Vietnam War. Postwar, his reputation grew as he helped Hmong refugees resettle in the United States.

Many of the thousands of Hmong who live in Northeastern Wisconsin are mourning his death.

Staryoung Thao, executive director of the United Hmong & Asian American Community Center in Green Bay, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette he was sad to hear the news. He said Pao's passing would be "a turning point" for his people.

"It's a great loss to the Hmong community. It is a sad time for everyone," Thao on Tuesday told a member of the Press-Gazette editorial board. "… He had been considered one of the greatest leaders within the Hmong community, from postwar, (for) many generations, until now."

The Hmong community center, 401 Ninth St., on Sunday held a candlelight vigil to remember Pao. Between 200 and 300 people came to pay their respects, many weeping as they touched the leader's photograph, said Wa Yia Thao, the center's elected president.

Staryoung Thao estimates there are between 5,000 and 6,000 people with Hmong ethnic background — either those who migrated or who were born here — living in Brown County.

Though beloved by Hmong communities around the nation, Pao also was a controversial figure. Accounts surfaced that while he was a military leader, he had ordered executions of political prisoners and even of some of his followers, in addition to rumors that he helped finance his army through the opium trade.

In 2007, he and 10 others were indicted on federal charges for allegedly plotting to overthrow the communist government of Laos, a violation of the federal Neutrality Act. The charges against him were dropped in 2009.

The indictment in 2007 was enough to stop an effort in Madison to name an elementary school after Pao.

Still, Pao's legacy of fighting for the rights of his people cannot be denied. Among his accomplishments is his establishment of the Lao Family Community organization, which provides social services nationwide. The nonprofit group teaches English and basic life skills to refugees.

"We don't know that we will have anyone like him," said Wa Yia Thao, "or that we will have someone … who will replace him. The Hmong feel there will be no one who will be able to do as much as General Vang Pao."



On Vang Pao and the Hmong

Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Dear Friends, After I sent out the obituary from BBC last week,I was reminded by several of you that the Vang Pao that many new first-hand was quite different than the exiled hero some have portrayed him as. What follows are several first-hand accounts by a long time activist who spent many years in Laos and was very close to quite a bit of the activity involving Vang Pao and what the man stood for.Thanks for reading and semper peace!

By Chuck Palazzo

I hadn’t planned to write anything about Vang Pao, but since you asked, here are my views. Please feel free to send them to anyone who might be particularly interested – I don’t particularly feel like sending this out as a mass mailing because I don’t claim to be an expert on the whole Hmong business and, frankly, I’ve been sickened by Vang Pao and the whole Hmong story since I first started learning about it in 1967.

As I lived in Vientiane and dealt almost entirely with Lao, and the CIA/USAID operation with Vang Pao were in areas from which everyone was excluded, including Americans who didn’t work there, I didn’t have too much personal one-on-one contact with the whole Hmong (in those days we called them “Meo”) business.

I did learn a lot about the whole operation, however, from dozens of sources over the years including CIA pilots, etc., and particularly from one American friend, a very decent USAID guy named Ron Rickenbach, who’d been in the center of the whole operation for several years, who really like the Hmong, and turned against the whole situation when he realized the Americans were forcing teenagers to fight and killing them off by sending them up against NVA/PL troops to essentially use them as live bait to draw enemy fire so the airplanes could bomb.

I always remember Ron, with tears in his eyes, describing how the traditional courting rituals of the Hmong – which featured boys in a crowd and girls in a crowd rolling balls back and forth between them – could not be conducted anymore because there were only girls and most of the young boys of fighting age had been killed off.

I also was in two meetings with Vang Pao personally at Sam Thong, and picked up a lot over the years from a variety of other people, including a friend who flew for the CIA.

– My first meeting was particularly instructive. I wound up flying up to Sam Thong in the summer of 1967 with my Congressman, Lester Wolff and his colleague Cong. McCarthy from Buffalo. We were in a C130 and as we were flying to ST the head of USAID, Dr. Mendenhall, said there’d been some rain in ST and the runway was too muddy for our C130, so we’d land at an “auxiliary landing strip” and thence fly by helicopter to ST. We did so and, after landing at ST, the two Congressmen were greeted by Hmong putting Hawaiian leis around their necks. I walked behind a U.S. Embassy official who walked over to the legendary Pop Buell who was standing off to the side, arms folded around his chest, watching the show. Buell said to the Embassy Official out of the corner of his mouth: “do they know anything?” The official responded, “oh, no, Pop. Mendenhall showed them our big map and they were very, very impressed.”

– What the Congressmen didn’t know was that we had landed our C-130 at a Long Cheng landing strip – or indeed that Long Cheng even existed. I was then at the meeting where “plucky freedom fighter” Vang Pao came in, briefed the Congressman on his fight against communism and for freedom, and asked for arms, which the Congressmen – two liberal Democrats – eagerly said they would support. That night I roomed with Cong, Woolf in a USAID trailer in Vang Vieng and tried to tell him about the rumors I’d already picked up – I’d been in Laos only about 5 months by then but had heard things – like how Vang Pao was a brutal, vicious sadist who would put “enemies” into holes and let them slowly starve to death like animals, etc. Woolf interrupted me quite passionately and explained that he had been elected on LBJ’s coattails in 1964 and, with real fear in his voice, explained that no one in his class dared oppose LBJ.

– So the U.S. Congress was not even told about Long Cheng, let alone the American bombing, let alone that the CIA was using northern Laos as a base to attack North Vietnam, including using the mountain Phou Pha Thi in northern Laos to guide U.S. bombers into North Vietnam, etc.

– I had in fact, I realized later , witnessed the Potemkin Village set up by the Americans that was used to fool and mislead a generation of journalists and Members of Congress. The Potemkin village story line at Sam Thong: “The North Vietnamese had unilaterally attacked the Hmong in northern Laos, who had fled this vicious communist attack, and Pop Buell, Dr. Weldon and other courageous, well-meaning were feeding the poor Hmong families who had “fled communism barbarians”, in a humanitarian effort aimed at keeping simple villagers alive at Sam Thong, where they could not only get U.S. rice to feed their families, but have access to a hospital, schools, etc.”

– The real story-line, as I discovered from Ron Rickenbach and a variety of other sources: the White House and CIA, wishing to use northern Laos as a base from which to attack North Vietnam, and to keep the Pathet Lao from power, armed a two-bit former Sergeant to first launch small-scale operations against the Pathet Lao and a handful of NVA in northern Laos and then, as the Hmong obviously were too weak to stand up to their communist foes – as was obvious from the start – built up a huge CIA presence in Laos, making it the largest CIA station in the world, built Long Cheng which at one point was the busiest airport in the world, imported tens of thousands of Thai, Nationalist Chinese and other mercenaries and, most importantly, began the most savage and protracted bombing of civilian targets in human history, using the Hmong as little more than live bait and mopping op operations after they had pulverized an area from above, in an attempt to prevail in northern Laos.

– They based their “Secret Army” out of Long Cheng, and Sam Thong was a side show – a place to feed the dependents of the Hmong soldiers fighting for them and convince gullible journalists that the U.S. was fighting for freedom and democracy in Laos. The real dynamic driving the U.S. operation in northern Laos was “careerism”, as the Shackleys, James Lilleys and many others used Laos as a steppingstone for rising within the CIA and military.

– The notion that the U.S. was fighting for freedom and democracy in supporting Vang Pao was particularly ludicrous. As you may remember from the film, Vang Pao himself says repeatedly that he was fighting for the Free World, freedom, democracy, etc., in Laos against “communism”. In fact, of course, Vang Pao was a brutal, vicious, small-minded warlord who rose to power solely because the Americans provided him with the money, arms and bombing, who presided over the murder of the Hmong – and sent heroin to U.S. troops in South Vietnam – out of his lust for power and wealth. He accumulated millions while many of his fellow Hmong, even on his side, lived in desperate poverty. There was NO DEMOCRACY WHATSOEVER in the CIA’s Hmong and Secret War. It was in fact the exact opposite. Vang Pao was fighting to maintain “warlordism” not democracy in northern Laos.

– If we go back to the late 1950s, the Hmong were divided. Some liked the Pathet Lao, some didn’t. The greatest enmities had more to do with traditional rivalries between lowland Lao and the hilltribe Hmong. There was a sizable faction of Hmong fighting with the Pathet Lao. The Hmong leaders who were anti-communist – like Vang Pao – had fought with the French in the cause of keeping Laos a colony of the French, hoping to then cut their deals with the French. Had the U.S. not intervened, they would undoubtedly have reached a deal with the communists, who probably would have won. Such a deal then would obviously have been much, much, much better for the Hmong people, than what eventually happened, after 20 years of bitter, U.S.-stoked enmity. And, most importantly, had the Americans not intervened all those Hmong who got killed fighting for the Americans – and their descendants – would have lived.

– The enmity between the Vang Pao and the communists obviously has its origin in the first Indochina war. After 1954 the Pathet Lao obviously did not feel good about those who had sided with the French. The conflict between Vang Pao and them obviously had nothing to do with VP’s commitment to “freedom” vs. “communism”, but rather his siding with the colonialists and then accepting American money and arms so he could build up his own powerbase and increase his own power and wealth.

– The last few times I’ve been to northern Laos I have been struck at how much of it consists of Hmong villages, living peacefully under PDR rule as far as I can tell. I have no idea how they feel about the present Lao government, of whether they might argue the Lao in northern Laos receive better treatment than they do, but there’s no real armed resistance and life just seems to be going on. When I was on the Plain of Jars I met the head of the government police force on the PdJ – he was a Hmong. None of the westerners I talked to living on the PdJ were aware of huge problems with the Hmong. I assume the Lao government, which does make a show of having Hmong on the Politburo, talking about “nationality rights”, etc., are treating them like anyone else if only to avoid antagonizing the huge numbers of Hmong in northern Laos who could become a huge problem if actively antagonized.

– What I learned about Vang Pao was that he was a brutal, vicious psychopath who killed, one on one, face to face, without compunction. (In our Lao film you may remember the Air America guy talks about how the first time he saw Vang Pao, as VP came towards him, he was shown a prisoner, casually shot him in the head, and kept walking.)

– VP was a Sergeant in the French army, a member of a small clan, a virtually nobody in traditional Hmong society. CIA case officer Bill Lair heard about him and the CIA, particularly under Ted Schackley, Lair’s successor – supplied him with hundreds of millions of dollars of arms and aid, as well as U.S. aircraft, CIA personnel, tens of thousands of Thai, Long Cheng, etc., etc. – transformed him from a minor psychopath into a classic vicious and undemocratic Asian warlord.

– Vang Pao ruled with an iron hand, as a vicious, savage dictator. Besides his own personal killing and torture, and that he authorized, Al McCoy talks about how villages who refused to supply soldiers to his army were refused rice and/or bombed.

– Vang Pao is said to be personally willing to fight and had shown some talent in the early years, not so much for real war-fighting, but launching raids into North Vietnam, assassination, spying, small-scale killing, etc. Once the war grew beyond small, murderous actions, however, it was way over Vang Pao’s head and the U.S. ran the show. Vang Pao was largely a figurehead from an overall military point of view.

– The CIA was clearly just cold-bloodedly using the Hmong, knowing they could not possibly win but, as I said, because they were useful as “live bait”. Heine Aderholt, the USAF General in charge of the bombing and fighting in northern Laos out of Udorn, actually said on camera in a film made about returning Air America pilots, that the whole U.S. purpose Hmong operation was to tie down 2 divisions of North Vietnamese troops (their numbers were never more than a few thousand up until the time I was kicked out in February 1971, might have grown somewhat subsequently), so that Asian boys could die fighting them instead of American boys.

– One of Vang Pao’s main interests was moving opium and heroin, using the Air America planes at his disposal, to the huge market of U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam. He showed no compunction about doing this, nor did the CIA which turned a blind eye to it.

– Ron told me that somewhere in the mid-1960s even Vang Pao had cold feet about presiding over the disappearance of the Hmong on his side, and wanted to give up, but the CIA and Pop Buell wouldn’t let him quit. So he presided over the disappearance of the Hmong men on his side.

– In late 1970, while interpreting for Sydney Schanberg, I went up with a group of journalists to Sam Thong, This was the famous incident where, after the typical VP briefing asking for more arms, Tim Allman stringing, Max Coiffait of AFP and John Saar of Time/Life, walked over the hill to Long Cheng and reported on it for the first time. What I remember most, however, was interviewing a 15 year old Hmong “soldier” with a big gun who had been forced to fight in the CIA’s “Secret Army.” That was late 1970. The war – and the death of Hmong children who the CIA mercilessly forced into battle knowing they would be massacred – vastly escalated over the next two plus years.

– So I regard Vang Pao as a two-bit monster and psychopath whom the U.S. used for its own ends. Even if one wants to argue, as I don’t, that there was a rationale for the CIA supporting him in the late 1950s or early 1960s, I don’t see how anyone with a mind or conscience can justify the CIA’s keeping them fighting after it was long clear that they could not win anything and would only be slaughtered.

– There are many reasons to despise Vang Pao: his siding with the colonialists rather than those fighting for independence from the French, his savagery and brutality, his total disregard for democratic and human rights, his enriching himself from the opium and heroin trade and indifference to the great mass of his people, etc. But, for me, the greatest reason for despising Vang Pao is that he didn’t quit in the mid-1960s, when he wanted to, and – for his own personal psychological needs, including an addiction to power and wealth – presided over the slaughter of countless more young Hmong men despite knowing they were just being used by CIA and U.S. Air force careerists.

– I guess you could argue he was a tragic figure in the same way little Heinzie Kissinger deserves sympathy for what he went through from ages 9-15 in Nazi Germany as a Jew watching the advent of Hitler to power, a particularly sensitive age when one is aware of the fear and horror but not fully comprehending what is going on. Unfortunately, both men as adults to my mind became monsters in human form, e.g. the recent revelation of Kissinger’s comment that the Russians sending Jews to the gas chamber was not an American foreign policy concern. I can sympathize with them as individuals, but also feel strongly that they need to be judged for their actions.

– The question for me about Kissinger is not Kissinger himself – obviously a deeply traumatized and disturbed individual whom I could have sympathy for in a one-on-one situation – but how such an obviously sick and sickening, cruel and malignant, beast who had no regard for human life, could rise to such power and become the toast of American society, and of course that he was not brought to justice for his crimes against humanity. When I think of Kissinger, I find myself wondering what his career tells us about the sickness of America and the human psyche.

– I have the same basic attitude toward Vang Pao.

Thanks for asking, Stay well,



Our View: Hmong leader helped shape our community

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Vang Pao was revered throughout the Hmong community as a warrior, a political leader and a cultural icon. His death in California on Thursday will be mourned by hundreds of thousands of Hmong-Americans, including many members of our own community. He was 81.

Without Vang Pao, Wausau very likely wouldn't have a Hmong community at all.

As a general in the Royal Army of Laos, Vang Pao heroically led Hmong fighters who aided Americans fighting first in the Secret War in Laos and later in the bloody, demanding battles in Vietnam. (Virtually all the Hmong men in Wausau today who were then of fighting age can show you their battle scars.)

After the war, Vang Pao came to America, bringing thousands of Hmong along with him. And as those individuals and families established their homes in the United States, more and more Hmong immigrants followed.

And Vang Pao remained the leader of that worldwide community, an elder statesman and a political leader who fought for Hmong refugees abroad and established nonprofit organizations to aid new U.S. immigrants. He appeared at Hmong gatherings across the nation and helped to steer the Hmong culture in crucial ways. In Wausau in 2009, he spoke out for the first time against domestic violence and polygamy within the Hmong community.

In a culture that has always valued tradition, Vang Pao was both a leader and a symbol of the Hmong story itself -- the journey taken by so many from the jungles of Laos to a new life in Fresno, Calif., or Minneapolis or the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

He was a giant, and his loss will be felt throughout our community, and across the nation.

A couple of other stories from this week deserve a mention:
Zillman Meat Market is a great local butcher shop, and its handling of the recent E. coli outbreak has been exemplary. Owners cooperated fully with the Marathon County Health Department and acted immediately to prevent the disease from spreading. By all indications, these actions did successfully prevent the outbreak from spreading beyond a single batch of tainted smoked ready-to-eat meat.

This week, the health department linked three more E. coli cases in Michigan to the shop. But it's important to understand that these weren't really new instances. They all came from food sold before the December announcement.

It's unfortunate that anyone has to get sick, but the fact is that contaminations sometimes happen in food service. What's important is that owners respond quickly to prevent germs from spreading. For that, Zillman's owners deserve our thanks.

Mike Krzyzewski.John Wooden. Pete Susens. OK, maybe that's taking it a little far -- but not by that much.

With Tuesday's victory over the Marshfield Tigers, Susens, the Wausau West High School hockey coach, recorded his 500th career win. That's the result of a lot of dedication to coaching, a lot of hours spent on the ice, and a lot of students' lives enriched by the experience of competing as a team.
And it really is a massive achievement. Only one other coach in Wisconsin hockey history has more wins. Vic Levine, coach of Madison Memorial, retired with 512. With the quality of West's team, having Susens end up with the record is imminently likely, and could even happen this year.
Great performance, coach.



Immigrant farmers look to move from markets to grocers

St. Paul, Minn. — Immigrant farmers are fixtures at many Minnesota farmers' markets, particularly in the Twin Cities, but they are not nearly as well represented in other parts of the local food scene.

Supplying restaurants and grocery stores and offering direct sales to consumers through community supported agriculture represent potentially significant opportunities to expand operations, but in Minnesota there have been barriers that Hmong, Latino and African farmers face as they try to make a living off the land.

For the past four years, Glen Hill and the Minnesota Food Association have been helping immigrant farmers break through those barriers.

On a recent day, Hill climbed over a snow bank to get into a cooler shed that held onions, beets and carrots. Immigrant farmers who grew some of that produce learn to farm the American way on Minnesota Food Association land near Marine on St. Croix.

One way farmers can be more profitable is to find more outlets for the food they grow, Hill, the association's executive director, thinks.

"Just doing farmers markets in my opinion is not going to work," he said. "Not giving up the farmers markets, but going into other markets, grocery stores, corner stores, restaurants, farm stands, direct sales."

The Minnesota Food Association provides land and training to 10 immigrant farmers in everything from record keeping to safety regulations.

Beginning in 2007, it started selling produce on behalf of its farmers to wholesale and retail markets, like restaurants, food cooperatives and other retail stores. But then, Hill said, it realized that meeting the safety requirements was taking too much time for an organization devoted to education and training.

So now the Minnesota Food Association turns to brokering relationships between immigrant farmers and customers.

"Recently we've just turned over our whole Chipotle account to one of our farmers in our program. And this helps them to build up their own direct markets."

Not everyone believes the jump to full-time farming is possible. May Lee farms with her daughter Mhonpaj, partly on land rented from the Minnesota Food Association.

Though she's farmed her entire life, May Lee calls growing vegetables on seven acres near Stillwater a hobby. Mhonpaj Lee said there are practical reasons why part-time farmers hesitate to shut off other income sources.

"You can't transition to full time because you don't have health care," Mhonpaj Lee said. It's also high risk, if all your plants that year don't grow that's basically your future income."

May Lee grew up farming in Laos, and the Lees were the first organically certified Hmong farmers in Minnesota. Growing organically is labor intensive and time consuming. And the Lees depend on volunteers to help them grow the 150 varieties of produce.

Not only that, May Lee explains, it's hard to find land that's organically certified close enough to the Twin Cities to continue working.

But by far the most difficult challenge is competing with all the other farmers who have the same produce the Lees have to sell at the same time. Mhonpaj Lee thinks about selling produce to wholesale distributors or to retail stores. But the produce has to look exactly right.

"I tell my mom it's like modeling. The person has to look like a doll to sell, same with the produce. You can't have any scratch marks, it has to be a certain size. You know and probably out of the whole farm you're maybe gonna get 50 percent top-notch quality."

Despite the challenges, the Lees hope to continue expanding beyond selling at farmers markets and the 10 community supported agriculture shares they sold to consumers this past season. They're hoping to find more schools and restaurants to buy their produce. Even with that expansion, they don't see a time when Mhonpaj can afford to give up her two jobs.

But May Lee hopes one day farming will become more than a hobby for people of her daughter's generation. When she visits schools May Lee asks kids where they think food comes from. "...they say the refrigerator." she said. "Children don't know what to eat. They just eat whatever really sweet or really salty. They think that's good food but it's not."

When she was in Laos, May Lee, like many Southeast Asian and African farmers, worked land on the small scale in vogue among some in the United States now. But it's hard to make a living on small scale.

That's where Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin comes in. He works with Hispanic and Latino farmers around Northfield as director of the Rural Enterprise Center. After researching how to take farmers with no money and find a profitable crop, he hit on raising free-range chickens.

"Poultry is the easiest and most compatible with the primarily Hispanic families that we work with because of the nature of their socioeconomic conditions," he said. "Living in poverty without access to credit and lending and all that. Poultry is one of those livestocks that we can easily redesign in terms of productions systems to match the conditions of the families we work with."

The families run the Hillside Farmers Co-op, which at its peak employs 25 Latino farmers. Though still at an experimental stage, the co-op sold 35,000 chickens direct to the public.

Latino farmers are paired with two Anglo farmers who are more established. Together they raise chickens that spend most of their time outdoors eating grass and sprouts. Surrounding the flock's enclosure is a crop of hazelnut trees.

The chickens fertilize the trees and other perennials, the hazelnuts could be a source of biofuel. In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the Hillside Farmers Coop a $113,000 grant.

Haslett Marroquin hopes the co-op will turn a profit this year.



Hmong Community Says General Was Reason for Coming to Minn.

Thousands in the Twin Cities Hmong community are mourning the death of General Vang Pao, an international leader many say was the reason for their residence in Minnesota.

On Thursday, General Vang Pao died of pneumonia at his home in Fresno, California.

General Vang Pao, who once led an army of Hmong soldiers against communists during the Vietnam War, is credited for also leading thousands of families to the Twin Cities.

"He's my role model, I have respect for him," 25-year-old Cher Vue said as he mourned General Vang Pao's death at the Hmong Cultural Center in Saint Paul Friday.

"One of the best figures for the Hmong community."

According to the book, They Chose Minnesota A survey of The State's Ethnic Groups," the very first Hmong families traveled to Minnesota in 1976.

The population, which at that time was only in the hundreds, quickly grew. In 2011, Hmong leaders estimate the state's population to be more than 60,000, with the majority of Hmong residents, roughly 40,000, living in Saint Paul. There are also Hmong communities in parts of Western Wisconsin.

"He was a great leader who brought a bridge to the United States so that many in the Hmong community could come to the U.S.," Txongpao Lee, Executive Director of the Hmong Cultural Center, Inc. in Saint Paul said.

In a tiny room on the second floor of the cultural center on University Avenue, two dozen from the Hmong community lit incense and recited a prayer, thanking the General for his service and leadership.

One floor below, Chong Soua Vang, owner of the Destiny Cafe shared with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS fond memories of when he used to serve the General his favorite dishes.

"He didn't like pork, he liked only chicken and chicken soup," Vang said as walked through the restaurant's dining area. Vang says the General visited the restaurant every few months, and admitted it was one of a few places he felt safe to eat, as he feared being poisoned by his enemies.

"I'm shocked, I'm so depressed, we lost a very important leader."

Beginning at 5 p.m., more than a hundred mourners gathered at the Lao Family Community of Minnesota building to pay their respects.

On Friday afternoon, news broke that General Vang Pao's funeral would be held in California. Many in the Twin Cities Hmong community say they'll travel there to say goodbye.



US Hmong communities mourn general’s death

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Hmong community in the United States — from California to Minnesota to Wisconsin — was mourning Friday over the death of Vang Pao, a revered former general in the Royal Army of Laos who helped lead them to a new home in America after the Vietnam War.

Vang Pao died Thursday night in Clovis, Calif., near Fresno, following a battle with pneumonia. He was 81.

The general led Hmong guerrillas in their CIA-backed battle against communists during the Vietnam War. They faced persecution after the communists took over Laos in 1975, and he was credited with resettling tens of thousands of Hmong from the hills of Laos into American cities like Fresno, St. Paul and Milwaukee.

His death leaves a void in the political and cultural leadership of the Hmong diaspora with no clear successor, leaders of several Hmong-American organizations said.

“Everybody I’ve talked to in the last 12 hours has been really sad,” said Kou Vang, chairman of the Minnesota Hmong Chamber of Commerce. “They don’t know who’s going to fill that vacuum. He’s always been the backbone of the community.”

Vang Pao fought as a teenager to keep the Japanese out of Laos during World War II, then joined French forces in the war against communist North Vietnam. He later served as a general in the Laotian military backed by the United States.

“For far too long, from when he was a young officer in the French army in Indochina to becoming a general of the Royal Lao Army, Vang Pao carried the burden of a proud people longing to be free and independent,” said former Minnesota state Sen. Mee Moua, who held the highest public office of any Hmong-American before she decided against seeking re-election last year.

Ka Houa Yang, president of the Lao Family Community of Minnesota — a self-help organization the general helped found — said many Hmong equate Vang Pao with George Washington, the Revolutionary War general who became the first president of the United States.

“General Vang Pao will always be viewed as a father figure to the Hmong community,” agreed Kou Vang. “He was somebody who could do no wrong because he led us through thick and thin.”

The Census Bureau estimated the U.S. Hmong population at close to 240,000 as of 2009. Ger Vang, who was one of the first Hmong to settle in Milwaukee in 1979 and helped get the Lao Family Community in Milwaukee up and running, said the general will be remembered as the person who helped bring them to the United States.

Vang Pao led by example, and through his tireless community involvement he gave a new generation of Hmong in the U.S. a strong sense of cultural pride, said Thavisouk Phrasavath, a Laotian-American filmmaker whose father fought in forces allied with the general along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

“He was the one who helped to preserve that ethnic identity and beautiful cultural heritage for his people,” said Phrasavath, whose documentary “The Betrayal” about his own experience immigrating from war-torn Laos to New York, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008.

Kou Vang said Vang Pao was the closest thing the Hmong had to a president, so he was sure Hmong communities all over the world — including in Laos, Thailand and China — are also in shock.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley extended “our sincere condolences to Vang Pao’s family and his many friends inside and outside the Hmong community.”

Dozens lined up in Sacramento, Calif., before a Friday evening community vigil at Hmong Palace Church, while about 200 hundred held candles during an outdoor ceremony in Merced, 120 miles south of the state capital. Thousands of Hmong have peacefully gathered at Sacramento’s federal courthouse in recent months, each time there was a hearing on federal charges accusing 11 Hmong and a former U.S. Army officer of plotting to overthrow the communist government of Laos. All have pleaded not guilty.

Vang Pao was initially charged in 2007, but federal prosecutors dropped him from the case in 2009. A federal judge in October questioned key allegations in the government’s case.

Vang Pao’s relatives said Friday they were planning a huge funeral in California that will last several days.

Chi Vang, his youngest son, said family elders have decided to honor him with a memorial service in Fresno but the service likely won’t be held for another two weeks, to allow relatives and dignitaries time to fly in from abroad. He added that before then, there may be an opportunity for mourners to pay their respects at a viewing in Minnesota.

“His whole life was geared toward the Hmong community,” said another brother, Chai Vang, one of the general’s 32 children. “We are planning an enormous international event fit for a king.”

Ilean Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, said she wasn’t privy to the funeral discussions, but that in the Hmong culture the most important thing in planning one is to get everything right, so it’s not uncommon to wait weeks or even months.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., is willing to shepherd requests from the general’s family for him to be buried with full military honors in a national cemetery, spokesman Will Crain said.

Mark Xiong, executive director of the Lao Family Community of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, said people in the Hmong community there would discuss how to honor Vang Pao’s passing, too, but hadn’t decided anything yet.

Ilean Her said Vang Pao’s death is especially hard for the older generation of Hmong. Because the Hmong never had their own independent country, she said they’ve always felt a sense of impermanency, and a very strong image in their folklore is that of an orphan boy.

“They call General Vang Pao our father, so now that he’s really passed away they’re going back to that image of the orphan,” she said.



Vigil tonight in Sacramento for Hmong Gen. Vang Pao

Members of Sacramento's Hmong American community are holding a candlelight vigil tonight honoring the memory of Gen. Vang Pao, the Hmong leader who died Thursday of heart failure at a Clovis Hospital.

The vigil will be held until midnight at the Hmong Palace Church of Sacramento, 6525 53rd Ave. 95828, said Vaming Xiong, president of the Hmong American Ad Hoc Committee of Sacramento.

"It's very sad - he did his job as a leader of the Hmong people to the very last," said Xiong.

Vang brought his people to the United States after Laos fell to the Communists in 1975 and established a network of Lao Family Community Centers that helped thousands of Hmong become citizens, learn English, get job training and access health care.

Vang, who turned 81 on Christmas Day, was known to thousands of Hmong as the Hmong King, or the Hmong George Washington.

There are now about 350,000 Hmong Americans living in the United States, including about 30,000 in the Sacramento area.



Laos general and Hmong leader Vang Pao dies in exile

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vang Pao, accused of subversion against Laos in 2007, was revered for his war record

Vang Pao, the former general and leader of his Hmong ethnic group in Laos, has died in exile in the US, aged 81.

He had been in hospital for about 10 days before his death late on Thursday.

As a young man, he had fought against the Japanese during World War II, and with the French against the North Vietnamese in the 1950s.

He led a CIA-sponsored secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War and, when it was lost, led many of his people into exile.

Former Central Intelligence Agency chief William Colby once called Gen Pao "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War".

Gen Pao was a controversial figure, deeply loved by many Hmong for his insistence on freedom from foreign domination. He was also accused of subversion.

Americans who first came into contact with him found a man skilled in warfare and with the charisma necessary to sustain a dangerous 15-year long operation in support of the US against the North Vietnamese.
Last of his kind

The CIA airline, Air America, carried Gen Pao and his fighters across the country.

On the ground, he and his men disrupted Vietnamese supply lines and engaged in pitched battles to try to stave off the Vietnamese-backed communist victory in Laos.

When that effort failed in 1975, Gen Pao led many thousands of Hmong into what are now well-established exile communities in the US.

The Central Valley of California, Minneapolis and cities throughout Wisconsin have a significant Hmong presence.

"He's the last of his kind, the last of the leadership that carries that reference that everyone holds dear," said Blong Xiong, a Fresno city councilman and prominent Hmong-American.

"Whether they're young or old, they hear his name, there's the respect that goes with it."

In his later years, Gen Pao was accused of leading rebellions or sponsoring subversion against the People's Democratic Republic of Laos.

In 2007, he was charged along with nine others with plotting to use AK-47 rifles, missiles and mercenaries to overthrow the Lao government. Charges against him were later dropped.

Regarded by some as an exiled head of state, he also worked as a security guard at a supermarket.



Leader of CIA's Vietnam-era secret army dies

Former Laotian General Vang Pao led thousands of Hmong mercenaries in a CIA-backed secret army during the Vietnam War.

FRESNO, Calif. — Vang Pao fought the Japanese as a teenager. He later led Hmong guerrillas in their CIA-backed battle against communists during the Vietnam War. More recently he was a father figure to the Hmong refugees who fled Loas for the United States.

After immigrating to America once the communists seized power in Laos in 1975, Vang Pao was venerated as a leader by his transplanted countrymen who settled mainly in California's Central Valley, Minneapolis and cities in Wisconsin.

Xang Vang, the general's chief translator who fought by his side, said Vang Pao died Thursday night following a battle with pneumonia, which he caught while traveling in central California to preside over two Hmong New Year celebrations.

"I touched his hand, I called his name on his ear, and he opened his eyes briefly," Xang Vang said. "He had been getting better for the last few days, but last night he was getting worse and now he has left us."

The general had been hospitalized for about 10 days, Clovis Community Medical Center Michelle Von Tersch spokeswoman said.

Xiong was at the hospital with a growing crowd of mourners. He said he spoke briefly with family members, who were planning a memorial service, but had no details on what caused Vang Pao's death.

During World War II, Vang Pao fought to prevent the Japanese from seizing control of Laos.
Advertise | AdChoices
Advertise | AdChoices
Advertise | AdChoices

In the 1950s, he joined the French in the war against the North Vietnamese who were dominating Laos and later, as a general in the Royal Army of Laos, worked with the CIA to wage a covert war there.

Former CIA Chief William Colby once called Pao "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War," for the 15 years he spent heading a CIA-sponsored guerrilla army fighting against a communist takeover of the Southeast Asian peninsula.

After his guerrillas ultimately lost to communist forces, Vang Pao came to the U.S., where he was credited with brokering the resettlement of tens of thousands of Hmong, an ethnic minority from the hillsides of Laos.

"He's the last of his kind, the last of the leadership that carries that reference that everyone holds dear," said Blong Xiong, a Fresno city councilman and the first Hmong-American in California to win a city council seat. "Whether they're young or old, they hear his name, there's the respect that goes with it."

Regarded by Hmong immigrants as an exiled head of state, Vang Pao made frequent appearances at Hmong cultural and religious festivals and often was asked to mediate disputes or solve problems.

In 2007, however, he was arrested and charged with other Hmong leaders in federal court with conspiracy in a plot to kill communist officials in his native country. Federal prosecutors alleged the Lao liberation movement known as Neo Hom raised millions of dollars to recruit a mercenary force and conspired to obtain weapons.

Even after his indictment, he appeared as the guest of honor at Hmong New Year celebrations in St. Paul and Fresno, where crowds of his supporters gathered to catch a glimpse of the highly decorated general as he arrived in a limousine.

The charges against Vang Pao were dropped in 2009, "after investigators completed the time-consuming process of translating more than 30,000 pages of pages of documents," then-U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown said in a written statement. The government arrested the defendants before understanding all the evidence because they felt a threat was imminent, he said.

In November, a federal judge in Sacramento threw out parts of the case against 12 other defendants. They include retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Youa True Vang and 11 members of California's Hmong community, many of whom fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War. All 12 have pleaded not guilty since their arrests in 2007.

"Vang Pao was a great man and a true American hero. He served his country for many years in his homeland, and he continued to serve it in America," said attorney William Portanova, who represents one of the remaining Hmong defendants. "To think that these elderly men would be in a position to try to overthrow a country is, on its face, almost laughable."

Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento, said she had no immediate comment.

Vang Pao had been a source of controversy for several years before the case was filed.
Advertise | AdChoices
Advertise | AdChoices
Advertise | AdChoices

In 2002, the city of Madison, Wis., dropped a plan to name a park in his honor after a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor cited published sources alleging that Vang Pao had ordered executions of his own followers, of enemy prisoners of war and of his political enemies.

Five years later, the Madison school board removed his name from a new elementary school named for him, after dissenters said it should not bear the name of a figure with such a violent history.

But such criticism meant little to Hmong families who looked to Vang Pao for guidance as they struggled to set up farms and businesses in the U.S. and assume a new, American identity. The general formed several nonprofits to aid the refugee communities and set up a council to mediate disputes between the 18 Hmong clans, whose president he hand-picked for decades.

"He's always been kind of the glue that held everyone together," said Lar Yang of Fresno, who featured an interview with Vang Pao last month in the Hmong business directory he publishes annually.

"He's the one that always resolved everything ... I don't think it can be filled by one person at this point. There will probably be a search for identity. There will be a lot of chaos for a little while, until things get settled."