Saturday, January 8, 2011
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.