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.


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