UNPO Secretary General Condemns Violence Against Hmong

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

UNPO Secretary General Marino Busdachin condemns in the statement below the recent violence against the Hmong people by the Lao and Vietnamese Military Forces, and urges the international community to speak out against this crackdown.

UNPO Secretary General Marino Busdachin condemns the recent violence perpetrated by the Lao and Vietnamese military forces against the Hmong people. Laos must end its violent campaign to cleanse the country of Hmong people on the basis of their ethnicity.

President Chong Lor Her of the Hmong Chao Fa reports that the Lao and Vietnamese military forces are cooperating in their violent efforts to decimate the Hmong people. On 25 and 26 September 2012, soldiers came from Moungcha and Xiangkhouang, firing heavy weapons in the Hmong-inhabited region of Phou Bia Mountain. The Hmong have been able to offer minimal and unsuccessful resistance to the powerful militaries of Laos and Vietnam.

As a result of the violent attacks, the Hmong have seen their food sources cut off and destroyed. The Congress of World Hmong People has expressed the need for humanitarian assistance to the region, particularly medicine, and is concerned about the continued safety and security of women, children and the elderly.

The UNPO condemns the actions of the Government of Vietnam in supplying the Lao military with both weapons and soldiers and demands an end to continued efforts on the part of the Government of Laos to cleanse northern Laos of its approximately 300,000 Hmong inhabitants.

UNPO Secretary General Marino Busdachin calls on the international community to respond to the severe violations of human rights and international law being perpetrated by the Lao and Vietnamese governments against the Hmong people.

For media queries please contact:

Maud Vanwalleghem | +32 251 314 59 | m.vanwalleghem@unpo.org



Novelist weaves together Hmong cultural tale

Houa Lor has two novels to her credit. Her most recent book, “Tomorrow: Tag Kis,” explores Hmong family relationships and the traditional role of women in that culture.

A New Richmond author has opened a window into Hmong culture with her newest book.

Houa Lor borrows experiences and conversations from her past to create a novel filled with regret, anger, peace and finally love.

The novel, titled “Tomorrow: Tag Kis,” chronicles the history of a family ripped from their war-torn homeland of Thailand.

Settling in the U.S., the family establishes a new life and begins to grow as children are born. But as the main character’s mother eventually lies on her deathbed, secrets are revealed and lives are changed.

v On her deathbed, the woman confides to her daughter the history that forced her to marry a man she did not love and led her to refuse to ever accept his love.

While the book is a work of fiction, Lor said, much of the story rings true to Hmong culture and family relationships.

“I wrote this after my father-in-law died,” she said of the three-month process of finishing the book. “A lot of the dialogue comes from my own personal life. They are words and stories that I heard from my father-in-law.”

While the main character’s mother ultimately dies full of regrets, Lor said she hopes the novel inspires readers to live life to the fullest.

“She was a woman on her death bed regretting her whole life,” Lor explained. “She was never able to forgive or forget, and she passed on her depression and regret to her children.”

Lor said her father-in-law was a “big hearted man” who taught her the importance of not dwelling on the past.

“If you learn how to live your life today, you will have tomorrows,” she explained. “If you dwell too much in the past, your future slips away.”

Lor weaves Hmong spirituality throughout the book, including the belief that people can communicate with loved ones even if they’ve passed on to the next life.

The book also explores the tension between the traditional Hmong family structure and American cultural pressures.

“We come from a very male-dominated culture,” she explained. “But we were raised in America. It’s a real culture clash.”

Lor, who has lived in New Richmond since January, is married and has three children. She is currently working on her third book and hopes to some day break into the screenplay business.

“I’ve been writing most of my life,” Lor said. “It’s great that my work has been published.”

Lor said more and more Hmong women are venturing into the fields of art and literature, breaking free of the traditional roles that have dominated their culture.

“Women really didn’t have a voice or an opinion in the past,” she said. “But the newer generations are coming out and expressing those things.”

When she’s not writing books, Lor also works as a film critic for an online Hmong website in the Twin Cities, www.hmong empire.com. She is also studying creative writing and business management.

Lor’s first book, a romance novel titled “Eclipse of the Heart,” along with her newest book are available for $10 at www.dorrancebookstore.com or by calling 1-800-788-7654.


Museum showcases community diversity, history

GREEN BAY — A new exhibit at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County explores the arrival of the Hmong people in Wisconsin and their history as a culture.

“Who are the Hmong?” will be shown at the museum until May 26. It tells the Hmong story in four parts: ancient culture, as United States allies during the Vietnam War, as refugees after the war and as friends and neighbors in Wisconsin, said Rolf Johnson, director of the museum.

“This is an incredibly important and powerful story, and not one that many people know,” Johnson said. “This is a different exhibit for us, with such a powerful story and the involvement of the actual community makes the exhibit very special.”

Many members of the Hmong Asian-American Community Center in Green Bay helped put the exhibit together, either through donations of time or the artifacts that comprise the exhibit, Johnson said. The museum is making an effort to showcase the community’s diversity better, he said, and the Hmong community and exhibit are part of that.

“We would not have been able to create something this rich without the help of the Hmong community,” Johnson said.

Mary Vong is the president of the Hmong Asian-American Community Center, and she said that the exhibit does a great job of explaining the Hmong people for the general public as well as new generations of Hmong.

“This exhibit lets our community and younger generation really know, ‘Who are the Hmong?’” she said. “It puts my family history and background in place.”

Many of the artifacts are accompanied by photographs of the items being used, which provides great context, Johnson said.

The exhibit cost about $25,000 to put together, he said

Traditional games, cookware, paodo — or story cloths — clothing and other items are on display. One of the most powerful pieces is a prosthetic leg made from the remaining aluminum of a bomb from the Vietnam War era, Johnson said — the bomb responsible for the horrific injury.
It’s a credit to the ingenuity of the Hmong people, he said.

The Hmong population has origins in Laos, Thailand and China, Vong said, but live all over the world now.

“We really applaud what the Hmong have done,” Johnson said. “They’ve assimilated (to the United States) so quickly. It’s an amazing story.”



Artist photographs Hmong-American experience

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A new photography exhibit in St. Paul showcases the Hmong-American experience through the eyes of someone who, as a child, often felt smothered by her Hmong culture.

Pao Her has been described as a pioneer in the world of contemporary photography. This spring, Her became the first Hmong artist to receive an MFA from the prestigious Yale photography program. But, for the most part, she keeps that distinction to herself.

"My parents had no idea what Yale was," she said. "I think a lot of Hmong families don't know what Yale is or what an Ivy League school is."

When Her set off for Yale University's New Haven, Conn., campus, she told her parents she was going to school in New York City. Unlike Yale, her parents had heard of New York and it just seemed easier for them to think that's where she was.

Pao Her is now back in the Twin Cities, with a newly minted master's degree and her first solo show, which is currently on display at The Gordon Parks Gallery at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul.

The gallery's walls are covered with photos of Pao Her's family members -- a cousin cradling a stuffed toy, a sister decked out for Halloween, a nephew holding a toy machine gun.

"There really isn't a contemporary art culture in Hmong tradition, so what Pao is doing is pioneering."

- Wing Young Huie

"After a while, you become the sister who always has a camera," she remembered. " 'And when she takes a picture of you, try not to smile because she hates that.' My brother tells everybody that."

Pao Her, 30, is drawn to such all-American images of childhood -- perhaps, she said, because her own early years were nothing like those of her much younger relatives.

Her's mother and father were refugees from Laos. In 1986, when she was 4 years old, they made their way to St. Paul. As she was growing up, her parents did everything they could to shield her from American culture and strengthen her connection to her Hmong heritage.

"I remember being invited to my friend's birthday party, and my parents telling me I couldn't go because I was going to be the only Hmong kid there and I didn't speak really good English," she recalled. "I remember being so angry at my mom for not letting me go."

Instead she spent time at home, learning how to be a proper Hmong bride and how to wash dishes in a way that would please her future in-laws. But despite all her traditional training, she chose a non-traditional path.

Renowned photographer Wing Young Huie curated Her's show. He said what Her accomplished is remarkable.

"There really isn't a contemporary art culture in Hmong tradition, so what Pao is doing is pioneering," he said.

Hmong immigrants are well known for their tapestry and have made a place for themselves in the literary world, Huie noted. But photography remains a rarely celebrated medium.

"It takes a while for a new immigrant group to produce visual artists, because it's not a very practical occupation," he said.

In addition, Pao Her said, many traditional Hmong, like her parents, still view photography as a way to simply document birthday parties or New Year celebrations. Her fine art photos don't fit that mold.

"My mom, she'll say, 'That's not a photograph. Why aren't they smiling?' My parents will never fully understand, but they're really supportive," Her said.

Gallery goers stand squarely in front of Pao Her's work, taking in images of Hmong-American girls holding Caucasian-looking baby dolls and Hmong-American boys making forts from couch pillows.

"The work is about this second generation of kids that have very little knowledge of the Hmong culture," Her said.

These kids were raised with Little League and American television. Theirs is the lifestyle Her dreamed of when she was young. But today she's saddened by how little they know about their Hmong heritage.

It's that cultural push and pull that's at the heart of the photo exhibit.

"I am interested in that hybrid of a Hmong person in American society," said Her. "What do you have to give and what do you take? What do you gain and what do you lose?"

Her's 16-year-old sister Celina weaves her way through the gallery, smiling.

"I'm really happy that she chose to work outside of what your Hmong parents expect you to do," she said. "It's amazing. And I'm so happy for her. "

Pao Her may not like to talk herself up. Luckily her siblings are honored to do it for her.

Her's photography exhibit is on display through Oct. 5.



Homegrown Medicine: Doctors return to help Hmong community

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

By YESENIA AMARO - yamaro@mercedsunstar.com

STENBERG/mstenberg@mercedsunstar.com Lesley Xiong M.D. does a routine medical check up on patient Ann Moua, Tuesday (09-18-2012) morning at the Dignity Health Medical Group, Merced on Mercy Avenue MERCED -- Dr. Lesley Xiong and Dr. Lasley Xiong have finally made it back home to Merced -- this time for good. The two Hmong sisters, Lesley, 31, and Lasley, 30, always dreamed of coming back to the community where they grew up and providing much-needed medical care to their underserved Hmong community. A few years ago, they both left Merced to attend medical school. One went to Pennsylvania and the other to Washington, D.C. After completing their studies, they returned to California -- but not quite all the way home. For their residency program, they landed in Modesto, completing their training in June. Recently their dream came true when the two young doctors began practicing medicine in Merced. Lesley began to work for Dignity Health Medical Group in August, while Lasley started there earlier this month. "We couldn't wait to come back home and start this journey. It's something that we've been waiting for forever," Lesley said, while sitting down in the office they both share. "We grew up here and so coming back to serve our own community was just our dream, and now that we've come full circle, it just feels good." Lasley said there's a huge Hmong population in Merced that they wanted to serve. "That's the reason why we went into medicine," Lesley said. The Hmong community in Merced faces challenges in getting the health care it needs because of language, financial and cultural barriers, Lesley said. "That's something that we felt we needed to address," she said. "We went and did our training, and it was just time to come back home and address that issue." Lasley said some people in Merced who knew of their goal were anticipating their return. "They had been waiting for us," she said, "and seeing people excited, makes you excited." Their sister, Nancy Xiong, is also in the medical field and she also returned home in 2010, now working at Mercy Medical Center as a pharmacist. Nancy said it's great to have her sisters back as well. "It seems more permanent now," she said of all the moving around they did to get to this point. "This is where our roots are." The trio said their parents, Jouachao Blong Xiong and Youa Vang -- both Hmong refugees -- are the reason why they've come so far. "They are role models. They certainly didn't grow up with the same opportunities we did," Lesley said. "They are our backbone, the reason why we are here." Both doctors now hope to better educate the Merced Hmong community about the types of illnesses and diseases they might be susceptible to while promoting preventive care. "Preventive care, I think, it's something that we really need to address in our Hmong population and establish trust, especially because of the cultural differences," Lesley said. "I think that we as Hmong physicians are really at the front of the line and are able to connect with them more effectively, more clearly and being able to build that trust with them," she said. Lasley said she also hopes they'll serve as role models for the Hmong youth and encourage them to pursue higher education, "especially (to try) to get them into the medical field, just because we are so under-represented." Lesley wants to try to eliminate some of the myths the Hmong have about pursuing higher education dreams, such as it's too expensive for them or they aren't smart enough. Lesley graduated from Georgetown University Medical School and Lasley from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. Lesley and Lasley did their last two years of training together in Modesto through the Valley Family Medicine residency program. "I'm here to stay," Lesley said recently. "I definitely want to establish care here with my community, and my long-term goals are definitely to give back to my community and be able to take care of them." Lasley said she can't predict the future, but thinks she'll also stay in Merced. "All my family is here," she said. Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or yamaro@mercesunstar.com. Source


Lia Lee dies; daughter of Hmong refugees changed American views of medicine

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Foua Yang crumpled in tears on the staircase in her south Sacramento home, just feet from the empty hospital bed where her daughter Lia Lee lived most of her life. “I’m deeply saddened that Lia’s no longer of this world, I love her very much,” said Yang, clutching a picture of Ms. Lee as a lively 4-year-old in traditional Hmong finery, running from her mother. Ms. Lee — who in July celebrated her 30th birthday in that bed, surrounded by her mother, brother, seven sisters and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins — died Aug. 31 after a lifelong battle against epilepsy, cerebral palsy, pneumonia and sepsis, a toxic reaction to constant infection. Her family’s struggles with hospitals, doctors and social workers were chronicled in Anne Fadiman’s best-selling 1997 book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” which altered Americans’ views on cross-cultural medical treatment. She became a symbol for disabled children and immigrants intimidated and confused by Western medicine. At 4-foot-7 and 47 pounds, Ms. Lee could speak only with her eyes and her cries. Stricken by seizures since she was a few months old, she battled through, singing Hmong folk songs and joyfully running around her neighborhood. At 4, she suffered a grand mal seizure that stole her speech and her ability to move. “Even though she’s never spoken a word since the grand mal seizure, Lia taught a lot of doctors and nurses to care for people from other cultures more sensitively,” Fadiman said. Medical schools and universities use Fadiman’s book, and shamans are allowed to practice in California hospitals. Doctors had predicted Ms. Lee’s imminent death after her seizure, and her parents took her home from the hospital to die. But when her parents removed her feeding tube, Ms. Lee cried out. Her sister Mai Lee, 32, said Ms. Lee’s strong will to live, nurtured by her family’s love, faith and constant care, proved the doctors wrong. “Lia’s legacy is to give families with sick children the strength and courage to question their doctors,” Mai Lee said. “We didn’t ask those questions.” Ms. Lee’s primary doctors, Neil Ernst and Peggy Philp, said the girl and her family profoundly changed medicine. “Lia’s a game changer,” Ernst said. “She’s altered so many people’s approaches to dealing with patients with different beliefs.” Philp added, “We saw her life ending when she was 5, but her mother’s unconditional love taught me the value of life.” The book details the family’s odyssey. Ms. Lee’s parents, Yang and Nao Kao Lee, fled their mountain village after Laos fell to the communists in 1975. After years in Thai refugee camps, they were resettled in Merced, Calif., in 1980, and moved to Sacramento in 1996. Ms. Lee was born July 19, 1982. The day before Thanksgiving in 1986, she suffered her near-fatal seizure at the family’s kitchen table. Her father declared, “When the spirit catches you, you fall down,” meaning a powerful spirit was locked inside her body, Mai Lee said. Ms. Lee was rushed to the hospital for the 16th time. Her seizure lasted two hours. Her temperature rose to 104.9. Her blood pressure plunged. Her flailing hands turned blue. She was rushed to a hospital in Fresno, Calif., where doctors declared her brain-dead. The family looked for a funeral home and prepared Ms. Lee’s funeral clothes for her journey through the spirit world.But when family members removed the tubes, Ms. Lee’s cries convinced them that she was not ready to die. Her parents, like most traditional Hmong, believe in ancestor spirits. They asked a shaman to travel to the highest level in the spirit world and strike a bargain: “Give us our daughter’s life, and we’ll give you a life in exchange.” They sacrificed a pig and got their wish, said their oldest daughter, Zoua Lee, 48. But because of language and cultural differences, the family had trouble administering her medicine, and she spent a year in foster care. Fadiman said there are no villains here — that both the Lee family and the doctors had the best intentions. Ms. Lee was the center of every family ceremony, every birthday, smiling with her eyes and even giggling occasionally. Every day, her mother and sisters would talk to her, feed her, hold her and caress her. Over her bed, there is a photo of her father, who died in 2003. “It’s extraordinary she survived so long in a vegetative state,” Fadiman said. “It’s a testimony to the exceptional loving care her family gave her.” Source


Life Went On Around Her, Redefining Care by Bridging a Divide

In 1988, when Anne Fadiman met Lia Lee, then 5, for the first time, she wrote down her impressions in four spare lines that now read like found poetry: barefoot mother gently rocking silent child diaper, sweater, strings around wrist like a baby, but she’s so big mother kisses and strokes her The story of Lia, the severely brain-damaged daughter of Hmong refugees who had resettled in California, became the subject of Ms. Fadiman’s first book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” published in 1997. Its title is the English translation of the condition known as qaug dab peg (pronounced “kow da pay”), the Hmong term for epilepsy, from which Lia had suffered since infancy. In traditional Hmong belief, qaug dab peg, like many illnesses, is spiritual in origin, caused when the soul becomes separated from the body. A traditional cure might entail visits from a shaman, who would attempt to reunite body and soul. A work of narrative nonfiction, Ms. Fadiman’s book is a cautionary tale about the cultural chasm between Lia’s family, with its generations-old animist beliefs, and her rationalist American doctors. “In some sense, I was trying to provide a way of controlling her seizures with Western methods and Western medicines,” said Dr. Neil Ernst, who with his wife, Dr. Peggy Philp, was one of the pediatricians who treated Lia early on. “And in some sense, the Lees were giving up control of their child to a system that they didn’t understand.” That cultural divide — despite the best intentions of both sides, Ms. Fadiman wrote — may have brought about Lia’s condition, a consequence of a catastrophic seizure when she was 4. Over the years, whenever Ms. Fadiman lectured about the book, readers would press a single question on her before any other: “Is Lia still alive?” Lia Lee died in Sacramento on Aug. 31. (Her death was not widely reported outside California.) The immediate cause was pneumonia, Ms. Fadiman said. But Lia’s underlying medical issues were more complex still, for she had lived the last 26 of her 30 years in a persistent vegetative state. Today, most people in that condition die within three to five years. Acclaimed by reviewers, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” won a National Book Critics Circle Award. It has sold almost 900,000 copies, according to its publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and remains widely assigned in medical schools and in university classes in social work, anthropology, journalism and other fields. As a result, Lia’s story, as few other narratives have done, has had a significant effect on the ways in which American medicine is practiced across cultures, and on the training of doctors. “A lot of people in medicine were talking about that book for a very long time after it was published,” Sherwin B. Nuland, the physician and National Book Award-winning author, said on Wednesday. He added: “There’s a big difference between what we call ‘disease’ and what we call ‘illness.’ A disease is a pathological entity; an illness is the effect of the disease on the patient’s entire way of life. And suddenly you read a book like this and you say to yourself, ‘Oh, my God; what have I been doing?’ ” A labor of eight years, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” is also the story of the immense benefits of tradition, which can furnish, Ms. Fadiman makes clear, a level of familial devotion less often seen among modern Americans. Lia spent her entire life at home, assiduously cared for by her family, and it was this devotion, Ms. Fadiman came to feel, that kept her alive for so long. “She was never shunted to the periphery,” Ms. Fadiman, the daughter of the author and television personality Clifton Fadiman and the journalist Annalee Jacoby Fadiman, said on Wednesday. “I remember her most in her mother’s arms. Family life went on around her and in some ways revolved around her.” The 14th of 15 children born to her mother, Foua Yang, and her father, Nao Kao Lee, Lia Lee was born on July 19, 1982, in Merced, Calif. — the first of her parents’ children born in the United States, and the first born in a hospital. She was plump, porcelain-skinned, lively and beautiful. The Lees had arrived in the United States two years earlier with their seven living children, a blanket, a mortar and pestle and little else. They had been farmers in their native Laos; three of their children died there when they were very young. During the Vietnam War, many Hmong were recruited by the United States to fight the North Vietnamese in Laos; after Laos fell to the Communists in 1975, 150,000 Hmong, in fear of their lives, fled the country. The Lees were among them. It took the family until 1980 to reach the United States. Along the way they endured a perilous odyssey that included an attempt to flee their village before being forced back at gunpoint by Vietnamese soldiers, and a later attempt, culminating in a 26-day walk to Thailand, where they spent a year in refugee camps. During these five years, three more of their children died. In the United States, the Lees eventually settled in a modest apartment in Merced, about 120 miles southeast of San Francisco. By the time Ms. Fadiman met them, Merced’s population was one-sixth Hmong. Lia had her first seizure when she was about 3 months old. At Merced Community Medical Center, a resident misdiagnosed her condition. Communication was impossible: the Lees spoke no English, and the hospital had no Hmong interpreter. “My parents weren’t able to convey exactly that she was having seizures,” Lia’s sister Mai, now 32, said in an interview on Wednesday. “The word ‘seizure’ didn’t come out. To them, they saw it as her soul being tampered with by something of a different realm.” Lia’s seizures continued; epilepsy was eventually diagnosed and anti-seizure medication prescribed. But to her parents, qaug dab peg was literally a mixed blessing: on the one hand, Lia’s soul had been taken from her and she needed it back; on the other, her condition portended spiritual giftedness, something many traditional cultures ascribe to epilepsy. Perhaps, the Lees believed, Lia was destined to become a shaman herself. The Lees did not always give Lia her medication, Ms. Fadiman wrote, because they did not want to interfere with qaug dab peg entirely. To encourage her soul’s return, her parents gave her herbs and amulets. She was sometimes visited by a Hmong shaman, who performed a ritual that included chanting, beating a gong and sacrificing a chicken or pig. (The strings around Lia’s wrist noted by Ms. Fadiman are used in Hmong tradition to help protect people from malevolent spirits.) All this baffled Lia’s doctors. “I felt that I was trying to penetrate a very dense wall — a cultural wall — and didn’t have the tools to do it,” Dr. Ernst said. The seizures worsened; by the time Lia was 4 ½, she had made more than 100 outpatient visits to medical facilities and been admitted to the hospital 17 times. When she was not quite 3, in frustration at what he viewed as her parents’ refusal to administer her medication, Dr. Ernst had Lia legally removed from the family home. She spent a year in foster care — a time, Ms. Fadiman reported, of great trauma for Lia and great bitterness for her family — before being returned to her parents. (In recent years, Dr. Ernst and Mai Lee said, there has been a rapprochement between Lia’s family and her doctors.) In 1986, when Lia was 4, she suffered a grand mal seizure that lasted nearly two hours before doctors were able to bring it under control. At some point, amid the many procedures her condition required that day, an infection set in. She went into septic shock, and her organs began to fail. By the time she was stabilized, Lia had lost higher brain function. Her doctors expected her to die. She did not die. She could breathe and whimper but could not speak; she was capable of little voluntary movement but could still feel pain. It was unclear how much she could see or hear. Lia no longer had seizures, because she now had vastly reduced electrical activity in her cerebral cortex, the brain’s outermost layer. She grew only slightly, as is typical of children with severe brain damage: by the age of 30, she was 4 feet 7 inches and weighed 47 pounds. For 26 years, her days varied little: her parents bathed her, fed her, flexed her stiffened limbs, kissed, caressed and tenderly talked to her. There were visits to doctors in Merced and later in Sacramento, where the family moved in 1996. There were periodic visits from a shaman, intended not so much to cure Lia as to ease her suffering. “Everything that my parents had done for her is all manual labor,” Mai Lee said on Wednesday. “Carrying her from place to place, transporting her to appointments here and there, it was all done manually. They did that for a very long time.” Nao Kao Lee, Lia’s father, died in 2003. Besides her mother, Foua Yang, and her sister Mai, her survivors include a brother, Cheng, and six other sisters, Chong, Zoua, May, Yer, True and Pang. In Merced and far beyond, Lia’s legacy is pervasive. In 1996, largely in response to her case, Healthy House, a social-service agency that facilitates medical care for Merced County’s non-English-speaking residents, was founded in Merced, the county seat. Among its services is an interpreter training program, which provides medical interpreters in a half-dozen languages, including Hmong. At Mercy Medical Center Merced, the current incarnation of Merced Community Medical Center, Hmong shamans are now allowed to visit patients and practice a limited number of their traditional arts. (Animal sacrifice is excluded.) “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” continuously in print and released this year in an updated edition, has extended Lia’s reach to a new generation of doctors. At the Yale School of Medicine, for instance, the incoming class is required to read it — a tradition that was begun a dozen years ago, well before Ms. Fadiman herself began teaching at Yale, where she is the Francis writer in residence. And as hospital wards across the country become ever more diverse, seasoned doctors, too, have found there is much to be learned from Lia’s story. Among them is Dr. Nuland, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who received his medical training in New Haven in the 1950s. “Most wards were filled with Italians, Irish and Jews,” he said, recalling those years. “We had an occasional Gypsy, an occasional Chinese person and some Hispanics, and we would walk among them with our lordly presence. You’d learn a couple of words of Italian, a couple of words of whatever, and you’d use them with patients and think you were being very clever.” He added: “In our day, the whole thing was to assimilate, to look and act like a WASP. We could have provided so much comfort to patients who looked like our parents. And we just didn’t.” Source


Vang Pao Elementary School is dedicated in S/E Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A dedication ceremony Saturday celebrated Fresno Unified's newest campus, and the man it's named after. Hundreds of members of the Hmong community gathered at Vang Pao Elementary School in Southeast Fresno to honor their late leader. Some of his family members also traveled from Southern California to attend the event. General Vang Pao led Hmong troops in support of the U.S. during the Vietnam War. He was also a strong supporter of education in his community. "It's a tremendous opportunity for people in the community and its a great recognitions of the great work General Vang Pao did. Not only for the people in the area, but for everyone in the Hmong community. Its a great opportunity for everyone," said congressional candidate Brian Whelan (R). Vang Pao Elementary School was built with funds from Measure K. It welcomed its first class of students last month. (Copyright ©2012 KFSN-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.) Source


Tragedy and tradition inform Hmong couple’s grandparenting

Ue and Pha Vang (back) sit with their son Ethan, left, and grandkids Preston and Fina at their home in Onalaska. (Rory O'Driscoll/La Crosse Tribune) Pha and Ue Vang maintain brave faces, smiling occasionally, as they talk about the challenges of raising three orphaned grandchildren. But sporadically, pain peeks through their eyes as they chronicle their lives since their son-in-law, Dang Xiong, killed their daughter, Pahoua, and then committed suicide in La Crosse in May 2009. “Our life was turned upside-down,” Ue said. “The first year was really hard.” Making that year tougher was the birth of their own son Ethan just two months later. He had heart problems that eventually required surgery and was diagnosed with Down syndrome. “We have been through a lot,” Pha said. In the Vangs’ Hmong culture, the father’s side of the family normally would be responsible for the orphaned children. But after a battle, the Vangs won custody of the two boys — Anthony, now 8, and Fue, 7 — and Ariel, 5. The children can visit the father’s relatives, Pha said, adding, “So far, we don’t have any objections to them spending days or nights with them.” Pha, 50, and Ue, 43, are among the roughly 1,500 La Crosse County residents who live in the same house as their grandchildren, and among about 400 who are responsible for raising their grandchildren. Originally from Laos, the Vangs came to the United States in 1985. They moved to La Crosse in 2002 and to their modest, three-bedroom home in Onalaska in 2005. In addition to Pahoua’s children, the Vang household includes their other son, Pao, his wife, Panhia, and their two children, 2-year-old Fina and 5-month-old Preston. Pha and Ue take care of Fina and Preston during the day while their parents work. When the Vangs aren’t working themselves, that is. Pha is a teacher’s assistant from 8:30 a.m. to noon, when he goes home so Ue can get an hour’s sleep before she goes to her nurse’s assistant job from 2 to 11 p.m. Juggling work and caregiving is the biggest challenge, Pha said. “In our culture, usually the elders stay home and watch the kids,” he said. “In our case, we are still working and watching the kids, too. We have to arrange our schedules to take the kids to the doctor, too.” For example, Pha takes Anthony to counseling sessions for depression and anxiety related to his parents’ stormy relationship and ultimate deaths. “He feels bad about himself,” Pha said. “I am trying to get help for him. He’s on a waiting list for a Big Brother.” With all of the caregiving, Pha said, “I don’t have time for myself. But there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re hoping that, when the kids grow bigger, we will have time for ourselves. “Every day, we hope someday everything will be fine and we will be a happy family again,” he said. When the stress seems like too much, he said, “Friends come and talk to us and calm us down.” The Vangs also get help from agencies such as the La Crosse County Birth-to-3 Program. The program provided services for Ethan, who moved on to preschool Friday. Susan Fossen, who works at the Parenting Place and is service coordinator for the B-3 program, said she will miss the little guy and the Vangs. “I’ve been completely impressed with them from the first time I met them,” Fossen said. “They have such unwavering love and support for their children and their grandchildren. “There is no difference in the love they give to their son and to their grandchildren,” Fossen said. “They are thoughtful, calm and loving.” Pha’s advice for other grandparents tasked with raising their grandchildren: “You should have a lot of fun with your grandkids. Sometimes, you love them more than your own. They’re adorable, and you should get to know and love them.” Hmong traditions buoy the Vangs’ hope for the future. “American culture is different,” Pha said. “In our culture, family is the most important thing. Together, we solve problems, with more people, more ideas and more hands. “In the old country, there was no Social Security, but caring for each other replaced it,” Pha said. Ue added with a smile: “In our culture, when we get older, they will take care of us and not send us to a nursing home.” Source


15 people killed in northern Vietnam landslide

By TRAN VAN MINH Associated Press Published: Friday, Sep. 7, 2012 - 8:00 pm HANOI, Vietnam -- Police say 15 villagers who were illegally taking tin ore from a mine in northern Vietnam have died in a landslide. A police officer says the disaster occurred early Friday in Yen Bai province following hours of torrential rain as the villagers were collecting tin ore from a mine operated by a private company. The officer declined to give his name, citing the policy of his department. The officer says at least four other people were missing, adding that the victims were from the country's mostly poor Hmong ethnic minority group. Landslides and floods are common in Vietnam, especially during the rainy season. Source


Minnesota witnesses a first ever Hmong-American delegate to the Democratic National Convention, being born in a refugee camp in Thailand but now living the American dream

One of Minnesota’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention has a unique status, and a classic American story to tell. Kaying Thao of Roseville is the nation’s only Hmong-American delegate. “I can do all the reading I want on the process, but nothing compares to this. I feel so proud to be an American. I feel so proud to be a citizen. And I’m doing this for my kids,” said Thao, her voice choked with emotion. The 34-year-old mother of three said she’s living the American dream. “I was born in a Thai refugee camp but raised here all my life. My parents had no idea what was going on,” she added. “It’s a privilege for me to be a part of this. I can’t even explain it.” Kaying Thao’s venture into public life began last fall when she became the first Hmong-American elected to the Roseville Area School Board. Source


Fresno Unified prepares to open Vang Pao Elementary

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- As Fresno Unified prepares to head back to school excitement is building around a new campus set to open for the first time in less than two weeks. Among those waiting for the doors to open at Vang Pao Elementary at Heaton and Cedar, is the Hmong community, who until now has not had a school named after a Hmong leader. As teachers move into their new classrooms at Vang Pao Elementary School every once in awhile they'll stop to soak in their new surroundings. "I think having an actual name, Vang Pao, and what he stood for as far as education being the key to success, that's going to be new and something that's going to be resonating through the halls of this school," teacher Steven Lombardi said. That's because many of them are coming from Southeast Elementary School, a campus suited to serve as a temporary location until this new school was built. "I was originally with southeast and all of our children were bussed in every day and for them to truly have a neighborhood school is just wonderful," teacher Diana Coakley said. "it's like moving into a new house. It's got the new house smell and just high end technology." Among the key features of the two-story 60-thousand square foot campus are four kindergarten classrooms with their own restrooms and a shared workroom for teachers, an outdoor and indoor stage with a state-of-the-art sound system and lighting and a washroom where students can practice good hygiene before they even reach the cafeteria. But probably the most important feature of all is the school's name. "Education was such an important aspect of his life and how he felt education was something he thought everyone should have," Vang Pao Elementary Principal Teresa Calderon said. General Vang Pao was the beloved leader of the Hmong community who once led Hmong troops in support of the United States during the Vietnam War. Now his legacy is a permanent part of the Southeast Fresno community and one children carry on. (Copyright ©2012 KFSN-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.) Source


Turning swords into plowshares, and back again

By WALTER PINCUS The Washington Post WASHINGTON — How long does it take for enemies to become allies, and allies to become enemies? On July 3 in Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton celebrated the 20th anniversary of that country's Fulbright exchange program, which has involved 8,000 American and Vietnamese students, scholars, educators and businesspeople. Reading her talk reminded me of a day 42 years ago when I flew over the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos in the back of a two-seater forward air control plane. The pilot, a U.S. Air Force officer flying out of uniform in an unacknowledged operation, was trying to find North Vietnamese or Viet Cong troops or their base camps and target them for the Royal Lao Air Force planes that were circling in the area. I was there as an investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent by its chairman, Arkansas Democratic Sen. J.W. Fulbright, to get on-the-scene facts about what was going on. Fulbright wanted to get a true picture of the war out to the American people, in this case the secret U.S. role in Laos along with other unpublicized activities related to the war. For example, we had an agreement with the South Korean government that gave higher salaries to its troops in Vietnam than U.S. soldiers received. But that detail had not been made public. Richard Nixon was president, the war was going badly, and fighting would go on for nearly five more years. In the end, more than 58,000 U.S. service members died, and the losses among Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and Laotians were many times that. The Fulbright hearings on the Vietnam War played a role in getting the public to understand the issues involved and eventually led to public pressure to end U.S. combat operations in that country. In Hanoi on July 3, Clinton talked about another side of the late senator's impact on U.S. foreign policy. She talked of the Fulbright Exchange Program that "helps Americans to visit other countries to learn and form lasting bonds, and we want people from other countries to do the same in the United States." Fulbright, she said, "believed so strongly that what was most important was breaking down the walls of misunderstanding and mistrust." It doesn't mean "we will agree on everything, because no two people, let alone two nations, agree on everything," she said. It also doesn't mean that the past is forgotten. In her meeting with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Clinton said she discussed "legacy issues such as Agent Orange." The U.S. sprayed the herbicide on more than one-third of rural South Vietnam to clear forests and croplands to deny hiding places to Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Now, both the U.S. and private groups are working to deal with the diseases that have emerged among people directly or indirectly exposed to the dioxin. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates some 3 million Vietnamese children and adults "have suffered adverse health effects, congenital and developmental defects," according to a 2010 Aspen Institute study. The Vietnam War also hung over talks Wednesday in Vientiane, Laos, where Clinton told the U.S. Embassy staff "the past is always with us." In Laos, the U.S. has provided nearly $59 million since 1995 to help move more than a million cluster munitions. An estimated 80 million cluster munitions are scattered across the country and "continue to kill or injure about a hundred people a year," she said. In a meeting with Laos Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, she praised Laotian government efforts to reintegrate families from the Hmong tribe who, because they supported the U.S. effort in Vietnam, had to flee to Thailand. She also said the U.S. would continue to provide humanitarian aid to Hmong families, and to communities located near where the Hmong live who suffered during the war. There is another side to our Laotian and Vietnamese relations. The U.S.-Laos discussions dealt in part with the importance of unity among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on pressing regional issues, as well as the forthcoming entry of Laos into the World Trade Organization. The Fulbright program may make a difference in those areas, too. In Hanoi, Clinton traced some of the Fulbright program's impact, saying "alumni are already major figures in Vietnamese policies," including deputy prime ministers and the foreign minister. Today, she said, "there are more than 15,000 Vietnamese students in the United States, and I believe this generation of students and scholars is well positioned to make great contributions to Vietnam's future." In reflecting on history's trajectory and Clinton's remarks, a cautionary note arises. During the 1960s, when Washington and Tehran were allies, the Iranian student population in the United States was about 12,000 — among the largest in the country. Today, "if you are an Iranian citizen, you are not eligible for the Fulbright program, unfortunately," reads the State Department website. It's a binational program based on a formal country-to-country agreement, and since there are no diplomatic relations, the exchange program does not operate in Iran. Instead, military threats are being exchanged. It probably would take longer than 20 years to see Iran as an ally if we attack to halt Tehran's nuclear program. The aftermath would be a mess, particularly as we attempt to withdraw from Afghanistan and deal with Iraq as well as Syria at the same time that we try to get our own finances stabilized and our government in working order. How long does it take for enemies to become allies, and allies to become enemies? How long, indeed. Walter Pincus covers military and defense issues for The Washington Post and writes the Fine Print column. Source


Hmong pilots saluted in Maplewood

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The choice wasn't easy for the few young Hmong men all those decades ago. But it was clear: fly until death. From 1967 to 1975, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force recruited and trained the Hmong in Laos mainly to pilot T-28 fighter planes used for counterinsurgency efforts. They flew alongside Americans during the Vietnam War fighting against North Vietnamese in Laos. "The Hmong are not soldiers; they are warriors," said Gaoly Yang of Maplewood, who is the wife of veteran Hmong pilot Phong Yang. "Freedom is very important for Hmong." For the first time Hmong pilot veterans will be recognized by the Air Force for their service. The Hmong Pilot Veterans Committee will host a ceremony Saturday, June 16, in Maplewood in which Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel will present recognition awards. Of 37 original Hmong pilots who took the silent pledge to "fly until death," 20 survived. Seventeen are alive today. "During the year I was there, we lost eight," said Craig Duehring, a retired Air Force colonel and former assistant secretary of the Air Force. "It was a very dangerous mission, and these guys would shoot all day long." One of those "guys" was Yia Kha. An interpreter at age 20 in 1968, he accompanied Duehring on some of the most dangerous missions and became a T-28 pilot in 1973. "We were risking our life," said Yia Kha, who served as a second lieutenant. "So many of our friends sacrificed their life." Now living in Pennsylvania, he will be in Maplewood for the recognition ceremony. "Yia Kha was an exceptional young man," Duehring said. "We were delighted when Yia went to training. He ended up being one of the few to be picked as personal pilots for Gen. Vang Pao." Yia Kha was a pilot until the end of the war in 1975. In 2010, he received a certificate of recognition from the Air Force for his service as an interpreter in forward air control operations. Their knowledge of the land and bilingual skills made Hmong pilots an essential ally for U.S. forces. But unlike American soldiers, the Hmong had to cope with war in their own country. "I feel guilty," said Phong Yang of Maplewood, who was a second lieutenant. "I didn't want to be a pilot, I had no choice." Phong Yang said he feels guilty about killing people and he avoids talking about the war with his children or family. "There is not much pride, the more you learn about what the war was about," said his wife, Gaoly Yang. Phong Yang said the war made it impossible for Hmong men to earn a living. There was no farming and no jobs. Young men were expected to become soldiers. Although Phong Yang said he was happy to become a pilot, he joined expecting to die fighting. "Hmong pilots were not going to survive. Everybody (would) die so we (wouldn't) plan for the future," Phong Yang said. "Hmong pilots had no future. They would fly until they died." Hmong pilots didn't have a limit to the amount of missions they could do each day or there was no retirement after a set amount of missions, Phong Yang explained. "I saw them," he said. "They would take off before light and sometimes it was almost dark and I still saw them go." Once the war ended and the communists took over, the surviving pilots were at risk of being killed by the Vietnamese. So they were brought to the U.S. "Everyone in army or air force who used to work for the Americans, wherever they found you, they were going to kill you," Yia Kha said. Like Yia Kha and Phong Yang, most pilots relocated to the U.S. and are scattered across the country. Some came back with post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled to figure out their new life. As Phong Yang explained, they didn't expect to survive. Recently, the pilots decided it was time for a reunion and planned a simple get-together in the Twin Cities. With the help of Duehring, Yia Kah mailed a letter to Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, asking him to send a thank you letter to the pilots for their service. Instead, Schwartz decided to provide official Air Force recognition for the first time. It's recognition that Gaoly Yang said is long overdue. She hopes it helps to corroborate their service as U.S. allies. Duehring acknowledged there is a debt to the Hmong pilots. Recognition was delayed due to neglect, he said. "Nobody asked for it, nobody went for it," Duehring said. He said that although the Air Force couldn't give them an American medal, the certificate of recognition is a way to show gratitude. "This folks were our dear friends and comrades in arms, we landed in the same airstrip, we lived in the same area, we directed them on air strikes," Duehring said. "The mutual respect is as high as it could be. We owe them a lot and a huge thank you." Survivors and families of the fallen pilots will be recognized at the first Hmong Pilot Veteran Reunion and Service Recognition Awards at 10 a.m Saturday, June 16, at LAV 52 Banquet Hall in Maplewood. Danya P. Hernandez can be reached at 651-228-5116. Follow her at twitter.com/DanyaPH. Source


Vang represents Hmong culture

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Emily Vang, after she was crowned Miss Hmong, Oklahoma 2012 with her parents Nhia Chue Vang and Derx Vang. Submitted Photo The title may not be as prestigious as Miss U.S.A or even Miss Oklahoma, but for Emily Vang, of Marble City, the title of Miss Hmong Oklahoma 2012 is every bit as important. Vang was born in Wisconsin, but her parents Nhia Chue Vang and Derx Vang, came to the U.S. when the Hmong people lost their country during the Vietnam conflict. As Miss Hmong 2012, Vang is responsible for promoting her culture among other young Hmongs. “We don’t want to lose our culture,” Vang said. “I help with different events that bring the Hmong culture to public notice as well as keeping younger Hmong people connected to the people and land where they came from.” The Hmong people were a sub culture in Vietnam. Some moved to Laos or Cambodia during the conflict, others came to the United States when their country was taken over by the North Vietnamese armies. As Miss Hmong Oklahoma 2012, Vang attends special celebrations like Hmong New Year and mans a table at cultural fairs. “The title gives me the opportunity to be a role model for younger members of our culture. It shows other young people that they can be part of the United States and still maintain their Hmong culture,” she said. Vang is part of a small group of Hmong people living in the area. “We still speak our language. Many of the younger family members are losing that. Many of the elders want us to keep our language,” she said. Vang is a nursing student at Northeast State University in Tahlequah. She has four sisters and one brother and her family owns a chicken farm near Marble City. SOurce


US - Laos Policy, Memorial Events, Held in Congress

Friday, May 25, 2012

National veterans' memorial ceremonies and policy events are being held in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Congress, to highlight the service, and ongoing plight, of Lao and Hmong veterans who served in Laos during the Vietnam War. Thousands of Laotian and Hmong-American veterans, and their refugee families from across America, are participating along with U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War. Laotian and Hmong-Americans from across the United States are attending with delegations traveling from California, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgie, Alabama, Louisiana, and other states. “We have come from across the United States to pay tribute and remember our fallen soldiers who have died to secure the freedom that we all enjoy today,” said Colonel Wangyee Vang, President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI). The LVAI and the Lao Veterans of America are the nation's largest Lao and Hmong veterans organization with chapters across the United States. “It is also important to remember that our people, who were left behind in the jungles of Laos, are still suffering from the causes of the Vietnam War,” Colonel Wangyee Vang stated further. Meetings and special events are continuing in the U.S. Congress this week, regarding domestic and international policy matters of concern, including veterans, human rights, refugee, religious persecution, trade and economic issues. On May 11, a wreath-laying and memorial service, was conducted at the Lao Veterans of America (LVA) monument in Arlington National Cemetery to honor the Lao and Hmong veterans, their families, as well as the American clandestine advisors, who served in defense of the Kingdom of Laos, and U.S. national security interests, during the Vietnam War. “I am very honored and pleased that we are once again gathered here today at Arlington,” said Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Ph. D., a Southeast Asia scholar, former Vietnam War-era journalist and author. At events in Arlington, Dr. Hamilton-Merritt read excerpts from her book "Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, The Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos" (Indiana University Press) and served as a keynote speaker at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial events. “A U.S. Department of Defense Joint Armed Forces Honor Guard, U.S. Army wreath-bearer, and bugler, participated in the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to assist in honoring the Lao and Hmong veterans and their families,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C. http://www.cppa-dc.org “Following the official wreath-laying ceremony at the Lao Veterans of America memorial in Arlington, the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) honor guard also posted colors, and the bugler played ‘Taps’, in memory of the Lao and Hmong veterans and their American military and clandestine advisors…,” Smith observed. “With covert American assistance, Lao and Hmong special forces operated in defense of the Kingdom of Laos and U.S. national security interests,” Smith commented. Flowers were laid at a veterans' memorial ceremony held at the Vietnam War Memorial on May 12. Event speakers are highlighting the importance of legislation (H.R. 3192), introduced by U.S. Congressmen Jim Costa (D-CA), and Frank Wolf (R-VA), to grant burial benefits to Lao and Hmong-American veterans at U.S. national cemeteries. Event cosponsors include the LVAI, CPPA, LVA, the U.S. DOD, Army, Air Force, Arlington National Cemetery, Counterparts, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., and Members of the U.S. Congress. Speakers at the veterans’ memorial events include: Wangyee Vang, LVAI; Philip Smith, CPPA; Jane Hamilton-Merritt; Mike Benge, former POW; Hugh Tovar, Former CIA Station Chief, Laos; Toua Kue, LVA.; D. L. Hicks, U.S. Special Forces Association, Texas; Christy Lee, Hmong Advance, Inc.; U.S. Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA); U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and, Members of the U.S. Congress. The events also commemorate National Lao and Hmong Recognition Day ceremonies held annually in May in Washington, D.C. and across the United States. Contact: Ms. Maria Gomez, Mr. Phil Marieo or Mr. Philip Smith CPPA - Center for Public Policy Analysis info@centerforpublicpolicyanalysis.org Tele. (202) 543-1444 http://www.centerforpublicpolicyanalysis.org Source


Record earns first ever Hmong Association Fellowship Award

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - From 6 to 8 a.m. every Sunday morning you will hear a different language being spoken on the WIZM-1410 radio station. That's because the 2-hour program is entirely in Hmong. Midwest Family Broadcasting Vice President Dick Record received the first ever Hmong Association Fellowship Award May 17. Record advocated the creation of Hmong radio programming back in 1983, to help the Hmong community stay updated on current music, news, and events. "Every radio station and television station has a responsibility to operate in the public interest...and these are the kinds of things that I think the audiences and the people and the government are looking for," Record said. Record hopes the program will continue to encourage diversity and understanding in the La Crosse area. Source


Solana Beach art exhibit sheds light on stories of Hmong tribal life

From left, Nancy Harmon, Roger Harmon, Irving Himelblau and Bob Montgomery stand in front of a Hmong story cloth. Photo: Claire Harlin In the 1960s, the United States employed the tribal Hmong people to fight what’s now known as “The Secret War” in the highlands of Laos. And as the Southeast Asia conflict, which coincided with the Vietnam War, wound down in defeat for the native mountain people, they fled refugee camps in Thailand, where many stayed for decades. Much of what we know of the Hmong people’s experiences comes from detailed story cloths they embroidered while in the Thai camps, and one local couple — Roger and Nancy Harmon — has managed to collect and preserve a variety of them, which will be presented on May 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito (UUFSD). The event will also feature a detailed explanation of the cloths by the Harmons, a photo exhibition and a presentation by Bob Montgomery, who has worked for more than 35 years with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and serves as the executive director of the San Diego Resettlement Office. Proceeds from the event will be donated to “My Library,” an education project for underserved Hmong and other youth in Laos. Roger Harmon’s love affair with Laos and its people dates back to the late 1960s, when he orchestrated a language program there that focused on teaching English to Hmong people who were being brought as refugees to the United States. In exchange for their mountain know-how and fighting on the side of the U.S., Roger said, the U.S. government gave them rice. “Eventually they had to flee into neighboring Thaliand because they became targets themselves,” said Roger. “We put them in harm’s way and we had a responsibility to help them rebuild their lives here in the United States.” While in Thailand, Roger noticed the colorful, intricately-designed story cloths hanging from bamboo poles in front of many houses. “The knocked me out,” said Roger. “I had never seen anything like them. They were beautiful.” Nancy added that the Hmong people had always been well-versed in embroidery work and handicrafts, but they didn’t make story cloths until they were pent up for 25 years or more as refugees surviving a deadly war. “It wasn’t until they were in the camps that they had a story to tell,” she said. The Harmons are members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito, and were thrilled when the Solana Beach church’s publicity chair, Irving Himelblau, approached them about doing an art exhibit there. Every few months, the church puts on a new exhibit and every month proceeds from church collections benefit a different cause. The church is also very involved in service work such as Habitat for Humanity, via the church’s social action committee. “If there’s any strong pillar of justice here, it’s with the social action committee,” said Himelblau, adding that the Hmong story cloth exhibit and associated “My Library” cause was a perfect addition to the church event schedule. “This exhibit just felt really good, especially given the cause and the historical aspect,” Himelblau said. Refreshments at the two-hour event will be served and Montgomery will be speaking about the contemporary refugee situation here in San Diego. His IRC office is located in City Heights, which, along with Chula Vista, has a large refugee population. For more information, visit www.uufsd.org or call (858) 755-9225. Source


Creating a Hmong Community Foundation

Lue Her As part of his Archibald Bush Leadership fellowship, Lue Her has had an opportunity to visit with and learn from fellow Hmong-Americans around the country. Not surprisingly, he has found that complex issues continue to plague Hmong-American communities. But he has been surprised to see that few in the community realize that many of the challenges facing its members could be addressed if Hmong-Americans had their own philanthropic vehicle to leverage financial, intellectual and cultural assets — assets that Her believes exist within the Hmong-American community now. Hmong-Americans have long participated in a variety of traditions and practices that presume donations of time, effort and money, but for many the concept of giving back through philanthropic channels remains foreign — possibly because they have not been invited to contribute. To remedy this, he is embarking on an endeavor to create a new Hmong Community Foundation. Read more about what he envisions for the new foundation in the “Voices in Philanthropy” section in the spring issue of Giving Forum on community philanthropy. - Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate Source


Traditional Hmong Healers Learning to Partner With Valley Doctors

A Hmong shaman blesses a young pregnant woman in rural Merced. Thousands of Hmong refugees settled in the Central Valley in the 1970s and like most immigrants, they brought their own traditions with them. Back home, the Hmong were more likely to see a shaman than a doctor when they got sick and that has presented something of a challenge for health care professionals here in California. A hospital in Merced is addressing that with a program called "Partners in Healing." Reporter: Shuka Kalantari Source


Comedy show gives Hmong culture lesson

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tou Ger Xiong expresses the struggles of being an immigrant. Xiong said one of his biggest struggles was having parents who didn’t speak English Mixing the immigrant experience with Hmong culture, Tou Ger Xiong presented an entertaining and eye-opening comedy show to the UW Oshkosh community April 19. “I, like many Hmong children, did not know the story of Hmong people, so one day I asked my mother, ‘What is Hmong?’” Xiong said. Xiong’s story started with the Vietnam War. After China became communist, the CIA sent Green Berets to train Hmong guerrillas in order to oppose the Vietnamese and the Lao communist forces. Xiong’s father was one of these people. He went to war at the age of 15 along with some friends. After the war Pathet Lao, a communist group in Laos, tried to wipe out the Hmong. As a result, thousands of Hmong fled to refugee camps in Thailand. Many were killed along the way, especially when crossing the Mekong River. An estimated 30,000 Hmong were killed by Communist forces while trying to reach Thailand. More than 100,000 Hmong people died as a result of the war. Today approximately 250,000 Hmong are in the U.S., most living in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Xiong was born in Laos and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand until he was four. One night, at 1 a.m., they escaped by bribing some fishermen. It took three trips to get everyone out, but on the last trip the fishermen robbed and killed Xiong’s neighbors. Xiong later returned to Laos in 1997 and 2007 to visit relatives, some of who have lived in refugee camps for more than 20 years. “My dad worked for the CIA, and just being associated with that could get you killed,” Xiong said. “Our whole family was in danger.” From there Xiong’s sister sponsored them through the Catholic church to come to America. They ended up in a public housing project in Minneapolis. His father went from a captain in the army to cleaning toilets. Xiong had to quickly adjust to living in America, sharing his experiences through a series of entertaining stories about his first time seeing snow and learning English. Xiong was also bullied at school for being an Asian immigrant. “It really comes down to the issue of bullying, embracing diversity and the need to experience the world,” Xiong said. Now he’s turned that experience into a way to educate Hmong and non-Hmong through comedy. In 1996, Xiong created Project Respectism, an educational service project that uses comedy, storytelling and rap music to bridge cultures and generations. “A comedian isn’t what most people think when they hear Hmong, and people in big and small towns needed to hear the message of how our ancestors came here and how our stories are the same,” Xiong said. One of his first jobs was entertaining a group of Hmongs in prison for gang related activity. He found that getting people to laugh made them listen to what he had to say. From that experience he wrote a rap song called “I am the Mac,” about transforming negative situations into a positive one and not giving up on one’s dreams. “I really like how he related his past life with where he is now, how he came from Laos to America and using those differences as a motivation tool to teach others,” Oshkosh student Lee Vang said. Xiong has taken his message about respect to 44 states in the past nine years. He has given more than 1,500 presentations nationwide to audiences of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. A documentary of Xiong’s project “Hmong Means Free,” aired on public television in Minnesota. Xiong also starred in “Portraits from the Cloth,” the first television movie about a Hmong family’s journey from war. “I loved this event and I wish there were more of them on campus,” Oshkosh admissions staff member Melanie Cross. “Explaining the Hmong story and traditions allow me to be more understanding of the culture.”


Hmong ceremony offered for mayor

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nao Shoua Xiong of Wausau, a Hmong shaman and a statewide clan leader, will hold a blessing ceremony for Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple as Tipple begins his third term. The event, which is open to the public, will be held at 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday at Xiong’s home, 1204 Rosecrans St. The event also will include food, drink and a social time. Xiong said the ceremony will symbolize how the Hmong community and Tipple “will continue our collaboration and work together in the community.” For more information, call Xiong at 715-581-3991. Source


History of the Farmers' Market

The Dane County Farmers' Market stands as a connection between Madison and the farms that surround it By: Sarah Karon It was just after midnight in 1972, and Jim Barnard was steering a refrigerated box truck down Wisconsin’s craggy peninsula. Fruit from his Door County farm packed the truck: Cinderella plums, Seckel pears, totes brimming with Cortland and Macintosh apples. The drive to Madison was five hours, one way. But Barnard was eager to take part in what was then a fledgling experiment: a Saturday farmers’ market on the city’s Capitol Square. Just ten other vendors showed up at the first Dane County Farmers’ Market that morning in late September. Forty years later, it’s the largest producer-only market in the country, with three hundred members, up to 170 sellers weekly, a five-year vendor waiting list, and as many as twenty thousand daily visitors. The market is a hub of social activity, as much a tourist destination as an outdoor grocery store. It’s an emblem of Wisconsin’s agricultural riches, attracting chefs and gardeners, vegans and carnivores, and people who treasure building community through food. And it’s a particular point of pride in Madison, where buying and eating local long predates the now-ubiquitous farm-to-table movement. “There’s this elevation of the farmer as rock star at the market,” says Kiera Mulvey, executive director of the non-profit FairShare CSA (community-supported agriculture) Coalition. “There’s a real appreciation for the contributions that farmers make to the Madison community.” That much was evident at the first farmers’ market, where Barnard and his fellow vendors quickly were overwhelmed with customers. The following Saturday, eighty-five sellers came to the market; two years later, that number had more than tripled and the market drew two hundred thousand annual visitors. A Wednesday morning market opened in 1975 to help meet demand. The market’s popularity outpaced its organization. Vendors weren’t assigned stalls, so many slept in their trucks on Friday night, waking at dawn to stake out a spot on the Square. “There was a rule—you had to drive once around the Capitol before you could park,” recalls Rich Salzman, whose parents were among the market’s first vendors. “So the cars would hot-rod around the Square at five in the morning.” Nowadays, things are more civilized. A seniority system, established in 1990, guarantees longtime vendors first pick of location, and in the late nineties, when the number of sellers swelled to four hundred, market managers capped membership and instituted a waiting list. Vendors must be properly licensed and abide by the market’s strict rules: All products, from emu eggs to kohlrabi to spicy cheese bread, must be grown or made in Wisconsin, and at least one producer must be behind every table. Reselling is forbidden. The idea, market manager Larry Johnson says, is not only to promote Wisconsin products but also to encourage “hands-on, dirt-under-the-fingernails” production. The payoff is obvious: Consumers get to meet the person who grows their food, while vendors can forge relationships with shoppers. Customer feedback is nice for the ego, too. Willi Lehner, who owns Bleu Mont Dairy in Blue Mounds, says he loves giving people cheese samples and “watching their eyes roll back in their heads.” And then there are more tangible rewards. Johnson says consumers spend about $10 million annually at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and another $6 million at nearby shops and cafes. “A lot of times people say, ‘Oh, having a farmers’ market is going to take away my business,’” says Alfonso Morales, a UW–Madison professor of urban and regional planning. “But it’s a complementary activity, not competition.” The farmers’ market has shaped Madison’s food-centric culture, too. White-tablecloth restaurants cook with market ingredients, but so do the city’s bakeries, pizzerias, pubs and street carts. And our palettes are getting more sophisticated, thanks to the market’s increasingly diverse vendor population. Hmong and Hmong American farmers, who now make up fifteen percent of sellers, have introduced marketgoers to Southeast Asian staples like bitter melon, bottle gourds, shell pea tips and long beans. The market has also helped make fresh, locally grown food more accessible to people with limited income. In 2008, vendors began accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps), when less than twenty percent of the nation’s farmers’ markets did so. Shoppers at the Dane County Farmers’ Market redeemed $3,000 worth of SNAP vouchers that year; in 2011, redemptions had soared to $49,000. But many market traditions remain unchanged. Jim Barnard and his wife, Crystal, now both in their late sixties, still spend forty hours each week shuttling tart cherries and moongold apricots to Madison for the Wednesday and Saturday markets. “We’re invested in the market, since we helped start it,” Crystal says. And, she adds, customers expect them. “We’re historic fixtures. If our truck breaks down and we can’t get there, we’ll hear about it.” Source


Weaving Hmong culture through literacy

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Every culture has a different story to tell that builds America into the melting pot it is today. Students throughout Stevens Point elementary schools are getting a unique taste of these tales that promote literacy and culture.
The UW-Stevens Point Student Education Association (StWEA) received a $1,000 Community Learning Through America’s Schools (CLASS) Grant, which funded Hmong literacy books for donation to local classrooms and hosting read-aloud sessions.
CLASS Grants are earned to perform community service projects designed and organized completely by students. StWEA’s proposal stated: “The Stevens Point Area School District has an increasing enrollment of students with diverse backgrounds, which presents the opportunity to promote awareness of the Hmong culture.”
“It goes very well with our character education,” said Kim Johnson, a second-grade teacher at McKinley Center and UW-Stevens Point alumna.
McKinley Center is the first of the many Stevens Point schools that will receive book donations and a read-aloud.
Though understanding different cultures is important, it is equally important to understand the similarities they share. John Lenz ‘13, a member of StWEA and broad field social science education major, compared the story Hmong story “Gao Zoua Pa” to common fairytales such as Cinderella and Snow White.
As part of the grant, StWEA partnered with the UW-Stevens Point’s Hmong and Southeast Asian American Club (HaSEAAC). HaSEAAC members participated in the read-aloud dressed in traditional Hmong clothing to showcase their culture and taught the elementary students the Hmong tradition of storytelling through a paj ntaub or story cloth. The children got a chance to create a paj ntaub drawing Hmong symbols to depict their own stories about family, food and hobbies.
“I do things with them, but it’s different me telling them compared to someone coming from the university,” said Johnson. “It shows what possibilities they can do when they grow up and graduate.”


Creating a Hmong Community Foundation

Lue Her, Archibald Bush Leadership Fellow
As part of my Bush fellowship, I’ve had the opportunity to visit with and learn from fellow Hmong-Americans throughout this country. It’s no surprise that the issues that continue to plague Hmong-American communities are diverse and complex. Many are perennial concerns, including how to meet basic needs, address health disparities, provide job skills training, close the achievement gap, manage cultural conflicts, create economic self-sufficiency, define gender roles and more.
Leveraging Current Assets
But few people in the Hmong-American community seem to realize that many of the challenges facing its members could be addressed and greatly advanced if we had our own philanthropic vehicle to leverage financial, intellectual and cultural assets – assets that exist within our community right now.
Unlike preceding generations, young Hmong-Americans today have made enormous strides in acquiring education, participating in the workforce, encouraging entrepreneurship and accumulating wealth. We’ve integrated ourselves into American culture without losing the history, language and structures that have defined our people for centuries.
For many Hmong-Americans the concept of giving back through philanthropic channels remains foreign. But it would be far from the truth to say that benevolence and contributing toward the lives of others are absent in our community. In fact, Hmong-Americans have long participated in a variety of traditions and practices that presume donations of time, effort and money.
The more apparent reason for the Hmong-American community’s lack of participation in organized philanthropy is that they have not been invited to contribute. Philanthropic organizations and their partners have simply not anticipated or planned on Hmong-Americans being willing and able participants in bettering the lives of their people and neighbors.
An Invitation to Give Back
I believe that Hmong-Americans must not wait any longer to be asked to participate in philanthropy for the betterment of our community. That is why I, along with several other young Hmong-American and non-Hmong leaders, am embarking on an endeavor to create a Hmong Community Foundation.
This new philanthropic organization will identify pressing issues of Hmong-American communities near and far and help define methods to remedy them. It will accept responsibility for aligning our community’s resources to address the challenges facing our people. The Hmong Community Foundation will also serve as an ambassador to other new immigrant populations by addressing common issues that require great courage and resources to overcome.
My hope is that the Hmong Community Foundation will help author a new chapter in our community’s story and redefine, once again, a group of refugees from the villages of Laos. Only this time the narrative will revolve around the impact of Hmong philanthropy on the larger world.
To learn more, contact Her at 651.331.9587 or HmongCommunityFoundation@gmail.com. 


Hmong-Inspired: Fashion Show

Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 1721 W Canal St, Milwaukee. Free Parking.
Reception 6:00 pm, Event 7:00 pm
General Admission $30, VIP seating $60. Register online or learn more about sponsorship oportunities. Appetizers will be served. Cash Bar. All ages welcome. 
oin Viv Ncaus: A Hmong Women’s Giving Circle for this tribute to Hmong women & girls—our identity keepers.
A visual feast featuring the work of four contemporary Hmong designers along with a retrospective of Hmong fashions.
Featuring Hmong designers: Malika Lor (Milwaukee), Seelia Vachon (St. Paul, MN), Johnny Vang (Madison), and Chia Yang (Berlin, WI)
A common thread of Hmong culture and history is Hmong resilience to survive in the face of annihilation. An example is Hmong clothing. No matter where they find their home, Hmong women have maintained a cultural legacy through clothing. After the Chinese forbade Hmong people from using their writing system, it was Hmong women who came up with the idea to sew Hmong phrases onto baby carriers as a means of re-membrance and communication.
Today, Hmong women in Wisconsin have found ways to incorporate the styles or patterns of their new home into the clothes they fashion. As Hmong culture evolves throughout the world, Hmong people can always identify who they are through the clothes they wear. This fashion show continues the creative tradition of clothes-making. It begins with showcasing the evolution of Hmong fashions over time and culminates in a visual feast featuring the work of three contemporary Hmong designers.
Join us as a sponsor and support the work of the giving circle. As a sponsor you are helping Hmong women create a stable funding source within the community to support a culture where Hmong women and girls have the right to equality, safety, opportunity and self-determination. This event will bring together Hmong community members and supporters from all over Wisconsin. This Hmong-Inspired fashion show is an opportunity for us as Hmong women to support new Hmong talents and share Hmong women herstory through traditional and modern Hmong fashion. Become a part of our history by sponsoring this event and help us elevate and show case the beauty and strength of Hmong women.


Sandy Xiong awarded Phillips Scholarship

Xiong revived a magazine called Hmoobteen for her project. Ambyr Pruitt.
Sophomore Sandy Xiong was recently named one of this year’s Phillips Scholarship recipients, making her the eleventh Gustavus student since 1998 to win the Scholarship.
Each year, six sophomore students from Minnesota’s private colleges are awarded the prestigious Phillips Scholarship. The scholarship is given to students who demonstrate a potential for leadership and plan to devote a portion of their lives to community service.
In order to be considered, Xiong and other applicants had to draft a proposal detailing a service project to be implemented over the summer.  Xiong chose to revive a project she had previously worked on—a magazine titled Hmoobteen, which features writing submitted by Hmong teenagers.
While in high school, Xiong was a contributor and eventually an editor for the online magazine.  Xiong says that writing for Hmoobteen gave her a valuable outlet for the stress of growing up torn between two cultures.
“I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I didn’t have an open resource. When I joined Hmoobteen, I felt like I could be myself,” Xiong said.
Xiong  hopes to draw submissions from across the nation for the revamped magazine.  She plans on incorporating social media into the magazine’s strategy to ensure its success beyond her involvement.
Nengher Vang, the Diversity Center’s Assistant Director of Multicultural Programs, points to the accessibility of Xiong’s project as one of its advantages. Vang was on the selection committee tasked with picking Gustavus’ semi-finalist.
“The committee was excited about her project.  It was feasible and had sustainability to it,” Vang said.
Xiong feels that Hmong teenagers are in dire need of constructive outlets and sees this issue as a major contributor to juvenile delinquency.
“I think it’s a problem that a lot of Hmong teens don’t try to be applicable with their skills,” Xiong said.
Vang echoes this assessment.  He agrees that Xiong’s project can help Hmong teenagers trying to cope with the challenge of finding an identity between cultures.
“I think Sandy is right in thinking about writing as a cathartic expression. When you don’t have any chance to express thoughts and feelings in the home, people can still express themselves through writing,” Vang said.
Professor Emeritus in Classics Patricia Freiert is equally impressed with Xiong’s project proposal. Xiong took Freiert’s FTS on bicultural identity.
“It was a very imaginative thing for her to do and speaks to her commitment to her traditions. I cannot imagine a student or project more appropriate,” Freiert said.
The Phillips Scholarship Program awards its recipients 6,000 dollars for their junior year, and an additional 6,000 dollars in scholarship money for their senior year.  A stipend of 4,000 dollars is set aside to support the implementation of the summer service project, while 500 dollars goes into necessary project resources.
Prior to Xiong, Senior Irma Marquez was the most recent Gustavus student to win the scholarship. Marquez finds that the scholarship has a lasting impact.
“The experiences that I’ve had since I received the Phillips Scholarship have given me many opportunities to do the work I love and the work that I hope to continue doing in my future. I am extremely excited for Sandy,” Marquez said.
On campus, Xiong is involved with Gusties in Ongoing Leadership (G.O.L.D.), the Gustavian Weekly, the Writing Center, and is a Collegiate Fellow in Pittman Hall.