By J. LEE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (May 14, 2013) — The first Hmong American Day Celebration was created by the Hmong 18 Council in partnership.
Together with Take Action Minnesota, SGU Veterans & Families of USA Inc., Lao Family Community of Minnesota, several other organizations joined in to commemorate May 14 as the day the late General Vang Pao took the last American flight out of Laos to begin the exodus of Hmong and Royal Laotian people faced for helping the United States. This marks the 38th anniversary of the exodus to America after the fall of Long Cheng, a United States-Hmong airbase in Laos.
“We fought the same war as the American soldiers and pledged allegiance to the American flag before we were even American citizens,” said Xang Vang, executive director of Special Guerilla Unit (SGU) Veterans and Families of USA. “Why aren’t we being treated the same after the service we provided as American soldiers?”
Xang Vang served as a lieutenant under Vang Pao. He remained a trusted friend until the general passed away in California on Jan. 6, 2011.
“For the last thirty-plus years, the Secret War has for the most part stayed a secret to Americans,” he said. “The declaration of Hmong American Day is exciting because it gives me and other Hmong vets the chance to tell our story to younger Hmong American generations and the broader Minnesota community.”
Xang Vang chairs the Hmong Lao Memorial Committee of Hmong veteran organizations working on legislation to build a memorial at the state capitol lawn to recognize Hmong-Lao veterans.
Senator Foung Hawj is Chief Author of Senate File 651 and Representative John Lesch is Chief Author of the companion House File 730. The community, more organizations, and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans are needed to help push it out of the various committees they must still go through. Contact SGU Veterans and Families of USA, Inc. Xang Vang and Xai Paul Vang at 651-528-6240.
Governor Mark Day’s Proclamation to celebrate Hmong American Day recognizes the sacrifices of Hmong-Lao veterans who fought for the United States in the Secret War in Laos during the Vietnam War, and acknowledges their contributions to “building a vibrant and diverse Minnesota, contributing socially, politically, and economically to our state.”
Hmong 18 Council Inc. President Kevin Vang brought honor and recognition to the Hmong 18 Council leaders by having Take Action Minnesota Executive Director Dan McGrath present them all with Governor Mark Dayton’s Proclamation. Council leaders were Vice President Zong Leng Pha, Secretary Robert Lor, Wa Men Moua, Cha Yeng Chang, SGU Veterans & Families Executive Director Xang Vang; SGU Veterans & Families USA President #1 Xai Paul Vang; SGU Veterans & Families Development President Chue Chou Chang; Lao Family Community of MN Vice President Nhia Ty Vang; United Lao Council President Moua Gao, United Lao Council President; Tou Fue Vang, Xiong Pao Moua; Lo Thai Vang; Yong kai Moua; Nao Pheng Xiong; Nao Chue Vang; Pang Xang Vang; Lee MN President Neng Lee; Chai Hue Xiong; Mai Kao Hang Amherst Wilder President; and Hmong American Day organizer Daim Thao.
Dan McGrath shared his experiences of how Hmong colleagues “covered his back” and supported him, despite the racism they faced. His “Hmong Organizing Program” was led by Amee Xiong, then Liz Xiong, and included the Justice for Veterans campaign led by Mai Chong Xiong, who provided support for the celebration.
Lao Family of Minnesota President Chu Pheng Ly welcomed over 300 people to the bi-lingual celebration featuring dignitaries, cultural entertainment, educational information and opportunities. U.S. Senator Al Franken’s address and recognition of contributions by the Hmong and Hmong veterans is further covered in separate interview.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5) acknowledged that we “can’t allow kids to forget who they are” including the “good and bad memories: of their elders who traveled to the United States for new opportunities. He applauded the Hmong veterans who “showed courage, honor, and service” and stated they were “an inspiration to us all.” Congressman Ellison also encouraged the young people to “be inspired, educated, and follow the values set by the veterans and parents.”
Ellison can continue the conversation at his forum on “Refugees, Asylees and Immigration Reform” on May 28, 2013, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Ave. North, Minneapolis.
Choua Lee spoke on behalf of U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-4).
Kevin Vang spoke of how “we’re important to each other, our families and community.” He stated that in surviving and pursuing freedom and justice, the Hmong could also “help shape and lead the community.”
Others need to acknowledge the Hmong in closing the achievement gap for Hmong students, Vang added. “The Hmong care for the U.S. like their own country and higher education is needed for the next generation to shape the country and what’s done will define us in the future.”
Amherst Wilder Foundation President and CEO MayKao Hang urged the Hmong to “embrace the American Dream.”
In telling that the young generation that they “stood on the shoulders of those before”, she explained that in building a stronger community – we need to look inward at ourselves before looking outward. She said “everyone has something to contribute”.
St. Paul Council Member Melvin Carter and his mother Ramsey Commissioner Toni Carter were among the honored guests. Vang Xiong and Long Yang added words of appreciation to the veterans.
Participating organizations are APAHC members, except for Take Action Minnesota. Besides the Hmong-Lao Memorial, APAHC members and legislators have been working on a Resolution for the veterans to be recognized by Congress and other states, a bill to have burial rights, and other bills for healthcare, housing and economic benefits.
The Hmong American Day Odyssey 2013 continues to June 14, 2013 at 101 Snelling Lake Road, West Saint Paul near the MSP Airport. A reenactment of the Vietnam War “to educate the youth about their past and to take responsibility for their future” will highlight the activities, bonfire and food. Student participation is wanted. For information, contact Xee Lor 651-434-4777 or Der Thao (651) 239-2303.
Lao Family of Minnesota’s Hmong Freedom Celebration 33rd Annual Sport Festival will be held July 6-7, 2013 at Como Park, Saint Paul. Details on registration, sports competition and prizes, entertainment, and vendors are at www.laofamily.org.