By J. LEE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (May 22, 2014) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed May 14 as Hmong American Day in 2013.
This recognition is in part for the leadership of General Vang Pao, the sacrifices of the soldiers and civilians on behalf of the United States during the War in Southeast Asia, and the subsequent dislocation from Laos, to the Thailand refugee camps, and eventual permanent resettlement in America. It is to acknowledge the contributions of the Hmong to Minnesota. The 2014 second annual celebration was held on the Capitol Mall and at the Minnesota History Center.
On the Capitol Mall, State Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-67) rallied his legislative colleagues in support of the veterans and their families. As Senate Chief Author of the Hmong-Lao Memorial legislation, Hawj pointed out where the memorial statue was going to be on the Capitol Mall.
Able to come out of Senate and House Chambers during session were Senators Roger Chamberlain, Greg Clausen, Chris Eaton, Melissa Franzen, Dan Hall, John Hoffman (Chief Author of removing use of “Asian” out of “invasive species” and “carp”), Alice Johnson, Ron Latz, John Marty, President of the Senate Sandy Pappas, Eric Pratt, Ann Rest, Bev Scalze, Bill Weber, Charles Wiger; Representatives John Lesch (House Chief Author of the Memorial legislation), Jim Abeler, Connie Bernardy, Pam Myhra, Mary Sawatzky.
Hawj said he was “grateful to their ancestors and General Vang Pao”, giving recognition to “Uncle Dang and Auntie Shoua as the Adam and Eve of Hmong in Minnesota” and how there’s now about 70,000 Hmong. He also thanked his colleagues and Gov. Dayton for their help with passing the Hmong-Lao Memorial legislation and funds.
Numerous organizations and individuals contributed to the State required matching funds including major contributions by the clans in the Hmong 18 Council, Hmong Village, SGU Veterans and Families U.S.A., and Lao Veterans of America.
Stating he’s “here to support to the veterans, families and community”, Hawj also committed to future Hmong American Day celebrations.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s aide gave his support and well wishes. Congressman Keith Ellison spoke of the “Hmong sacrifices, hard work, and contributions during the Vietnam War”, where “generations of people would reap the benefits in years to come”.
Examples given were elected officials as former State Sen. Mee Moua, current Sen. Foung Hawj, former State Rep. Cy Thao, St. Paul City Councilman Dai Thao and Minneapolis City Councilman Blong Yang. An author of Immigration Reform in Congress, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5) explained its importance to the Hmong community.
Saying he was grateful that the Hmong “stood with Americans despite suffering misfortunes for standing with Americans”, Gov. Mark Dayton said they “deserve continued gratitude and recognition.”
Dayton thanked the Hmong “for their contributions to make Minnesota a better State”. Approving the Hmong-Lao Memorial legislation and funding as part of his budget bill, Dayton said he’s “looking forward to seeing it” at the Capitol.
Songs were performed by the Cody Lee, Shu Lor, the Loswing, Jackson Elementary School Choir, and the Hmong College Prep Academy Concert Choir who also met with Gov. Dayton.
St. Paul City Councilman Dai Thao thanked the “Hmong ancestors who came across the Mekong Delta to liberty and justice” which was the evolution of the American Spirit “for us and our children to carry on.” He spoke of the “undying commitment made on the battle field where lives were given so others can live.”
In “honoring the history and celebrating the future”, Councilman Thao spoke of Hmong contributions to Minnesota’s economy and activities. He spoke of “caring for the children and elderly”, “shared vision and values, a common destiny”, and the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s words of “we all do better when we all do better.”
Thao pointed out that the “veterans are not doing better”, and as part of “duty, honor and country”, “Congress must pass legislation for Hmong veterans to have a dignified burial and health care they deserve.”
Many organizations have worked on passage of these veterans burial rights and health care for years. They include APAHC, Children’s Hope International / R & R Family Ctrs., Concordia University, Lao-Hmong American Coalition, Lao Veterans of America, SGU Veterans & Families U.S.A., SGU Veterans & Families Development, Take Action Minnesota, and others. But more organizations and people are needed for removing obstacles and the extra work necessary for passage at the State and Federal level.
State Rep. Bob Dettmer introduced the original burial rights bills. Sen. Hawj worked on the amended bills. His contact is [email protected]
Minnesota History Center Curator Brian Horrigan was impressed by the program and dance performances that depicted the life before the Secret War in Laos, the war, becoming refugees, the journey to America, and becoming American. He mentioned making a permanent Hmong exhibit.
Hmong legislators, Councilman Dai Thao as a boy, veterans and families are part of the “We Are Hmong Minnesota” History Center exhibit opening March 7, 2015. www.MNHS.org.
Veterans speakers included SGU Lt. Colonel Tou-Fu Vang, Liaison and Executive Director for General Vang Pao, SGU Colonel Ly Teng, and Captain Peter Vang.
Co-founder of Lao Family Community of Minnesota and drafting the Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act, SGU Colonel Ly Teng referred to his Lutheran church sponsor as helping his family and himself move “from war to freedom and peace”, “helping him find a home and succeeding”, and that “future generations have the opportunity to succeed and fulfill their dreams”. But they “should not forget their heritage and culture.”
Captain Peter Vang, Vice Commander of American Legion Post 1975 and U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he was a refugee at age 5, his father served in the SGU “protecting his village, the families and Allies”, and he “loves this country” as reasons for serving in the military. His Asian Post 1975 is having their first Military Ball, May 23, 2014, 6pm-midnight, at Buasavanh Banquet Hall. Contact Commander Canon Yang at [email protected]
Dance were performed by the Hmong Cultural Center’s Qeej Troup, and Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association’s youth groups Nkauj Iab Nraug Oo and Twin Cities Shooting Stars who both conveyed the history of the Hmong’s agrarian life before the war, being wounded or dying during the war, and their journey to America and freedom.
A Hmong veteran said he was “moved by the performance” of Nkauj Iab Nraug Oo showing “survivors as himself crossing the river and remembered how his father almost died crossing the river.”
From a history of the Hmong “surviving so many obstacles” and “global displacement”, Liz Xiong, Hmong American Day Committee Chair from Take Action Minnesota went on to tell the students that “you are the future” and needed to “stick together to thrive.” She encouraged goals of being a U.S. President, entrepreneurs, and CEOs of global companies.
Mai Chong Xiong of Take Action Minnesota’s Justice for Veterans Campaign spoke of the veterans getting older and dying, and in their fight for justice “veterans contributions must be recognized and celebrated.”
Hmong American Day committee and sponsors included Take Action Minnesota, Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association, Lao Family Community of Minnesota, Minnesota History Center, SGU Veterans & Families U.S.A., SGU Veterans and Families Development, Hmong media, and others. For next year’s event, contact Liz Xiong at [email protected]m.