The Vang Family announced the loss of their patriarch, May Song Vang, who died at her Orange County home on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. She was the youngest wife of General Vang Pao.
A traditional three-day Hmong funeral service is scheduled to being on Friday, Aug. 23 through Monday, Aug. 26 at the Fresno Fairgrounds. All are welcome to attend and pay their respects, according to her son, ChiNeng Vang.
May Song Vang was born in the northern farming village of Phou Dou, Laos in 1951. She was the fourth of 13 children in a family considered to be of low economic status.
Vang defied the odds and completed her education at Sisawavong Medical University in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. As a mid-wife, surgical nurse, and physician assistant, she worked for years to help the less fortunate.
While nursing injured soldiers one day, a young military commander stopped to check-in on his cadets. She said it was love at first sight even though Vang Pao was nearly 20 years her senior and had other wives as was customary in those times.
It was not easy to be the youngest wife of a rising military official. Vang Pao would go on to lead a CIA supported guerrilla army against communist forces in Laos.
May Song stood by her husband through war and then leading a refugee population in America and until his death from pneumonia in Fresno in 2011.
“She was a remarkable woman,” said ChiNeng Vang. “Not because she was the wife of General Vang Pao, not because she was my mom, but because of her selfless nature. Like my dad, she devoted her life to helping Hmong people.”
ChiNeng said he recalled a recent trip with his mother to attend the official opening of the Vang Pao Elementary School in southeast Fresno. It is the only public school in the world named after the Hmong leader.
His mother was weak from fighting her cancer, but refused to let the illness stop her from attending the ceremony.
“Her face lit up that day,” ChiNeng said. “She couldn’t stop talking about the school. It was one of her life’s accomplishments, to witness the dedication of a school named after her husband.”
May Song not only attended but spoke to the students about the importance of staying in school and pursuing a higher education at all costs. She also told the children to love and support one another, the same advice that she had lived by since a little girl in Laos.
“May Song Vang will be remembered as a caring nurse, loving wife, and respected mother to Hmong people,” says Dr. Tony Moua, vice president of the General Vang Pao Foundation, a new non-profit dedicated to supporting the vision of the late Hmong general. “After her husband died, she became our mother and father, and advocated especially for Hmong women. Now our community is without a parent, a leader, a female role model.”
U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said that like her husband General Vang Pao, Mrs. Vang was a leader in the Hmong community at a critical time in history. He said he treasured the opportunity to help her kickoff the Hmong Sports Festival over the 4th of July weekend.
“Franni and I were saddened to learn of the death of May Song Vang and we join the Hmong-American community in Minnesota in mourning her passing,” Franken said.
Minn. District 65A State Rep. Rena Moran said General Vang Pao and May Song Vang embodied the spirit of a dream for a better life for a generation of Hmong Americans. In recognizing their physical departure, she said we all help to usher in a new chapter of history in which this dream lives on in its American version.
“I have the honor to represent a portion of Saint Paul that has a vibrant Hmong American community,” Moran said. “Indeed, our immigrant communities, led by our Hmong Americans, have been crucial in creating the vibrant, diverse and wonderful neighborhoods of our city.”
Vang is survived by her three sons: Chu Long Vang, Chu Leng Vang, ChiNeng Vang, and eight grandchildren. But Vang was also mother to 15 additional sons and five daughters because of her husband’s multiple marriages.