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Hmong leaders trying to curb violence

Brainerd Daily - December 11, 2000

ST. PAUL (AP) -- Hmong leaders are looking for ways to curb domestic violence after the rash of shootings that have killed several Hmong adults and orphaned more than two dozen children.

"It just tears your heart out when you see people killing each other in the community," said Lee Pao Xiong of St. Paul, a member of President Clinton's Advisory Commission on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. "It's something the community needs to deal with. We've got to find a solution to address this violence."

Last weekend in Minneapolis, a Hmong couple, Yeng Lee, 47, and Zoua Thao, 31 -- parents of 13 children from previous marriages -- died in a murder-suicide. That happened eight days after a Hmong woman, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, was fatally shot at a St. Paul park in a plot allegedly involving her husband and two teen-age accomplices.

In four shootings this year, two Hmong men killed themselves, four women were fatally shot and 25 children were left without one or both parents.

The search for solutions has included summit talks with elders and a stronger emphasis on traditional ways, to town-hall-type meetings and a larger role for Western-style counseling.

Wes Vue, a store clerk in Minneapolis, said social service agencies and people in the community should reach out to troubled families to help them identify warning signs and resolve disputes without bloodshed.

"There's no shame in seeking professional help," Wes Vue said. "We need to stop this mentality that we can handle problems in our own way. To me, this is an epidemic that we need to put to a stop."

Pao Her, an uncle of eight children who lost their parents in a murder-suicide in January, said the recent shootings were a painful reminder of the case in which Thong Her, 38, allegedly shot Yang Her, 32, and then turned the gun on himself.

"I'd like to say to Hmong people that no matter what kind of problems they have, they should get help, talk to older people who know better," Pao Her said.

The Hmong United International Council of Minnesota on Wednesday made a public plea for troubled Hmong couples to seek help from families, clan leaders or mainstream social services. Council members also called on public officials to make more resources available to Hmong and other social service groups.

The council consists of representatives of each of the 18 clans that make up the Hmong, an ethnic minority that began migrating from Laos in 1975 and number about 70,000 in Minnesota.

Council members attribute some of the domestic violence to the stress of adjusting to life in the United States.

Some Hmong have struggled with language barriers, lack of education and finding work and housing, often complicated by lingering emotional problems such as severe depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Gambling, addiction and jealousies arising from workplace social activities have been a problem for some families.

Also, what has been a strongly patriarchal system has begun to change, with more women in America working and having a say in running the family. Younger Hmong who grow up speaking English and understand American culture often end up interpreting for their parents, further changing traditional roles.

Sandy Ci Moua, a 19-year-old University of Minnesota student from St. Paul, said the violence reflects conflicts over the changing role of Hmong women.

"Generally in the Hmong culture, we prioritize family, men and then women in order of importance," she said. "We need to rethink that, because it doesn't work when women start to demand equality at home and at the workplace."