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Hmong seek solutions at community meeting; Recent violent deaths prompt dialogue

BY: Maria Elena Baca - December 12, 2000, Tuesday

Domestic violence is not intrinsic to the Hmong culture, but solutions to domestic-abuse homicides and other family violence need to be culturally sensitive and include the whole community, said participants in a community dialogue in St. Paul on Monday evening.

The meeting was convened at Kashia Moua's home to discuss domestic violence, which has turned fatal in six cases this year, including two murder-suicides.

The gathering drew about 35 people, women and men, girls as young as junior-high age, and members of several sectors of the Hmong community, as well as legal and educational professionals from several other cultures.

The grass-roots discussion followed a meeting of Hmong elders last week.

Few concrete solutions were offered as people aired their feelings and theories about domestic violence. But participants said there could be a role for everyone in finding solutions that are compatible with cultural values of family and community. People suggested such strategies as a rally or vigil, a monument or an in-depth study of violence as ways to bring attention to the problem.

In a conversation in English and in Hmong, participants pointed to the news media, saying the media unfairly paint the Hmong community as violent, and to a culture that discourages people from talking about their problems.

The level of recent tragedy has left people feeling stereotyped and in pain, several said.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm the one who's being projected in the media," said Sophia Yen, a Rochester prosecutor. "I feel that same sort of pain and suffering every time someone gets killed."

The theme of the community's image was repeated. Kao Yang said through an interpreter that he was pleased that so many of the participants were young.

"I hope people can come up with solutions, so that you can help the Hmong people, so we can be seen like equal or like other people, so we will not be viewed as different because of what happens in our community," he said.

Several people spoke of how violence had touched them personally.

Vameng Moua, a teacher at Highland Park High School in St. Paul, said domestic violence touches him personally because of a killing in his own family.

"Three years later I'm still trying to figure out what happened," he said.

In the Hmong culture, people might be reluctant to share their frustrations or to work on communication that might defuse conflict.     "Although we don't promote violence, we also do not speak against it," Moaj Lo said. "We have to articulate, especially to young boys, that you cannot hit the person you're dating, you cannot hit the person you are married to," he said.

Mai Houa Xiong, a student at Como Park Senior High, said that after many conflicts with her mother, she learned that they had to teach each other to communicate, a lesson she would share with other Hmong teens.

"Sometimes you have to take the initiative," she said. "It's hard, so hard, and it takes a long time. . . . I think about it, we have come so long, we have worked so hard."