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Gen. Vang Pao's Release Momentous for Young Hmong Americans

New America Media, Commentary, Mai Der Vang Posted: Sep 21, 2009

When news came in 2007 that Hmong leader Gen. Van Pao had been arrested, my father spun dizzily out of control. At one moment he was moping around and at another moment, charged with rage at the mere thought of his beloved leader behind bars.

On Sept. 18 the government suddenly dropped all charges against the general. As a Hmong American, many of my peers and I feel a great sense of relief to know the charges have been dropped. It means our elders can finally return to normal and stop dangling their lives by a thread, hearing by hearing, rally by rally. Their mental health, especially the ones who threatened suicide, deeply impacts our mental health.

Many of my generation had been somewhat indifferent to the story of Gen. Van Pao. In the 1960s, Vang Pao led a CIA-backed guerrilla army of Hmong fighters in Laos against the Communist Vietnamese and Pathet Lao during a period of covert U.S. participation called the Secret War. But that was something very far removed from our generations lives until he was arrested, accused of plotting to overthrow the current government in Laos.

But as I watch footage from the celebration rallies this past weekend, I see that people are in high spirits. I also begin to realize how this pivotal occurrence in Hmong history is a momentous example to my generation. It demonstrates that Hmong elders, many of whom are uneducated and monolingual, do possess the inventiveness and capacity to peacefully organize themselves and stand resolute on an issue as long as it triggers their deepest passions. In other words, they can be kick-ass if they really want to be.

I believe it corresponds to the notion that Hmong people inherently know how to pick their battles and have only ever fought for the things they most loved. Hundreds of years ago in China, it was over the use of land and cultural rights. Decades ago in Southeast Asia, it was over the right to live and survive a war that was thrust onto them. And now in America, although there are many things, the one that rings true here for most is the right to honor their aging leader.

At the same time, I, along with many Hmong Americans, remain puzzled as to why the charges were unexpectedly dismissed. Reports are vague, only to indicate from U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown that based on the totality of the evidence in the case and the circumstances regarding Vang Pao[his] continued prosecutionis no longer warranted.

To add further confusion, the other ten men arrested remain under indictment, with two more men from Stockton, Calif., being added to that pool. What can anyone make of this? No one knows exactly, but everyone would like to think the worst is over, for now.

As I think back to the allegations the fantastical desire of overthrowing a country to reclaim ones homeland I remember the importance of being remembered. I am reminded that I am a child of Hmong refugee parents who are the remnants of a failed war that most people in this country would rather forget and avoid. In that same vein, I can easily be forgotten and avoided too.

But this entire event, from the day Vang Pao was arrested to the day the charges were dropped, despite all the upheaval in between, has been a real opportunity to remember the Hmong story and voice. This cant be where it ends.

As Vang Pao grows older and moves into his sunset years, the story of the Hmong must endure in strength and sound. It is probably the most important way for us to reap anything respectable from something that caused so much strife. And it must be it will be one of the battles that my generation chooses to fight.

Related Articles:

A Bright Hmong Future After Vang Pao

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