|Hmong New Year split affects Vang Pao funeral|
|Written by Bee|
|Friday, 21 January 2011 16:25|
Reconciliation unlikely without revered leader.
Posted at 11:46 PM on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011
A bitter dispute between organizers of competing Hmong New Year celebrations in Fresno has grown since the death this month of Gen. Vang Pao -- and the conflict is affecting plans for the Hmong leader's funeral in two weeks.
One organization has been told it will not be welcome at the funeral, and its presence could cause a disruption. Some members said they have heard rumors they could be spit on if they show up.
And without the general as a mediator, it's unlikely the issues can be resolved before the funeral, many in the Hmong community believe.
Most Hmong viewed Vang -- who led guerrilla forces against the communists during the Vietnam War -- as a father figure and leader in helping Hmong immigrants settle in the United States.
Individuals do not need invitations to attend the funeral, but organizations wishing to speak and participate in the ceremonies do.
The Hmong 18 Clan Council wants to deliver a speech honoring the general as a leader and a hero during the Vietnam War. The general's family turned down the request.
The group held a controversial New Year's celebration competing with one that another organization has held for a dozen years. The group hopes to meet with the general's family to resolve problems in the next two weeks so it can attend the funeral, said Pao Yang, a council spokesman.
"The Hmong public doesn't want to see a division at the general's funeral," Yang said.
Chai Vang, one of the general's sons, said the family wants the same thing, and that's why the organization is not invited. "The family wants a funeral fit for a king, and we don't want any disputes and engagements and the possibility for fighting," he said.
Tensions in the Hmong community have festered since December, when the Hmong 18 Clan Council -- a group with representatives from each of the 18 Hmong family clans -- broke away from the traditional Hmong International New Year at the Fresno fairgrounds to host its own celebration at the city's Regional Sports Complex on Dec. 26.
Members of the council claimed money from the Hmong International New Year has been misspent on trips abroad and not for goals such as building a Hmong community center. The organizers of the Hmong International New Year denied the claims.
Vang, 81, was admitted to Clovis Community Medical Center on Dec. 26, the first day of the Hmong New Year celebrations. He apparently was admitted shortly after making his annual appearance at the Hmong International New Year event at the Fresno Fairgrounds. Vang lived in Southern California.
Animosity against the Hmong 18 Clan Council has intensified since the general's death on Jan. 6, some in the Hmong community said. Members of the council requested permission of the general's family to participate in the funeral, but were rebuffed. Instead, they held a candlelight vigil to show respect and honor the general on Jan. 10, Pao Yang said.
Chai Vang said his father did not officially recognize the group as a "credible organization," and out of respect for the family it was not extended an invitation to the funeral.
Yang of the council said the general had not given his recognition, but "the Hmong community recognized the 18 Clan Council ... their intent to lead Hmong to the next generation."
Ze Her, a volunteer at the council and president of the Hmong Student Association at Fresno City College, said the council is trying to honor the general as a great leader in the community.
"Its a wrongdoing to the community" for the group to be excluded from the funeral, he said.
Her said he would like the group to attend the funeral as a unit, but he will attend as an individual to pay his respects.
But some fear reprisal should they attend.
Mai Summer Vue, a Hmong community activist, said the council and supporters, such as herself, have been blamed for contributing to the general's death. She has heard rumors that people could be spit on or otherwise embarrassed if they show up at the funeral. She is choosing not to attend. "I understand right now everyone is very emotional and we're at a tragedy in our community, and I don't wish to upset anyone," she said. "I can show my love and respect anywhere. I don't have to attend the funeral."
Chai Vang acknowledged the animosity in the community. A lot of people believe the New Year's controversy "caused more headaches for our father," he said.
Before his death, the general had tried to get the two sides together, said Pao Fang, executive director of Lao Family Community in Fresno. Vang wanted one New Year's celebration, and knew he was the only one who could resolve the issues between the rival organizations, Fang said. "Unfortunately, we lost the general, whose intent was for peace among us."
One person who is trying to intervene now is Charlie Waters, a friend of the general and a veterans advocate. His message to the Hmong: "Unity is strength -- in division everything is gone, and you won't achieve anything the general wanted," he said.
But without the general to negotiate, it will be harder to resolve the conflict in Fresno, said Bee Vang, a news broadcaster for the local Hmong television network. "Now there's no one to say, 'This is what we're going to do, and this is it,' " he said.
The New Year's conflict has broadened to include other issues in the community, including personal disagreements, which could make reconciliation difficult, Vang said.
Money, however, could be a unifying factor, he said. Because attendance at the New Year's celebrations was split between the two rival celebrations, neither organization may have the funds they need for next year, he said. It could "sway some of the organizers to either give up or come and try to negotiate to have one event," he said.
And many are hopeful that the general's funeral will be the beginning of a healing process.
"We do know the broken base among the community will not bring us peace or opportunity in America," said Fang, of the Lao Family Community social-service organization. "The only way we will prosper is we have to work together."
|Last Updated on Saturday, 05 February 2011 18:00|