Hmong Leaders Try To Curb Violence


Story Filed: Sunday, December 10, 2000 8:25 PM EST


ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Hmong leaders are looking for ways to curb domestic violence after a rash of shootings that have killed several Hmong adults and left more than two dozen children without one or both parents.


Last weekend in Minneapolis, a Hmong couple -- parents of 13 children from previous marriages -- died in a murder-suicide. Eight days earlier, a Hmong woman was fatally shot at a St. Paul park in a plot allegedly involving her husband and two teen-age accomplices.


In all, there have been four fatal shootings in the Twin Cities' Hmong community this year: Two Hmong men killed themselves, four women were fatally shot and 25 children lost at least one parent.


``It just tears your heart out when you see people killing each other in the community,'' said Lee Pao Xiong, 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.''


The Hmong United International Council of Minnesota last week urged troubled couples to seek help from families, community leaders or mainstream social services. It also asked public officials to make more resources available to Hmong and other social service groups.


The council has representatives from 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.


The Hmong traditionally were subsistence farmers in the hills of Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.


Because they supported the United States in the Vietnam War, thousands were forced to flee after it ended, settling primarily in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin.


Some Hmong have struggled with language barriers, lack of education and difficulty in finding work and housing, often complicated by lingering emotional problems such as severe depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.


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


What has been a strongly patriarchal system has also 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.''


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


``There's no shame in seeking professional help,'' said Wes Vue, a store clerk in Minneapolis. ``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.''