COMMUNITY VOICES | A joint response to Chue Feng Vang’s tragic death: Let’s find better solutions to end family violence

No community is shielded from family violence. The most recent tragedy in Maplewood where Pang Vang killed his son Chue Feng Vang, affirms this. The Vang family fell through the cracks of the Hmong and American systems meant to serve them. We can’t afford to wait for the next tragedy.

We believe one necessary ingredient to developing better solutions is for leaders, service providers, and systems to better understand the problem and the context of the people who are impacted.

The media coverage and responses thus far to the tragedy of Chue Feng Vang’s death magnifies the misunderstanding of what contributes to family violence and how it is experienced in Hmong American families.

The over simplification of a father who kills his son over a cable bill, and the quick finger pointing often silences the many Hmong families who are suffering. It also perpetuates a culture that New American communities are not and will not be understood by the larger society. Lastly, it misses the opportunities for improving a variety of systemic responses for families that really need new ways of support so our homes are violent-free, healthy, and safe.

We are a group of community builders that care deeply about our cultural heritage, understanding that our American and Hmong identities evolve hand in hand. Out of this tragedy we urge leaders, service providers, and systems to continuously deepen their understanding of the root causes and realities of what family violence looks like in Hmong and other New American communities in order to find better solutions.

In that spirit, we draw attention to several things learned in Chue Feng Vang’s death that may help other families from losing a loved one. First, we learned that Pang Vang’s threats of harm to himself and others before the incident had not been taken seriously by anyone close to him. We need to ensure there are adequate culturally competent services that are accessible for communities who’ve experienced deep trauma because of war and resettlement. We need services that coordinate care, assess risk without cultural bias, and offer meaningful services.

Pang Vang’s family also reported several underlying issues that led up to the shooting. These include an international affair Pang Vang was having with a young woman from Laos. Adults taking on relationships with younger Hmong (mostly) women in Laos and Thailand is a trend in our community that is often not well understood. Hmong American domestic violence advocates define this practice in the community as “abusive international marriages/relationships,” which include elements, such as a significant age gap (often between 20-70 years apart), lying about one’s martial status in the U.S., culturally marrying a young person overseas with no intent of bringing (mostly) her here. We do not know details of Pang Vang’s international relationship, and are not implying that all of the above elements applied to him.  What we did hear from those closest to him is that his relationship created great financial hardship since he used most of his financial resources to support the relationship, and did not contribute to his family’s economic needs and well-being. Family and friends suggest that Chue Feng Vang, being the son, was obligated to support his father, the family patriarch.

We believe that patriarchy is an underlying root cause of family violence worldwide, and practices such as abusive international marriages/relationships are the result of such systems. The mother talks about how she suffered, but that’s overshadowed because of her son’s death. Let’s make sure we look at and understand the root causes that contribute to family violence so we can stop the inter-generational transfer of violence and ensure all victims are served, because a victim who’s experience is dismissed, and therefore needs go unaddressed, is just as heartbreaking.

Hmong Americans make up the largest Asian American population in Minnesota at 70,000 strong. How our community is understood and served by our Hmong and non-Hmong leaders, organizations, and systems demonstrates whether all Minnesotans matter. Thus far, media coverage would have us all believe that Hmong Americans don’t understand what is happening in our own community, but there are many of us who do. We are an important voice in defining solutions. This tragedy should not further isolate a community from mainstream services and systems. We hope it is a call to action that deepens understanding and sends a message that violence cannot be excused. We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, rise to the challenge everyday.

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In the wake of the tragic death of Chue Vang, a group of community builders who represent a variety of formal and informal groups came together to talk about how the family has been represented by the Hmong and mainstream medias, and the absent responses to the issues identified thus far by this case. We decided to author this opinion piece to offer perspective and insight that can help Hmong and non-Hmong leaders, organizations, and systems continue seeking better solutions for addressing and ending family violence. All the following individuals and organizations contributed to this opinion piece include:

  • Building Our Future: A Community Campaign (http://buildingourfuture.tumblr.com/)
  • Hmong Americans United Against Sexual Assault
  • Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together (http://www.hmongwomenachieve.org/)
  • Koom Tes (Hmong men’s group)
  • ManForward (Asian American men’s group)
  • Kaohly Her, Former Board Chair, Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together
  • Hli Xiong, Attorney, FLAGInc.
  • Tzianeng Vang, Poj Koob Yawm Ntxwv (Hmong cultural group)
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Bo Thao's picture
Bo Thao-Urabe