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Asian Pacific American council cautions against misperceptions of Hmong after quadruple murder

The weeklong Hmong New Year celebration in Fresno is one of the biggest Hmong events in the United States

Views from the Edge

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), concerned that the Fresno shootings may taint the entire Hmong community, issued the following statement on the mass shooting that occurred Nov. 15. 

“We urge decisionmakers, law enforcement and the public, to resist jumping to conclusions, or making broad assumptions about the Hmong community without the benefit of all of the facts in light of this terrible tragedy.

“The Hmong community and the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are integral parts of America’s diversity. We are Americans, not foreigners, and our experience with gun violence is not unique because of our immigrant roots. Our focus should be on how to support each other during this difficult time.

Friends and family say the victims had no ties to gangs and are worried the shootings are being dismissed as gang-related or promoting stereotypes.

“We don’t want this to be a stain on the people,” said Bobby Bliatout, 42, the child of Hmong refugees who is now campaigning for the seat of Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Fresno.

Two weeks have passed since the shooting and the tight-knit Hmong community is still in mourning. Hmong National Development (HND)’s CEO & President, Bao Vang stated, “HND extends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of all the victims of the mass shooting in Fresno, …. In this time of mourning, HND strongly supports work of local leaders to unite and heal our community.”

Fresno has one of the largest communities of Hmong in the country numbering around 30,000. Another 25,000 Hmong live in the nearby Sacramento area.

Four people were killed in the shooting and six others wounded at a home where family and friends gathered to watch a football game. The suspects are still at large and their motives have not been established.

Fresno authorities established a gang task force to identify the gunmen behind a mass shooting, even though there was no evidence to link the shooting to local gangs. No motive has surfaced. Police are still searching for the shooters.

“It hurts that the mention of a gang task force stains our community once again, pushing and strengthening our stereotype that is not true,” said Bliatout, community leader in Fresno and CEO of a local nonprofit community clinic.

He emphasized that the victims were career-minded professionals.

Hmong singer Xy Le was among the victims of the shooting in Fresno.

Pao Yang, the head of the non-profit The Fresno Center, acknowledged that two of the shooting victims are well known singers in the Hmong community. Singers Xy Le, 23 was fatally shot and JN Vang was wounded and is recovering.

“They come out and perform to our mental health clients, you know, every year,” said Yang. “A lot of these folks are scheduled to perform at the Hmong New Year,” which begin next month and culminate with a week-long festival at the Fresno Fairgrounds that attract thousands.
The other victims who died are: Phia Yang, 31; Kou Xiong, 38 and Kalaxang Thao, 40.

Hmong, a rural people who originally come from the border region of Vietnam and Laos. During the Vietnam War, they fought on the side of the US. The Hmong were granted refugee status and allowed to immigrate to the US when the North Vietnamese won the war.

Most Hmong refugees moved to Minnesota, California and Wisconsin. In California, they settled in the Central Valley, where sponsors hoped they could find work given their agricultural background.

There are about 300,000 Hmong in the U.S. — California has the most of any state, while Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota has the most of any metro area.

The Hmong community in Fresno has flourished, Arias said, with children growing up to be doctors, lawyers, teachers and elected leaders. The community has done better than other ethnic groups in graduating from high school and avoiding gangs, said Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias to Minnesota Public Radio.

Hmong Americans struggle with poverty more so than most other Asian American ethnic groups, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of the University of California, Riverside, School of Public Policy. But the community also has a strong sense of solidarity and high rates of political participation, he said.

Arias told MPR it appears no group of Americans can escape the terror of mass shootings.

“The sad irony of this tragedy is they were doing the most American of traditions: Watching a Sunday night football game over a barbecue,” he said.

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