In November 1998, Young Sayaxang Lee (37) fatally shot his wife, Maichao Vang (28), and also shot and killed himself. The oldest daughter (11) discovered her mother’s body in the bedroom of their home and called 911. Police discovered Young’s body in the basement.
In 2006, Joanne Khang (25) was stabbed to death by her husband, Kou Khang (30). Kou also stabbed himself to death.
In Weston, WI, Chor Xiong (39) shot and killed his estranged wife, Padalina Thao (29) and critically wounded her boyfriend, Pao Chang (41) on September 14, 2006. Padalina was staying at a women’s shelter in Wausau. Chor laid in wait in the basement for Padalina and her boyfriend to pick the children up at 7am and shot them when they arrived.
On August 20, 2007, May Yang (31) moved to Fresno, CA to escape her abusive common law husband, Ker Vang (41). Ker traveled from MN to Fresno, tracked down his wife, and fatally shot her and himself in front of family members.
Around the same time, Chor Thao killed his pregnant wife, Pa Houa. Chor later stabbed himself to death after being chased by police.
In 2008, Ying Moua (33) fatally shot his wife, Bouavanh Moua (32), their 2-year-old twins, and wounding their 3-year-old daughter, then turned the gun on himself.
In 2009, Dang Xiong (24) shot and killed his wife, Pa Hou Vang (22), outside their home around 11 pm. He, then, shot and killed himself.
In August of this year, Jenny Moua (22) was shot to death in Merced, CA. Her ex-fiance fled the scene to Fresno, informed a family member of what he did, and fatally shot himself.
The Hmong community credits murder-suicides to adultery, when wives cheat and leave their husbands for their boyfriends. In July of 2009, the late and former Major General Vang Pao was invited as the keynote speaker to address domestic violence (DV) in Wausau, WI. This was the efforts of Hmong social service groups in WI, MN, and CA after a string of murder-suicides were committed in the Hmong community in 2008 and early 2009.
Although I know that Vang Pao’s message meant well, there were a lot of it that shouldn’t have been said. He stated that the number one reason why the Hmong can’t support each other and live peacefully (in regards to domestic violence; Hmoob txoj kev tsis txhawb nqa thiab txoj kev tsis sib haum xeeb) is because of adultery.
He goes on talking about how Hmong women in the US don’t care for traditions and do whatever they please despite what the clans say. Vang Pao stated that when the Hmong were still in Laos, they had their own laws, and this—women doing whatever they please, adultery, murder-suicides, DV—didn’t happen. Now that the Hmong are in the US, the idea of freedom changes us. According to him, the US legal system is very different from the Hmong traditional ways, and takes the women’s sides most of the time. Vang Pao stated that a woman can report sexual assault by her husband and he’ll be jailed. (FYI: In the state of California, it is a felony for anyone to sexually assault their spouse. PC 262).
The part of his speech that offended me the most was when Vang Pao stated that a man is very possessive of his wife. Even a male fly cannot land on his wife without invoking the jealous wrath inside of him. Women have to know that their husbands are controlling and possessive in this way, so they shouldn’t do anything to provoke him. If a man worries about his wife wandering off, he should not allow her to work and just stay at home.
When someone as respected and honored as Vang Pao stands in front of the Hmong community and tells them that victims of DV should know that their husbands are possessive and jealous and for them to not provoke their husbands in any way, he is telling them that it’s their fault if they’re abused. I may have misconstrued what Vang Pao said, but that was the message implied. I respect Vang Pao for his efforts to put an end to DV in the Hmong community. Why, in early 2010, Vang Pao helped with the funeral arrangements of DV victim Mai See Chang when her husband’s family would not give her a funeral. On November 28, 2009, Mai See died mysteriously right before her husband was set to go to trial for DV charges. Mai See was a DV client at Valley Crisis Center in Merced, CA.
Domestic violence is the underlying cause of murders and murder-suicides in intimate partnership. It is the last and most extreme form of abuse and power and control: If I can’t have you, no one will. A woman’s danger level increases drastically when she leaves her abuser. Men are more likely to kill than any other time in their abusive relationships when they know their partners are leaving or have left. This is because when a woman leaves, he no longer has control over her. In order to maintain control, the abuser resorts to extreme measures: taking away the children, escalated physical abuse, or—as a last resort—murders or murder-suicides.
Many people, including the Hmong, don’t see it this way. Yes, some women cheat on their husbands. Yes, some women leave their husbands for their lovers. I don’t condone these actions. However, the actions of the wives do not give the Hmong men any right or excuse to harm or kill their partners. (Back in Laos, it was very acceptable to “punish” your wife in this way). And most of the time, the reason why the men would resort to such resolution is when there is already domestic violence in the home.
All of the murder-suicides mentioned are examples of extreme cases of domestic violence. It is clear that each couple had a history of DV, even if it wasn’t openly stated by reporters. “Domestic discord” that plagued the family. They loved each other, but “turmoil plagued the marriage.” Suspect making “terrorist threats” to the victim. Sugar-coating or glossing over domestic violence does not do justice to the victims, their families, or survivors of DV.
It’s unfortunate that DV would catch the Hmong community and its leaders’ attention only after so many women were killed by their husbands or partners. Yet, this is the reality. To many cultures—especially the Hmong—it is not considered DV until there are bruises or someone dies.
Disclaimer: Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women. That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers. Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages. Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo. Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband. And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.