A Closer Look at Fresno’s Hmong Community

The New York Times 2 weeks ago
Members of the Hmong Voice Culture & Traditions group performed during a parade to start the 2013 Hmong New Year at the Fresno Fairgrounds.

Good morning.

When Chia Youyee Vang heard about Sunday night’s horrific shooting in Fresno, she pictured her brothers.

The authorities said gunmen sneaked into a backyard in the city’s southeastern section and opened fire on a group of friends and family members gathered there. Four men, including the well-known singer Xy Lee, were killed. They were all members of Fresno’s Hmong community. Six others were injured.

“They get together to watch Sunday Night Football, too,” said Ms. Vang, the director of the Hmong Diaspora Studies Program and a history professor at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. “It was so tragic because it was part of a normal routine in life — you’re not hiding in the jungle, you’re not in a war zone.”

On Monday, Hmong leaders in Fresno told my colleagues that they were preparing to mark the new year.

“We are supposed to be celebrating,” said Blong Xiong, a former City Council member.

Ms. Vang was at home in the Midwest, but she told me she had been following developments in California closely as a member of a far-flung population tightly bound by shared history.

When she was a young child in the 1970s, her family, like more than 200,000 other refugees, fled Laos in the years after the U.S.-led wars in Southeast Asia.

Many of those families landed in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota and in Milwaukee. And many settled in California’s Central Valley, mostly in Fresno.

At first, their destinations were dictated by American sponsors, Ms. Vang said — often church members.

“Many people ask me, ‘Why here?’” she said, “We didn’t choose — we went where there were people who came forward to sponsor refugees.”

Over time, though, support systems and family networks grew.

Now, roughly 300,000 people of Hmong descent are living in the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center report from 2015.

That’s still a tiny portion of the overall Asian-American population — particularly in California. According to A.A.P.I. Data, a group that tracks demographics of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, there are 94,454 Hmong people in California compared with more than 1.4 million Chinese people.

But Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of U.C. Riverside’s School of Public Policy and A.A.P.I. Data’s director, said Southeast Asians faced particular challenges that have often been overlooked.

“We have different images of who Asian-Americans are,” he said. “A lot of it is informed by popular culture — like ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ or thinking about Silicon Valley, in terms of the enormous wealth there.”

A new report he co-wrote, about Asian-American and Pacific Islander workers in California, found that working Hmongs, along with Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Californians, struggle disproportionately with poverty.

And the San Joaquin Valley has the highest proportion of Asian-American and Pacific Islander workers struggling with poverty.

Mr. Ramakrishnan told me lots of factors have contributed to the disparities between East Asian communities — Chinese, Korean or Japanese — in the state’s urban areas and Southeast Asian communities that have formed in the Central Valley.

But he said that different waves of immigrants over decades have come to the U.S. for different reasons and with different levels of education and skills.

For Southeast Asian refugees who were fleeing violence and migrated with nothing, the climb was steeper for first-generation immigrants, which has made it tougher for their children to achieve higher levels of education.

Mr. Ramakrishnan said he hoped the report would “get people to pay attention and to invest.”

Ms. Vang, of the University of Wisconsin, said that for kids she grew up with, starting in a new country in poorer communities where they also dealt with hostility was difficult. And some young people may have joined or formed gangs.

Still, she said, she was troubled to read that the Fresno Police Department moved to start an Asian gang unit to investigate Sunday’s shooting — despite the fact that there wasn’t evidence that any of the victims had ties to gangs.

“It seems like an illustration of larger stereotypical assumptions, that a group of young Asian men are either gangsters or these nerdy people in the tech field,” she said.

Lar Yang, a graphic designer in Fresno who founded a project called HmongStory 40, emphasized that he didn’t know the details of the case, but said the association with gang activity “kind of broke my heart.”

He said that the Hmong community had, over the course of just four decades in the United States, shown resilience and strength. And the response to tragedy, he said, underscored that.

Going forward, Mr. Yang said he hoped to build on his work preserving and sharing the stories of Hmong refugees and their descendants in the U.S.

“We’re at a crossroads,” he said. “We’re deciding what parts of our heritage we should keep.”


Here’s what else we’re following

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  • Pacific Gas & Electric needs to find its way out of bankruptcy — and soon. If the utility doesn’t reach an agreement with its victims and creditors, it might not be able to participate in a new state wildfire fund. [The New York Times]

  • Also, PG&E’s woes animated rural Democrats at the state party’s convention. They believe frustration with the utility could be a way into deep red districts. [The Desert Sun]

  • And more than a quarter of Sonoma County residents could lose power on Wednesday as part of another pre-emptive blackout. [The Press Democrat]

  • It was set to rain in Southern California on Tuesday evening, while conditions were still dry in Northern California. [The California Weather Blog]

  • A California woman, Kim Gervais, who was shot and paralyzed at a Las Vegas country music festival in the deadliest shooting in American history, has died two years later. [The New York Times]

  • A fight over an attempted theft led to a fatal stabbing on a BART train at the system’s South Hayward station on Tuesday, the authorities said. [KTVU]

  • Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the Navy SEAL at the center of a high-profile war crimes case, is expected to be ousted from the elite commando force on Wednesday morning. The move would be in conflict with President Trump’s actions. [The New York Times]

  • Amid questions about the regulation of oil extraction and an increase in permits, Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed new rules on fracking on Tuesday. [NPR]

  • A review of internal Juul records found that it borrowed from big tobacco for its formula. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • “To balance everything out when it comes to the costs, I would have had to charge like $85 for a cheeseburger.” Break-ins and sky-high operating costs mean business owners are hesitant to open restaurants in San Francisco. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

Refuges and traditions

  • On Hawaii, locals are fighting to revive taro. [T Magazine]

  • If you missed it, Southern California’s oldest bookstore, Vroman’s in Pasadena, is celebrating its 125th anniversary. To celebrate, it’s dropping “bookstore” from its name: “You can’t get stuck in a cemented identity.” [Pasadena Star-News]


California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.


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Read also:
Chicago Tribune › 1 week ago
SACRAMENTO, Calif. More than a week has passed since four men were killed in shooting in a Fresno backyard, leaving families to grieve, and those in the Hmong
USA Today › 2 weeks ago
The manhunt continued for at least two gunmen whose rampage at a Fresno party left four people dead and the Hmong community in shock and mourning.
New York Post › 2 weeks ago
Xy Lee, a well-known musician in the Southeast Asian Hmong community with more than 90,000 subscribers on his professional YouTube channel, was remembered as handsome with a "wonderful voice."
CNN › 2 weeks ago
A group of Hmong family and friends gathered Sunday night in a Fresno backyard to do a very American thing -- watch football. Instead, they became victims of another very American thing -- a mass shooting that left four men dead and six others injured.
The Guardian › 1 week ago
Four people died last weekend after gunmen fired into a backyard where friends had gathered to watch football. The victims were all Hmong
The New York Times › 2 weeks ago
A close-knit Hmong community was in shock after gunmen burst into a California backyard gathering and shot 10 men, killing four.
ABC News › 2 weeks ago
An attack on a family party in California’s Central Valley that left four people dead and six wounded has spurred shock and fear in the close-knit Hmong community
Chicago Tribune › 2 weeks ago
A close-knit Hmong community was in shock after gunmen burst into a California backyard gathering and shot 10 men, killing four.
New York Daily News › 3 weeks ago
A judge has sentenced a 29-year-old man to more than 30 years in prison for the shooting death of a 19-year-old man at St. Paul’s Hmong Freedom Festival last
Washington Times › 3 days ago
Four California men shot at a backyard gathering of family and friends will be laid to rest this month with traditional Hmong funerals, as police continue to search for two assailants, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
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