Speaking out against hate toward the Hmong community

By Stephanie Buffamonte, WSAW TV

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) Several members of the Hmong community said they're living in fear, after two traumatic incidents right here in northcentral Wisconsin.

One Hmong family in Junction City has now relocated fearing their safety. This comes after their neighbor shot toward them earlier this month. When arrested, the 80-year-old Junction City man, Henry Kaminski, told an officer he felt there were too many Hmong people in the area.

Now, Democratic Representative Katrina Shankland is speaking out, asking residents to treat the Hmong community with respect. This comes not only after the Junction City incident, but also after she received an anonymous letter this week asking to "deport all Hmong's.''

The letter caused fear for some Hmong residents in Portage County. People like Chai Moua of the Hmong American Association.

"It really sunk into me that if there was one person who could think this way, and can come out like this," Moua said. "How many more are waiting to cause harm? How many more are going to be voicing out their voice of hate?"

Rep. Shankland shared the letter on Facebook to spread the message that Hmong people are contributing citizens in the community.

"They're committed to this community just as much as their neighbors are and we need to honor and respect them," Shankland said.

Rep. Shankland said it's a topic that needs to be heard.

"I think here in Portage County we don't talk about race very much probably because we're a predominately white county," Shankland said. "But the Hmong people deserve to have an equal voice and equal recognition in our community."

Something former President of Portage County's Hmong American Association Soua Cheng believes.

"We are part of this community. It's not our community, It's not your community, it's everyone's community," Cheng said.

Mour and Cheng are shocked by the two recent incidents. Mour said it brings back bad memories, like being back in the Vietnam War. It's something the family in Junction City, whose neighbor shot toward them before making hateful remarks about Hmong people to an officer, admitted to having.

"War trauma," Moua said. "We've moved from country to country before because we were no longer safe in our home. We come to the United States where we think it's safe. It's kind of history repeating itself all over again."

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that hate groups operating in our country are at historic highs. This hate is something Rep. Shankland said needs to change.

"I'm deeply troubled by the open accounts of bigotry and hatred and racism that we have seen spike across the county," Shankland said.

However, Rep. Shankland believes learning about the Hmong culture can help in Portage County.

"We can ensure that everyone knows the history an can be more informed so they don't make similar mistakes in the future," Shankland said.

Shankland authored a bill that would direct school boards to provide instruction about the recent history of the Hmong people. It has been referred to the committee on education. Shankland is currently pushing for a public hearing in hopes that the Assembly Bill 34 will move forward.