October 10, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

The Meaning of Courage

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Domestic abuse is a serious issue that doesn’t get enough coverage these days.  Earlier this week, I was invited to present an award to an extraordinary woman whose public service fighting domestic abuse is truly inspirational.     

Webster’s dictionary defines courage as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, pain or danger without fear.  Under that definition, Va Yang is a woman who truly deserved the Governor’s Council on Domestic Abuse Awards. 

Va Yang exhibited courage to face difficulties time and time again without fear, whether it meant coming to a new land, freeing herself from horrific situation, or helping other women fight the cycle of violence. 

At twelve, Va Yang had only been in America.  In fact, she was still learning to speak English.  However, Hmong culture sometimes allows girls as young as 12 to be married.  She was married against her will to a man 14 years older than her, and he was extremely abusive. 

While in middle school, she became pregnant with a daughter for the first time.  Two more daughters followed, but her husband was not pleased and continued to abuse her.  However, Va Yand had the courage to take a stand for herself and her daughters.  It truly does take courage to stand up for yourself, especially when you risk losing your family, your friends and your entire way of life, but Va Yang is just that kind of woman. 

At sixteen, she filed for divorce.  After Va’s husband was arrested for the crimes he committed against her, she faced backlash from members of the Hmong community.  Some labeled her as a traitor to her community, but she is nothing of the sort.  By fighting for what is right, she honors her community and especially Hmong women, blazing a trail that women can confidently look to for guidance. 

In her horrific situation, Va Yang remained strong, but no one could have taken on that challenge alone.  Her courage was sustained through a circle of friends, family, and advocates for women’s rights.  In turn, her courage goes on to sustain many Hmong women who have experienced similar circumstances. 

She was willing to testify against her abuser, and in 2008, she began working with the Hmong American Women’s Association (HAWA) to give back.  She has since served as a role model for women survivors throughout Wisconsin, especially Hmong women. 

I was glad to meet her and share her story with you.  Like Va Yang, many women and children face difficulties at home with violence or mistreatment.  Luckily, there are resources to help.  The Women’s Center of Milwaukee operates an Emergency Shelter which can be reached at 414-671-6140.  Additionally, there is a 24 hour hotline to talk about you or your loved one’s experiences with abuse.  The number is 414-933-2722.

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month, so share this information and take care of yourself.  It is good and right to seek help or understanding when you need it.  Va Yang’s story proves that.

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