Fresno Unified School District trustees approved the name for the new school, scheduled to open in August, at their Wednesday night meeting.
Gen. Vang was revered by many as a father figure and leader who helped the Hmong community establish itself in the Fresno area. He died in Clovis at age 81.
Maysong Vang Pao, the general’s widow, said the honor came one year to the day after Vang’s burial.
“This is the first time I’m so happy since my husband passed away,” she said through an interpreter.
Although the central San Joaquin Valley has one of the largest Hmong populations in the country, the new elementary school will be the first school in the district named after a Hmong leader. General Vang Pao was one of 116 names suggested by community members.
Members of the Hmong community packed the audience, and many voiced their support to honor Gen. Vang. Some had memories of how the war hero touched their lives – by leading guerilla fighters in the Vietnam War, building schools and sending teachers to educate children in rural areas of Laos and propping up the Hmong community in the Valley.
Merced Mayor Pro-Tem Noah Lor made the 50-mile trip to Fresno to tell trustees that he remembered when, under Gen. Vang’s direction, teachers came to the village in Laos to recruit him to attend school.
“When I think of General Vang Pao, I think of the wisdom he put in front of me,” he said, “that education is the key to success, equality and prosperity.”
Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong said that Hmong communities across the nation would celebrate the naming.
“This is a great day for the people, for our elders,” said Xiong. “It means a great step forward for the next generation, but also an important legacy for the Hmong community.
The new school is being built with Measure K bond money on an 8-acre plot bounded by Tenth Street and Heaton, Hamilton and Cedar avenues. The school will take students who are currently enrolled at what has been called Southeast Elementary, a temporary school site on Church Avenue near Willow Avenue.
By Heather Somerville – The Fresno Bee
Wednesday, Feb. 08, 2012 | 11:30 PM