The traditional Hmong funeral – when shamans guide his spirit on an odyssey through all the places he lived – is scheduled to begin Friday, Feb. 4, at the Fresno Convention Center and will last about a week, said general manager Bill Overfelt.
“The viewing and ceremony would be at least from the 4th through the 7th. The family is estimating in the neighborhood of 40,000. This would be the largest single event we’ve done in the last five years.”
Family friend Paula Yang said she expected “there will be thousands of people and dignitaries coming from across the country and overseas.”
The community will stage a variety of events “so his story and legacy live on,” Yang said.
The events will include candlelight vigils and discussions with Hmong and U.S. veterans who fought alongside Vang from 1961 through 1975 for the cause of freedom and democracy in Southeast Asia. Those could be held in the courthouse park.
“We’re losing our Martin Luther King,” she said, speaking of Vang’s ability to mobilize tens of thousands of Hmong both at Hmong New Year celebrations around the country and demonstrations protesting the arrest of Vang and 11 other defendants in June 2007 for allegedly plotting the violent overthrow of communist Laos. The U.S. government dropped all charges against Vang in 2009. On Monday, it threw out the entire case against the remaining defendants.
Mourners will be able to view Vang’s body at the convention center.
“We’ll open the doors not only to the Hmong people but also the general public who have followed his life over the past years through this tragic thing,” Yang said of the U.S. government’s arrest of Vang. He spent several weeks in the Sacramento County jail before being released on bail.
The traditional Hmong funeral ceremony, led by shamans, elders and keng (Hmong flute) players, will “take at least three solid days, for the shamans to go through the storytelling of his birth and the places he’s been in his life,” Yang said.
The shamans will enter the spirit world, make a virtual journey to each spot, “gather his spirit and lead it to the other world,” Yang said. “I’m sure there’s going to be lots of crying – it’s affecting Hmong men around the country; some can’t even talk. Telling their stories will be good therapy for them.”
Vang Pao “wanted us to continue to live our lives and the dreams he had for us,” including higher education and a growing role in a democratic society, Yang said. “The only thing we can do is bring people together.”
Overfelt said the convention center, can hold 10,000 to 12,000.
Hmong leaders still haven’t determined where Vang Pao will be buried. Sacramento Hmong met Monday night at Hmong Palace Church of Sacramento to ask that his body be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Burial at Arlington is typically reserved for those with direct U.S. military service, although exceptions are sometimes granted. The general commanded men in the field and worked closely with U.S. Special Forces and CIA officers during the Vietnam War.
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