Last year, I blogged about the story of Sao Lue Vang. Vang is a 64-year-old Hmong American man who was out hunting in Pepin County, Wisconsin when he was assaulted and brutally beaten by Kevin Elberg. Elberg, who appeared to have been drinking at the time of the assault, approached Vang to tell him the hunter was trespassing on private property. Vang says that after a verbal exchange occurred, he turned to leave. That’s when Elberg tackled the older man, wrestled him to the ground, and kicked him repeatedly resulting in several internal injuries including a lacerated liver. Elberg then placed his hand over Vang’s mouth, suffocating him and causing him to pass out.
After Vang was unconscious, Elberg disarmed him and dragged him through the woods and up a hill which caused further damage.
Elberg was arrested last December and charged with battery and false imprisonment. The incident spurred community outrage and protests among Hmong Americans in the Minnesota and Wisconsin area, highlighting ongoing xenophobic tensions between local non-Asian American residents and their Hmong American neighbours. Parallels between Vang’s story and that of Hmong American hunter Chai Vang (no relation to Sao Lue Vang) — convicted in 2004 of shooting and killing six in an incident that Vang testified was self-defense — underscored the prevailing Catch-22: it doesn’t matter whether Hmong Americans — or, indeed, any Asian Americans — try to remain pliant or choose to fight back, the result will be the same. Hmong Americans will be blamed for not knowing how things work in America. The legal system will not protect us. We will be the model minority until we are not.
After Elberg’s arrest last December, Elberg faced court deliberations on the prosecution’s charges, wherein he contested the charges. Elberg said he assaulted Sao Lue Vang in self-defense. Elberg denied that race had anything to do with the attack, and he asserted that he beat Vang after the Hmong American hunter pointed his rifle at him.