Listen: QA: Mandy Vang and David Yang on domestic violence funeral

All Things Considered’s Tom Crann talks with David and Mandy Yang, family members of Jennifer Yang, a 36-year-old Anoka County woman, who was killed by her husband in what was ruled as a murder-suicide. The Yang’s discuss the need for Hmong families to have conversations regarding domestic violence.

The Yang’s broke with Hmong tradition at their sister’s funeral. For one, it was entirely organized by her side of the family. In situations like this, it is usually the husband’s family who plans the funeral according to Hmong tradition. Domestic violence was also openly discussed at the funeral. Yang’s sister-in-law, Mandy Vang, said it’s taboo to talk about domestic violence in the Hmong community in any setting, but especially so at a funeral.


2023 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, award of merit in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion category


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TOM CRANN: You may remember the story from March, an Anoka County woman was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide. Jennifer Yang's funeral was Sunday. And we're going to spend some time talking about it now because it was remarkable in some ways. Traditionally, Hmong funerals are guided by strong tradition, and to stray from them as taboo.

But that's exactly what Jennifer's brother and sister-in-law, David and Mandy Yang, did to draw attention to domestic violence in the Hmong community and of course, to celebrate Jennifer's life as well. So David and Mandy Yang joined me in the studio. And I want to thank you for coming in and our condolences to you and your family.

MANDY YANG: Yes, thank you, Tom.

DAVID YANG: Yes, thank you for having us.

TOM CRANN: Why was it important for your family to get to plan Jennifer's funeral? And as we talk about that, tell us how that is an unusual thing in the Hmong community.

DAVID YANG: Yeah, as you mentioned, it's a taboo to really talk about it. We want to do it a certain way. So we decided to do it our own, at our own expense. We had to plan everything ourselves. And I've never seen anything like that. One of the domestic violence speakers said the same thing. She's done it for 15 years, and she's never seen or been reached out to ever in her time of being a domestic violence speaker.

TOM CRANN: Mm-hmm.

DAVID YANG: And she was very happy and glad that we reached out to her.

MANDY YANG: Yeah, I think what David is alluding to is the fact that it's so taboo in the Hmong community to talk about domestic violence. And especially to talk about it in a funeral setting is even more so taboo. And that was the tipping point for us to really say no, if you all are not going to talk about the big elephant in the room, you're really not celebrating Jennifer's life.

And so we, as the maternal family, we're going to take over.

DAVID YANG: And to piggyback on that, I think one of the biggest things that our culture would want to say during a situation like that, when it's a domestic violence or a murder-suicide, people continue to say, [SPEAKING HMONG] means they killed each other. In this case, there was no such thing. It was more of a murder-suicide, obviously. That's the correct terminology, and that's what happened.

TOM CRANN: And you opened the funeral up to the public. Tell us a bit more about why you decided to do that because that would also be unusual. And what was the effect of that?

MANDY YANG: It was not a question, at all, that we even thought about. It was automatic of yes, of course, we're going to open it to the public. We want Jennifer's story to be told. We do not want this tragedy to be for nothing. If anything were to come from it, it is to bring awareness to the situation so that there is not another Jennifer. There's not another Jennifer and grieving family, Jennifer and-- you know, Jennifer and motherless and fatherless children. It was not even a question.

TOM CRANN: What would you like to see happen to prevent situations like what happened to your sister?

DAVID YANG: If there were more awareness, she would have been able to see that and get that-- seek that help that she needed, small as calling domestic abuse lines that's out there. Plenty of support out there, but we don't-- again, it's a taboo. We don't talk about that stuff.

Having the sheriffs calling law enforcement for a police escort, knowing that if you're going to leave, that's the most dangerous time. And most, as far as I know, of the murders is when they're trying to leave. That's when they typically get assaulted and/or killed.

Clan leaders, please listen. If they say they're going to leave, we can't get them to say [SPEAKING HMONG], have a long heart and be patient. And that's what got my sister killed.

TOM CRANN: And Mandy I see you nodding when you heard that. It's as if you're familiar with this.

MANDY YANG: Oh, gosh, that's-- so David and I have been married for 18 years. I'm speaking about this, not only as Jennifer's sister-in-law, but obviously, as a woman, a Hmong woman and a partner, a wife to David. And that is always-- that has always been the response. And that is something, like I said, has been ingrained in me ever since a little child.

And that's something that because it's so normal to me, I didn't think about this. But when women, when we get married and our mothers and aunties are helping us put on our marriage outfits, and we're getting ready to go and meet the groom and finish the wedding ceremony, that's all they say is, hey, remember to [SPEAKING HMONG]

And basically, they're saying, be patient with your husband. Be a good wife. No matter what he does to you, have a big heart. Be understanding. So the advice that I was given from my mom and from my aunties is not, I wish the best for the two of you, but it's more so, given to me and instructed me already from the get-go of, this is all on your shoulders. Whatever happens in your marriage is your responsibility as the wife.

And hon, I wasn't in that room with you, but were you given any of that advice by your dad and your uncles?

DAVID YANG: Yeah, I was never told anything like that. I don't like that word anymore, honestly, because I felt that when my sister was going to leave, she had that conversation with my parents. And that's what led to her not leaving right away, them not listening to her. And it led to the situation we are in now.

MANDY YANG: And it's not their fault because this is like-- this goes back generations. I mean, my in-laws are great parents, but at the same time, this is bigger than them. This is bigger than us. This goes back generations and centuries, what we've been told to have this mindset that everything rests on the wife for the family named in order not to bring shame on our clan that we must endure.

And that phrase is so common that we actually had-- at the funeral, two Hmong performers, they created this song called Ua Siab Ntev. They created that song specifically talking about domestic violence. And so, we're really grateful to Magiic and Douachi for agreeing to come and perform the song.

I called them a week before the funeral. And they said, of course, we got you. We'll show up, and they did.

TOM CRANN: So tell me what your advice would be to anyone who's listening now who might find themselves or a family member in a similar situation. What would you say to change the narrative?

MANDY YANG: It's really simple, listen, listen, because when you listen, people will talk, and believe, believe victims. So often, it takes a woman numerous times to leave a relationship and being there to listen, each one-- each and every single one of those times and making her feel believed, that would be what I hope people would take away from this.

And also, the fact that if they're not comfortable talking with their family and friends that there are nonprofits out there, domestic abuse organizations that they can receive support from. That's what I hope people will take away.

DAVID YANG: And if anybody at any time need anything, and they go through the same thing we're going through, please reach out. We are more than happy to help you guys out.

TOM CRANN: David Yang, Mandy Yang, I want to thank you both for coming in and sharing your story and a bit about your sister and sister-in-law, Jennifer. Thank you.

MANDY YANG: Yes, thank you so much for having us, Tom.

DAVID YANG: Thank you, Tom. We really appreciate it.


TOM CRANN: Well, if you need help, you can contact domestic violence hotlines, like Minnesota Day One. They're at 866-223-1111. There's also the three number suicide hotline as well for assistance, and that's 988.

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