Hundreds of people turned out at a Woodbury high school on Saturday to honor the life of Twin Cities comedian, Hmong advocate and political campaigner Tou Ger Xiong, who was killed earlier this month in Colombia.
Tou Ger Xiong (Courtesy of the Bush Foundation)
The candlelight vigil was held inside East Ridge High School, which is near where he grew up.
Along with family, friends and community members, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., turned out to honor Xiong. Dozens of volunteers at the vigil wore pink T-shirts in honor of Tou Ger Xiong’s favorite color.
His mother, Sao Lou Vue, speaking through a translator, said that although she was Tou Ger Xiong’s mother, she knew he belonged to the community and she could see that looking out into the crowd, and wanted to thank people for that.
She told the crowd that in their darkest hour, she and her children would be there for people, like people were there for her family.
One of Tou Ger Xiong’s older brothers, Eh Xiong, said that through Tou Ger Xiong’s laughter, kindness and unwavering spirit, he will live on as a “constant reminder of the beauty of a life well lived and worth living.”
Eh Xiong read from an essay that Tou Ger Xiong had written in the middle of the pandemic inspired by the thought of dying alone in a hospital room with “unfinished business” and “unspoken words.”
In this “reflection,” Tou Ger Xiong wrote:
“To those who have poured love, nourishment, and kindness into me, including teachers, mentors, coaches, and every non-family adult who has lifted me up along the way, I thank you and I hope I did you proud.”
The essay included nods to his close friends and the women he loved. About his brothers and sisters, he wrote, “You know me best. With no words, you felt my pain and my joys … as siblings we’ve weathered every storm, in every season, including a war, poverty, and a refugee camp, and yet we continued to blossom. I remain strong because you all are my giving tree.”
To his mother and father, he wrote he was blessed to be their son and said it was the “greatest honor” of his life.
“To my spiritual children … continue to believe in yourselves,” he wrote. “Continue to speak up for those who are voiceless, continue to fight for justice, and bring light into the world. Never give into bitterness, fear, or hate. Be kind to each other and be kind to Mother Earth and she will be good to you. Smile when you think of me, for I’m smiling because I thought of you.”
Students with the Hmong Cultural Center play the Qeej during a vigil for Tou Ger Xiong at East Ridge High School in Woodbury on Saturday Dec. 23, 2023. Xiong, a comedian, advocate and political campaigner within the Twin Cities Hmong community, was kidnapped and murdered while on vacation in Columbia. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
The body of Tou Ger Xiong, 50, a co-founder of Hmong Minnesota Day at the Minnesota State Fair, was found this month in Medellin, Colombia, where he had been staying with friends. Colombian media reported that he had gone on Dec. 10 to meet a woman he met through social media when he was kidnapped by multiple men and held for $2,000 ransom.
The money was never collected and his body was later discovered in a ravine with multiple stab wounds, leading to speculation he was killed trying to escape. A woman has been arrested by Colombian authorities in connection with the case, according to news reports.
His nephew, Jim Kongmeng Yang, said that Tou Ger Xiong was his hero.
“Not all superheroes wear capes,” Yang said. “My superhero wore a tutu. And on some days, he wore a cowboy hat. But instead of a hammer, he held a microphone at rallies and celebrations.”
Yang said that while he was “deeply saddened” his future children would not get to know Tou Ger Xiong, his uncle would live on through stories told.
Sao Lou Vue, facing, is consoled by Senator Amy Klobuchar at a vigil for her son Tou Ger Xiong at East Ridge High School in Woodbury on Saturday Dec. 23, 2023. Xiong, a comedian, advocate and political campaigner within the Twin Cities Hmong community, was kidnapped and murdered while on vacation in Columbia. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
Klobuchar said that Tou Ger Xiong was “so many things to so many people: an artist, a storyteller and a pillar of the Hmong American community nationally” and that the impact he left will be felt for many years to come.
Among his many accolades and accomplishments, Tou Ger Xiong was a recipient of the prestigious Bush Fellowship in 2019.
He was a storyteller, performer, motivational speaker and emcee. He hosted an online broadcast, “The Tou Ger Xiong Show,” and often reflected on his own experience as a refugee growing up in the St. Paul Public Housing Authority’s low-income Dunedin Hi-Rise. He was a 1996 graduate of Carleton College in Northfield.
The Asian Economic Development Association is collecting donations for the Tou Ger Xiong Endowment Fund, which is being organized by his family.
More information is online at gohmongboy.com, a website named after one of his comedic stage personas.
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