MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Hmong Cultural Center's new expanded museum opening will be delayed several weeks due to vandalism damaging the building last week.
St. Paul police say they are still investigating the incident in which three people are seen on surveillance video early Wednesday dousing the center in white paint, leaving a stencil of "Life, Liberty, Victory," which is a phrase associated with a white nationalist group.
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No arrests have been made as of Sunday, police said. The paint now covers plywood-boarded windows that have messages supporting the Black community following George Floyd's death.
The day it happened was an ordinary morning for Mark Pfeifer, until he arrived to work at the center and witnessed the damage—the paint still wet when he got there.
The center's director of programs said he was shocked at the sight of the graffiti. Over the center's 29 years, Pfeifer said, they had received many racist calls and emails but never witnessed anything like this.
"It was really depressing," he said. "We just got the new sign for the museum up, I think it was on Monday. So I had the high earlier in the week and it just really was a sort of crashing low and rather devastating when we saw what the vandals had done."
The new sign is for the museum that was set to open later this month and Pfeifer said it's thought to be the first-of-its-kind in the United States. It's an expansion of the small repository they already have upstairs celebrating Hmong history and culture. The new space can accommodate more people, including school groups.
But now the center is faced with an unexpected setback and it's unclear when it will be able to open to the public, though staff hopes it will be some time in October.
All of the clean-up efforts will cost time and money and the center is looking to increase security in wake of the destruction. The paint also damaged the locks to the front entrance to the building.
This vandalism comes as anti-Asian hate incidents rose sharply over the last year. The group Stop AAPI Hate recently reported there were more than 9,000 hate incidents flagged to the organization from March 2020 to the end of June 2021.
Data the FBI released last month show the number of reported hate crimes in 2020 was the highest on record in more than a decade.
Local leaders and community groups condemned the racist graffiti. CAIR-MN's Executive Director Jaylani Hussein called on all local, state and national law enforcement authorities to treat the vandalism as a hate crime, and said elected officials should push to pass legislation combatting hate crimes, which is an effort that failed in the state legislature this year.
The Minnesota Asian Pacific Legislative Caucus released a statement that its members were "deeply troubled" by the incident.
"We call on Minnesotans to condemn such acts of cowardness and bigotry," the state lawmakers said.
But the center is trying to see the bright side and move forward, hoping the incident raises awareness about the purpose of the museum. Pfeifer said that the community has rallied in support of the center with encouraging messages and donations.
"A key part of our mission is to bridge cross-cultural understanding between Hmong and wider community, so I think it really reinforces our mission and what we are trying to do with the museum," Pfeifer said.
If you wish to donate to the Hmong Cultural Center's clean-up and restoration efforts, you can through its website here.
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