Minnesotans mourn Tou Ger Xiong at memorial service

Tou Ger Xiong Funeral
An image of beloved community activist and entertainer Tou Ger Xiong hangs above his casket during his funeral service in St. Paul on Saturday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Hundreds gathered Saturday to mourn Tou Ger Xiong, 50, a Minnesota activist and comedian who was kidnapped and killed while vacationing in Medellín, Colombia last month.

At his funeral in St. Paul, a giant, smiling photo of Xiong was displayed above his silver casket. The photo shows Xiong wearing a pink suit, white shirt, pink tie and a large cowboy hat. There’s a big smile on his face and he’s displaying a double thumbs-up with his hands.

“Smile when you think of me, for I’m smiling because I thought of you,” he’s quoted as saying in the funeral program.

Xiong was a widely recognized artist and activist, particularly among Hmong Americans. The foyer of the Legacy Funeral Home displayed several tables with framed news articles and awards over decades, accompanied by an extensive list of Xiong’s involvement with local organizations. 

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“It’s very hard to find a Minnesotan who doesn't have a Tou Ger story of some kind,” said Gov. Tim Walz at the public event. Walz recounted stories he’d heard from legislators about Xiong dressing as Paul Revere for golf tournaments or being part of outdoor adventures. 

Walz proclaimed Saturday as “Tou Ger Xiong Day.” State legislators also shared resolutions recognizing Xiong’s contributions to Minnesota.

Other speakers included St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who remembered Xiong’s enthusiasm.

“He gave us license to do what our heart was telling us to do,” Carter said. “Sometimes that just meant to sing and dance and laugh and be silly. Sometimes, that meant be very, very serious in our fight for human rights and equal justice.”

Added Carter, “I just plead for all of you, with all of you, to do me the service, to do yourself the service, to do Tou Ger the service of not letting the story of all that he’s given us stop in this moment. But just to continue to follow his example. And in that sense, we'll say farewell to his physical presence today, but we’ll know that his spiritual presence in our community will live on forever.”

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported Columbian authorities charged two men and a woman with crimes related to Xiong’s death.