St. Paul's Hmong Cultural Center was vandalized early Wednesday, weeks before its museum was set to open to the public.

Director of Programs Mark Pfeifer found the University Avenue building drenched in white paint when he arrived at work Wednesday morning. Stenciled over the paint was "Life, Liberty, Victory," a phrase associated with a white nationalist hate group.

"We put the sign up two days ago, and I was so excited because we're going to do our grand opening," Pfeifer said. "I mean, it was shocking."

Vandals spray-painted over Black artwork on plywood boards that have protected the Cultural Center since its windows were broken during last summer's unrest after George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer. The tattoo parlor next door caught much of the incident on camera, Pfeifer said.

"It was 3:45 a.m., these three young guys came out of this car, and they just started spray-painting, lasting a couple of minutes," Pfeifer said. "They did an awful lot of damage."

An officer responded to the Cultural Center at 9:10 a.m. after receiving a report of criminal damage to property. No arrests have been made and the case remains under investigation, according to St. Paul police Sgt. Natalie Davis.

More than 9,000 anti-Asian attacks have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. In Minnesota, bias-motivated crimes in 2020 were the highest in 15 years, with dramatic increases in anti-Black and anti-Asian bias crimes.

The museum's new sign will have to be replaced, at a cost of about $800, Pfeifer said. The Hmong grocery store next door was spray-painted too, he said.

St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao, who represents the area, said he wants to see a thorough investigation and the perpetrators held responsible. "All hate crimes are disappointing in a time where we need to be united and celebrate each other as Americans," Thao said. "It's just unfortunate that this happened."

In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum condemned the incident and called the Cultural Center's work indispensable in making the community a safer place.

The museum will feature exhibits on Hmong contributions to the United States and Minnesota, with interactive exhibits. The vandalism won't stop them, Pfeifer said, but it will delay opening by a couple of weeks while the building is cleaned up.

"I think it's something that the community should be very, very proud of, in the broader community, too, to learn about and celebrate their contributions to Minnesota and the richness of Hmong culture," Pfeifer said.

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