< link rel="DCTERMS.isreplacedby" href="http://caltechgirlsworld.mu.nu/" /> Not Exactly Rocket Science: Culture Clash??

Monday, November 22, 2004

Culture Clash??

One of the smaller Asian minority groups in this country are the Hmong. These people are a small group, formerly hill people from Laos and Vietnam, who were forced out of their homes after the post-vietnam-war fallout all over Southeast Asia. Many of them fled to camps in Thailand, and elsewhere before coming to the United States (did I mention that the Hmong mostly supported the US during the war and served with US forces?). You've probably never even heard of them unless you live in Fresno, Denver, Raleigh, or the Twin Cities (and a few other places), which all have, or have had vibrant Hmong communities. Hmong culture is expressive and intriguing, as you might expect from a tradition based on oral communication (there was no modern written Hmong language until French Missionaries discovered them in the early part of the 20th century).

Turns out that yesterday's Rampage Hunter in WI was a Hmong from the Twin Cities area, and folks on both sides of the story have been quick to turn this tragedy into a twisted version of he said, she said; only in this case they're peddling he said, he didn't understand.

Activists in the Hmong community and officials in the area have both pointed out the culture clash that apparently exists between Hmong and "white" hunters, mostly having to do with the apparent disrespect of the Hmong hunters for the property rights of local land owners. In this case, the incident seems to have sprung from the Hmong hunter using a tree stand belong to oneof his victims, and on the victim's property as well.

The idea that this man doesn't understand American property rights doesn't jive with what I know of the Hmong community. It's not as if there is no place for personal ownership in their traditional society, IIRC. Furthermore, this passage in particular indicates that there's more to this story:
"The suspect got down from the deer stand, walked approximately 40 yards, fiddled with his rifle in some way ... turned and opened fire on the group," Meier said.

When other hunters appeared on the scene, they also were hit by gunfire, [Sherriff] Meier said. Some of the people suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The shooter used an SKS 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle, the sheriff said. Two bodies were found near each other, and the others were found over an area of about 100 yards, he said."

By other accounts, he was "hunting" the victims:

"The gunman was "chasing after them and killing them," Deputy Tim Zeigle said. "He hunted them down."
It is unclear whether anyone returned fire. The members of the hunting party had only one gun among them."

AP also reports that the suspect had already been arrested for Domestic Violence, which has been a major issue in the Hmong community in the past.

Local Hmong also fear a backlash from the less-informed among us:

"Ilean Her, director of the St. Paul-based Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, said conflicts between white hunters and Hmong hunters aren't new. She recalled an incident about five years ago near Rochester, Minn., when Hmong hunters were involved in a fistfight after crossing onto private land to hunt. "This doesn't come as that much of a surprise,'' Her said. "What surprised me was the level of violence involved." Her said "lots of people'' in the Hmong community are empathizing with Vang."

In fact, one local "white" hunter was quoted as saying this:
"It's pathetic. They let all these foreigners in here, and they walk all over everybody's property," said Jim Arneberg, owner of the Haugen Inn in nearby Haugen."

Well, at least some people aren't blinded by the cultural differences:
"State Sen. Mee Moua, one of two Hmong legislators in Minnesota, rejected the idea that cultural differences or racism played any role in the shooting. "He's probably crazy,'' she said. She acknowledged that Hmong-Americans feel racism on a daily basis, but, "that doesn't mean you kill people.''
"We're all just speculating that may have been a trigger for him,'' Moua said. "We're all searching for answers. But as we're doing that search, speculation is just speculation.''

Just because this man was from a different culture, we don't need to immediately jump to the conclusion that he was the victim of an uncaring, ignorant native populace. Clearly, the man was disturbed beyond anything that a simple misunderstanding could have created.

I'm not sure which is worse: The willingness of his own community to chalk this up to the eventual outcome of a long-simmering dispute (with guns, nonetheless), or the willingness of the "white" community to blame the suspect's "otherness" rather than his violence or perhaps mental illness.


At Tuesday, November 23, 2004 2:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As soon as I heard about the suspect, I had a hunch this sort of narrative (misunderstood minority culture facing distrust from majority culture) would be foist upon the story. I blogged on the same topic today, though with neither the length nor the insight of your entry.

At Saturday, November 27, 2004 4:41:00 PM, Blogger Aymiee said...

I was shocked when I heard the news. And immediately, it became a culture / race issue. There are so much speculations and "he said, she said" even out here in California. News travel very fast in such a small community like the Hmong community. Clearly, there was something wrong with him "mentally". It's not a race (or foreigner) issue; reality, six people died at his hands. Let's just let our justice system do its job and leave out the speculations and backlashes.


Post a Comment

<< Home