Skip to comments.A Hunt Turns Tragic, and Two Cultures Collide
Posted on 11/27/2004 12:42:07 PM PST by neverdem
DOBIE, Wis., Nov. 27 - The two gatherings, less than 200 miles apart, seemed to be separated by whole worlds.
In this isolated village deep in the pine and cedar woods of the Upper Midwest, mourners trudged through falling snow on Friday to Our Lady of Lourdes Church to remember one of six hunters, all locals, killed near here a week ago.
To the southwest, across the state line in Minnesota, thousands of Hmong immigrants streamed into a downtown St. Paul auditorium for three days of New Year's festivities with papaya salad, traditional courtship games and young women in dresses covered in gently clinking coins that echoed through the halls.
The only link between the somber Wisconsin gathering, which followed the most violent rampage in anyone's memory here, and the mostly festive Minnesota gathering, one of the most important annual meetings for Hmong people, was a shared concern: the depth of the scars left behind by the shootings last Sunday that left six white hunters from the North Woods dead and a Hmong immigrant from St. Paul in jail, accused in the deaths.
In three decades, St. Paul has drawn at least 25,000 Hmong immigrants, transforming it into what they call the Hmong capital of America. Even there, it has not always been an easy fit, with so many Hmong refugees arriving so rapidly, often with no English and little education or urban job skills. The Hmong are from large farming families from Laos, where the Central Intelligence Agency recruited many of them to be part of an anti-Communist secret army during the Vietnam War.
The northernmost edges of Wisconsin, meanwhile, are made up mostly of people of European descent. Many come from Scandinavian, German, Czech and French Canadian backgrounds.
For all their differences, the native Wisconsin residents and the Asian immigrants from St. Paul share a love of hunting.
For generations of Wisconsin families, the deer season has come to mean a time to bond with friends, to wander the woods and to pass along life's secrets to the next generation. For the Hmong, hunting is one of the rare realms in which America's fast-paced culture meshes neatly with their old ways from Laos, and Hmong elders have come to use it as a chance to share at least one rural cultural tradition with the youngest among them, some of whom never saw the hills of Laos.
In the November deer season, the two groups have often met in the woods and sometimes clashed, but mostly quietly until last Sunday. Some here said they fear those tensions will now grow.
In Wisconsin, mourners said they were still dazed by how a day of deer hunting turned into a killing spree after a group of local hunters confronted Chai Soua Vang, 36, of St. Paul, who, police say, was using their tree stand to hunt on their property.
The police say Mr. Vang, a naturalized citizen and former army national guardsman who immigrated 24 years ago, opened fire on the hunting party after he was told to leave.
Waiting for the start of Friday's funeral service for Mark Roidt, 28, one man turned to another and said, "This is going to be a horrible week."
His friend replied, "The worst week ever."
Mike Katterhagen, another mourner, said he and many of his neighbors felt anger about what happened, but he said, "I don't know if you can place it at who."
Asked if people here have a negative attitude toward Asians or people of other races, Mr. Katterhagen replied, "Personally, I don't." Then he added, "Some people, I think, may have it."
In St. Paul, many at the Hmong New Year events said they feared retribution for the killings. Some said they would not hunt for a while. Many said they were embarrassed by the acts another Hmong-American was accused of, but the case also made them recall experiences with ethnic misunderstanding.
Some said they wondered whether there was more to the case - and thought they might have gained some understanding when they learned Mr. Vang had told the police that the local hunters used ethnic slurs against him and fired at him before he started shooting. A police statement by a hunter wounded in the incident makes no mention of any ethnic slurs.
"I mostly ignore what people call me, but it does hurt." said Va Pao Xiong, a college student in Wisconsin who was celebrating the New Year in St. Paul on Friday. "They have called me 'chink' and things like that. And it makes you wonder whether they even understand who the Hmong people are, where we come from, or what we've been through."
Like many others here, Mr. Xiong, who is 24, has distinct and painful memories of his family's flight from Laos. After Communists won power there, the Hmong people, who had rescued downed American pilots and fought North Vietnamese soldiers, said they found themselves under attack and began fleeing through the jungles, escaping across the Mekong River and ending up as refugees in Thailand and elsewhere.
In part as a show of gratitude for their sacrifice in the Vietnam War, the United States has allowed tens of thousands of Hmong people to come here.
This year, as many as 15,000 more Hmong refugees still waiting at a bleak camp in Thailand called Wat Tham Krabok were granted permission to come to this country. In the past few months, some of them have moved to St. Paul, a city of 300,000.
The new arrivals brought new questions to City Hall from some residents: how could the city, in tough budget times, afford to help more Hmong refugees, especially those who lacked adequate medical, educational and psychological help for years at the camp in Thailand?
A city analysis in January found that 34 percent of Hmong families in St. Paul had incomes below the poverty level in the year 2000, compared with 31 percent in the black community and 20 percent among Hispanics. Home ownership and median income rates showed more positive progress, but the unemployment rate for Hmong people was 8.7 percent, compared with a citywide rate of 5.7 percent.
In September, a poll conducted by The Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio found that Minnesotans, by 42 percent to 37 percent, believed that the cost of helping immigrants start their new lives outweighed their economic, social and other contributions.
Then came the events of last Sunday.
"It's difficult to be Hmong-American right now," said Mee Moua, a Hmong in the Minnesota State Senate. "There's an expectation that the Hmong-American community ought to be answerable, or ought to be responsible for this one man's action."
Ms. Moua said that was absurd: "Don't hold our community to blame for something one individual has done."
That sentiment was echoed in Wisconsin, where some mourners, like John Zoellick, said they had not heard any negative comments or slurs against Asians or Hmong people in the days since the killings.
"Any negative feeling is directed toward the one individual, since he did something that is just totally inexcusable," Mr. Zoellick said. "It's not aimed against any group."
Nearly everyone interviewed at the New Year celebrations in St. Paul said they had experienced name-calling at some point. Elee Vang, who is 19 and was crowned Miss Deaf Minnesota this year, said she was once spit at by a white boy on a bus. Workers at Tswvtxos Yang's old manufacturing job used to call him Bruce Lee, he said.
Many said they had been called by the very names Mr. Vang told police the white hunters hollered at him.
In Laos, hunting was always a crucial part of the culture and important for survival, said Cha Vang, the son of Gen. Vang Pao, who worked closely with the C.I.A. in the war and who remains a revered leader of Hmong people in America. (Thousands rose and cheered him in St. Paul when he arrived in the auditorium for New Year festivities.)
"It was different in Laos though," said Mr. Vang, who is no relation to Chai Soua Vang. "You could hunt all year round and there was all public lands."
The restrictions in this country have led to conflicts, with some white people complaining that Hmong people ignore or are unable to read fishing limits, clothing rules and permit requirements.
On the other side, Hmong hunters have complained about mistreatment and harassment by white hunters. Since last Sunday, Ms. Moua said she had received so many reports of such incidents that she was considering calling for public hearings on the issue.
Tou Ger Xiong, a Hmong comedian, rapper and motivational speaker from St. Paul, said his father, who speaks little English, was once approached by a white hunter who simply demanded his gun. He said another white hunter ordered his brother to leave a tree stand he had built on public land, and threatened to use a chainsaw to tear it down.
But people in Wisconsin said that complaints by some Asian hunters of insults or harassment from white hunters were exaggerated.
"I haven't heard any anger against the Hmong," said Patty Behrndt, manager of a bookstore in Rice Lake, the main town in this part of the North Woods. "Not anger, just disbelief and confusion. People aren't able to make out why or how. You hear talk now about racism, but I don't see it."
Laurel Steffes, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said she was unaware of tensions between Hmong and white hunters.
"We've had our ear to the ground since this happened," she said, "and we're not picking up on that at all."
The mourning continued on Saturday, as a funeral for two more of the victims, Robert Crotteau, 42, and his 20-year-old son, Joey, was held in Rice Lake. The Crotteau family is large and well-established here, with the local telephone directory showing 30 listings for that name.
Some arriving mourners said they were still too much in shock to analyze what had happened.
"It's just all so stunning," said one mourner, who gave his name as Aaron. "There's hardly anything else you can feel, not at this point."
In addition to the six people killed, two men were wounded in the shooting. Both attended Mr. Roidt's service on Friday. One of them, Lauren Hesebeck, who wore a blue sling to support his wounded left arm, has told the police that Mr. Vang fired the first shots, according to a police document.
All of the victims lived in or near Rice Lake, a town of 8,300 where many people have known each other since school days, and most of the rest came to escape crowds and enjoy rural life.
In Rice Lake, Greg Swanson and his daughter were hanging lights on their outdoor Christmas tree. Mr. Swanson said he and other people here were "waiting for someone to take us from this unreal situation to some kind of explanation of why a guy would just open up like that."
Along Main Street this weekend, ribbons of bright orange, the color of hunters' jackets, hung above Christmas wreaths along Main Street.
With more funerals running through the weekend and into Monday, Larry Jarvela, the mayor of Rice Lake, was still groping for an explanation.
"It's so senseless," he said. "Why did it have to happen?"
"We don't have any population of Asians," Mr. Jarvela said, and Census statistics largely bear him out. Here in Barron County, the 2000 census counted just 145 people of Asian descent, less than 1 percent of the population.
Mr. Jarvela said he had never heard about clashes between white and nonwhite hunters, but he added that because northern Wisconsin was very large, "if you happen to have an incident, nobody knows about it."
At last count, a week ago, nearly 645,000 hunting licenses had been issued in this state for the nine-day regular gun season that ends on Sunday. In just the first two days, hunters reported bagging 140,000 deer, Ms. Steffes said.
The Rice Lake City Council here may soon consider a proposal to rename a city park in honor of the six people killed, Mr. Jarvela said. The likely choice for a new name is Hunters' Park.
Stephen Kinzer reported from Dobie for this article, and Monica Davey from St. Paul.
Fueled, perhaps, by senseless headline writers? The case could be a single lunatic shooting at a group of hunters -- or it could be a "clash of cultures" in which one culture likes to hunt deer, and the other culture likes to shoot at groups of hunters.
I'm betting on the single lunatic theory, but the newspaper wants me to think that this Hmong was somehow "a representative of his culture", I guess.
Ping for your list.
All the while I thought it was about an a$$hole who was hunting on someone else's property and when asked to leave murdered 6 people.....
So its about culture not murder?...whew, was I ever wrong.
This article is a classic lesson in why reading the N.Y. Slimes is virtually an act of mental masturbation. One man murders 6 others. The Slimes then publishes an article about the hurt feelings of an ethnic group without one single verifiable insult to the ethnic group and glosses over the murder of 6 people.
Wonder what culture is represented by shooting people in the back?
Absolutely! This article is a pathetic attempt to shift the blame from the perp to the Evil American culture.
Didn't I read that this poor, misunderstood murderer actually walked up to one of his still living victims, said "Oh, you're not dead yet", and fired again?
Yes, you did.
Maybe this should read:
When you are in America, you obey American law...even the yellow people.
The northernmost edges of Wisconsin, meanwhile, are made up mostly of people of European descent. Many come from Scandinavian, German, Czech and French Canadian backgrounds
Anyone have any doubt about which group the NYTimes thinks shoud be forced to change?
Chai Vang is a monster plain and simple. He should rot in Hell. I am Asian and I never encounter any real racial tensions in my life. Too many other things to worry about. Heck, I went to one of the frat parties, which was accused of racism at UT-Austin, the gin and rum party. I never encountered any racial problem and I was the only Asian there. It seems like racial problem are in the blue states.
I suspect your right or that the shooter has concocted this story to try to justify , at least in his own mind, his actions. I think alcohol is going to be found to play a role here as well.
P.S. I read somewhere that the shooter was a recent convert to islam.Is this true or do I now just expect muslims to randomly kill people over minor slights?
I had head that too, I don't know if it has been verified.
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