Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Exoticism hits the north woods

Most of the time, when Wisconsin hits the world stage for news, it's because we did something so outrageous that everyone stops and goes, "WHAT?"

That's pretty much the case with the story that broke last week about a Hmong man charged with the shooting deaths of six people during deer hunting season. The spat occurred over a dispute regarding a tree stand on private property.

Admittedly, I was wondering when the national media was going to focus on the race aspect and how they were going to do it. Well, the New York Times found a way with their article about Chai Soua Vang being a shaman. To me, the entire article smacks of exocticism. You'd never see the national media talking about a good Christian preacher the same way as Vang.

"He danced on a small table for about two hours," said Mr. Xiong, an employee of an audio technology business in nearby Bloomington in the article. "He was calling out the whole time, not to the people in the room, but to the other world. My job was to sit near the table and make sure he did not fall off."

That's one of the first four paragraphs to the article -- nothing about the murders, nothing about how the Hmong community is coping in this situation -- it's that he's a shaman who dances around. What the fuck is up with that? What's the point to it?

To me, it's emphasizing the idea of the exotic and foreign. It's merely speculation that the defense would use that as an argument and it's a weak speculation that plays into stereotypes of Asians as foreign, exotic and other than "America" -- and I mean white America. There's no point to that article.

Why not something about how possessive people are about their land up North? Why not something about the racial tensions and how people have attempted to create understandings or communicate? Why this? This is just a useless detail that means nothing overall. Even the article admitted it:

"It is unclear whether Mr. Vang's role as a shaman is in any way connected to the shootings. But Vincent Her, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin who studies traditional Hmong culture, said he did not believe that shamans could go into a trance so deep that they would lose touch with the physical world, even in a situation of extreme stress," the article states towards the bottom.


Let's just call this what it is: A guy got lost in the woods and wandered onto private property and climbed a tree stand to go hunting. When the property owners came upon him, they yelled at him to get down and leave. Whether or not racial slurs were used, whether or not they owners shot first doesn't excuse the fact that SIX people are dead. Most of which were shot in the back when they were trying to flee. It doesn't matter if he was a shaman. It doesn't matter if he's white, Hmong or purple -- a crime was committed. Vang's admitted to shooting them. It didn't have to get to that point.

Cripes. When people went hunting up north, the biggest concern was a drunk hunter falling out of a tree stand. Now there's this media circus.

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