If you ask me, right now might not be the best time to be an immigrant in Minnesota. A Hmong hunter allegedly shot eight white hunters, six fatally, in northern Wisconsin last month, and things for the rest of our sizable refugee population have not been the same since.
But were things really that great for Hmongs before last month? First, a little cultural literacy lesson might be hidden in this. What do you think was the response of some Minnesotans to the Wisconsin killings?
In the national media, our state’s call-ins to conservative AM talk radio stations about consistent hunting and fishing violations by Hmongs was most noted. Is this really the best we could come up with?
Not even. Ethnic community leaders said Hmong residents in Minnesota have reported a sudden spike in racial slurs and less-than-veiled threats from the office water cooler to the contents of their curbside mailboxes.
Minnesota has long been known for its open arms to refugees with some of the greatest societal and historical woes.
In the last 15 years, the demographics of incoming immigration have changed. Usually, it seems to follow U.S. foreign intervention. The end of the 1980s saw a transition from years of Southeast Asians (after the Vietnam War) as the primary group of immigrants to East Africans rising ahead (also partly because of military operations there).
The economic downturn in 2000 followed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks did not exactly pave the roads with pixie dust for immigrants and refugees.
However, even before Sept. 11, 2001, the Hmong in Minnesota were twice as likely as Somalis to report hostilities from this state’s native population.Why might this be? Surely, this newfound animosity, if it’s at all new, cannot be the work of one Hmong hunter.
Joe Bee Xiong, an Eau Claire, Wis., City Council member and a soldier who fought for the United States during the Vietnam War, worries that the media has focused on the hunter as a Hmong and all but ignored the man’s U.S. citizenship, which has singled out an entire minority to blame.
“Save a deer, shoot a Hmong,” proclaims a bumper sticker rumored to be on the back of a truck in Rice Lake, Wis., home of the six hunters killed last month. At a time when St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly personally visits Thailand to welcome approximately 15,000 more Hmong to our state, tensions are running high, and every ethnic group has begun taking notice of potential storm clouds ahead.
Now, what people need to understand is: This is a problem with a hunter. Not with an immigrant. Not with a refugee. A hunter who was on private land. A brutal dispute that ensued. Communication on the ground might or might not have been a problem, but it’s not about an entire ethnic population. If you ask me, the problem is grown adults in the 21st century who still carry huge guns around so they can blow away little animals.
A message to those of you who have been sending unsigned letters saying, “Go back to where you belong,” to Hmong assistance organizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin:
Take your own advice and, after you do that, read up on your Emma Lazarus.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
Because while people such as you are painting the word “killer” on Hmong property in Eau Claire, none of us can breathe freely.
Adri Merha welcomes comments at [email protected]