I debated with myself on whether to talk about this or not, but in the end, it’s preying on my mind too greatly to not give it some space here.
Today was Father’s Day. A day to celebrate what I am, a Dad, and what I have, a Dad.
We made the decision to send my daughter to classes with a modeling school to help her work on her presence and confidence. This was entirely her choice and I agreed to it because all she wants to do in the world is be a performer and I want her to have as many opportunities to follow that dream as she can get. My interests as a kid were either grudgingly endured or blatantly ignored if not met with outright hostility and so I put them down one by one and it is only now I am finding the courage for some of them. I don’t want that for her. It’s a tad expensive but if it helps her become more confident in herself and helps her stage presence, it’ll be worth it.
Anyway, my daughter spent the day in a happy glow and that’s the best Father’s Day gift I could ask for. A child excited about life and the future is worth an infinite amount of material gifts.
Then I decided to walk across the street to visit my own dad for a bit and wish him a happy Father’s Day. This is where things took a turn.
Back story first: A couple of days ago my Pop (I call him Pop. Or Poppa) came over for reasons unimportant. He wanted a thing, I told him to take the thing because I don’t need it. End of that. We started talking about fishing because a guy a few apartments down from me is selling a bunch of fishing stuff. Rods, reels, tackle. All that jazz.
Pop began to tell me a story. One that started with some ominous sounding language about the “Somalis, Blacks, and Hmong.” He’s old, my Pop, and from a different culture, so this sort of thing is kind of normal for people his age. It’s not meant to be racist, even if it kind of is. It’s the sort of thing they call “casual racism” and it’s endemic to older generations, and even to an extent in my own. Making him understand this is difficult, though. He’s convinced it’s not racist. I didn’t say anything because it’s just not worth arguing over.
The story continued. I was then told of his friend, who I will call “Derrick”. Derrick was fishing one day, and a Hmong man came up to the spot by where he was and began fishing as well. Apparently the Hmong man was in the way and the sort of unwritten rule of American fishermen is if you found a good spot first, it was “yours”. I get that idea. You’re doing your thing, getting some bites, you don’t want somebody horning in on your zen, as it were.
The Hmong culture is a tad different from ours though, and despite the fact that they’re here now and not in Laos, people tend to stick with what they’re familiar with. In Laos they depended quite heavily on wild game to feed their families, and to a degree they’re still trying to do that here. It’s actually something of a problem for the ecosystem, and the various government agencies involved in maintaining such things are having a heck of a time with overfishing.
The Hmong and Somali population around the Twin Cities is pretty significant these days. They are, in their way and for lack of a better word, “young” cultures by American immigrant standards. Most other large immigrant groups have been here awhile and have integrated quite a bit more. They’ve become “Westernized” or what have you. This will happen for the Hmong and the Somali more and more as time goes on, but right now many of them are still in that isolationist mindset that new immigrants tend to have and that in the past led to the creation of things like Chinatown, Little Italy, etc.
The thing is, it wasn’t just an isolationist mindset that caused those communities to form. There was also the racism. The “heathen Chinese” couldn’t integrate even when they wanted to because they were scorned. Was it as bad for them as it was for black people? I don’t know. I haven’t done as much reading about that subject. I do know a great deal about racism and it’s effects on a society though. Once the insular communities form (or are forced to form at the end of a gun) it’s so much easier for people with a racist bent to continue viewing them as “other” and not people like themselves.
Which is patently ridiculous because we’re all just people like ourselves regardless of color, ethnicity, or culture. The same feelings, needs, hurts, and joys.
Now, I don’t know why this particular Hmong man was there on the banks fishing that day. The story doesn’t include that knowledge and its exclusion is the exact reason why what happened next was so terrible to me. Derrick, being the one who claimed the spot first, told the man to go fish somewhere else.
Now, this man could have been there for any number of reasons.
Perhaps he was trying to make friends through mutual enjoyment of fishing. Doubtful his main purpose, but not hard to believe. Perhaps he was just out having a nice time trying to catch some fish. Likely. Probable even. Or perhaps, and this is the one that digs at me, he was out there trying to catch enough to feed his family because they didn’t have any other food source easily available. This is also fairly likely. Many of them are poor and are just trying their best to get by and are used to just getting what they need from the lakes and rivers.
Derrick doesn’t ask, of course. Derrick doesn’t care. It’s “his” fishing spot. His finding it first is Manifest Destiny as far as he is concerned. When he leaves, someone else can have it but for now, it belongs to him. When he tells the Hmong man to leave, the man responds, according to my Pop, in broken English with “Me fishy here.”
Which is also kind of racist, but whatever. It may also be the truth. Just because something is a stereotype doesn’t make it entirely wrong. Much like black people and fried chicken. It’s not racist if they actually do love it. Plenty of black people do, but this is largely more about the deliciousness of fried chicken than the inferiority of an entire group of people. I’ve never understood the chicken and watermelon stereotype. Those things are delicious. Why liking them should be a point of contention is beyond me. If anything we should be able to bond with our black brothers and sisters over a mutual love of greasy bird meat and gigantic berries.
I’m not a big fan of grape soda though. It’s just alright. Of the fruit flavored sodas, I prefer strawberry, but to each his own.
Back to Derrick. After asking the Hmong man to leave a few times and him not leaving, Derrick decides to take it upon himself to grab him by the back of the pants and the collar and toss him into the water. My Pop described this in almost gleeful terms and it was largely that delivery that struck me. He didn’t seem to realize that he had, essentially, described to me a hate crime.
I tried pointing this out using the most tactful language I could and asserting that while, yes, the Hmong population may be taxing our wildlife more than it should, this was still a human being we were dealing with. Trade that Hmong man out with a more traditionally oppressed people, and it’s pretty clear. I doubt Derrick would have responded that way to another white male and I seriously doubt he would have had the balls to try it with a black man. In any event, as soon as my Pop realized I didn’t find it as funny as he did, he tried a lot of justifications but all of them came down to the same thing. They saw this man as “other” and a problem and thus it was okay to attack and humiliate him.
The man was not a threat. He was maybe a nuisance and perhaps a jerk, but he didn’t do anything to warrant being attacked. Derrick was just there for leisure. He attacked a man and humiliated him over what? Disrupting his fun? What if that man was genuinely trying to feed his family?
I even tried to appeal to my father’s Christian nature and asked him what he thought Jesus would have to say about this situation. This was shrugged off. I also pointed out that Derrick did not, in fact, own the spot and while popular convention is that he has a certain right to it, the lake belongs to everybody and his claim is, essentially, unenforceable. This too was met with derision. I get this part, but it’s still not a reason to attack someone.
Instead he started telling me another story about a different guy. I don’t even know if this one is true or not because at this point it feels like he’s just trying to justify himself. It might be true, but I’m going to be honest, I’ve sussed out that a few stories my dad has told me were true over the years were fabrications, frequently made up on the spot. I’ve never called him out on any of them really, because mostly they’re harmless things and I love him, but it does color how I view my Pop’s stories.
The second story cast the Hmong as a rich man in a Cadillac car. It’s always a Cadillac car with people my Pop’s age. That’s the gold standard of a successful man, having a Cadillac car. The man also spoke perfect English. This is to show that he’s educated and more worldly than his possibly less fortunate countryman of the first story. The point being that certainly this guy didn’t need the fish to feed his family. Which is fair enough, I suppose, assuming it’s true.
In this story my father is fishing not far from a friend of his and the Hmong man takes a place between the two. He begins casting his line and it crosses over my Pop’s line. This is a hassle, no doubt. It’s bad fishing and if it’s done on purpose is an extremely rude thing to do. Any halfway decent fisherman should know this. I posit to my dad that if the man is as well off as he appears, he might not be a halfway decent fisherman, not having much practice. Pop says that the man kept doing it in both directions, consistently crossing both men’s lines.
After being asked repeatedly to stop, the man, again according to my father, makes some bluster about fishing wherever he wants. Which is kind of an asshole thing to do, I admit. Conflict is here. Confrontation is imminent. My Pop says that his friend steps up to the man and shoves his finger “in his nose” which was to say gets it real close and points at the Hmong man aggressively and starts tearing into him verbally and threatening him. The Hmong man responds by shoving my dad’s friend.
Now at this point I stop my dad and say, “He shouldn’t have shoved his finger in his face like that. That’s aggressive.”
I say this because it’s true. This sort of behavior is one used by bullies the world over as a means of provocation. It implies you will back down or it dares you to make a move. This is its only purpose. It’s an aggressive stance taken to assert dominion over the other individual. I don’t care if the Hmong man pushed his friend afterward. He was being threatened at this point and while it may have been better if he had just backed down and walked away, the fact is that he didn’t and he was within a certain right to protect himself. Mind you, he didn’t attack my dad’s friend. He just shoved him to get some distance.
No amount of talking will convince my Pop that shoving your finger in someone’s face and threatening them is unjustifiably aggressive given the situation. This was not life or death. This was not anything important. This was sport fishing because you’ve got nothing better to do right at the moment. It’s supposed to be a relaxing, enjoyable experience.
And I do understand that in the story, the man was being an asshole. That’s clear. He was doing whatever he wanted and intentionally making a nuisance of himself. Fine. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Pop’s friend intentionally took an aggressive stance in order to provoke a reaction to give him justification to start a fight.
“He pushed me!”
Maybe he did, but you provoked it.
I want to point out that as a child, these sort of excuses were not tolerated. It didn’t matter if my sister pushed me if I provoked her into it. Sure, she got in trouble for pushing, but Dad would also lecture me about being older and knowing better. In fact, it never mattered how much older she got. It was always me who was older and should know better. I didn’t bring this up, but it did pop into my head. Once again I tried to invoke my father’s religion as a reason why he shouldn’t be supportive of this sort of behavior. Turn the other cheek and that sort of thing. He was hearing none of it. The Hmong man started it by pushing his friend.
So I got up out of my chair, put on a mad look, and shoved my finger half an inch from my father’s nose and said in a booming voice, “Tell me this isn’t aggressive.” I admit I did it rather suddenly.
Pop just left. Forgot the thing he had come over for in the first place and just angrily stormed off. Now, I know what I did was maybe a little out of line, but I was desperately trying to make him see. I wanted him to view the situation from outside, removed from his perception of the Hmong culture. This made him very angry.
As he stalked off I tried calling him back, telling him that I wasn’t actually angry or anything, I was just demonstrating, but he wouldn’t hear it. I reached out for him, beseeching and he pulled away. I tried calling him on the phone, but he wouldn’t answer. I left a voice mail apologizing and admitting that it was maybe over the top. He never called back. For all I know he didn’t even listen to it.
Flash forward a couple days to today. Father’s Day. I go to see him. He’s out walking the dog so I talk to my stepmother for a bit until he gets home. As soon as he sees me I sense it. He’s upset that I’m there. He is polite, but restrained. I try talking to him about little things, but the conversation goes nowhere. Finally I ask him “Are you okay, Pop?”
He tells me he doesn’t want to talk about anything and then all but tells me to leave. His desire to have me gone is so glaring and terrible and hurtful that it cannot be missed. He keeps saying, “I don’t want to talk about anything” even when I try to apologize and attempt to explain. It is so obvious that he is using the words “about anything” in place of “to you”. I want to weep. I hug him. I tell him I love him. I leave. I spent the rest of my Father’s Day having panic attacks.
Could I have pushed it? Maybe. I didn’t think it would do much good though. For all his professed love of Jesus and belief in the Bible, he is absolutely steeped in pride. Full to the brim. Between him and my stepmother, they have enough for a small town.
As I’ve said before, ego is the source of most interpersonal conflict and both of these stories are no exception. The Hmong gentlemen in these stories were, to varying degrees, making a nuisance of themselves and I am not excusing that behavior. The man from the second story was certainly being a jerk but my point to my Pop was that responding to the self-entitlement of others with your own isn’t going to solve anything.
The Hmong people overfishing the waters of Minnesota may be real thing. I won’t argue with that. It stems from cultural differences and they’re getting used to a new system. Using that fact as an excuse to belittle and assault them, however, is also a huge issue of its own. It doesn’t make them bad people, it just means they need time to adjust to, you know, not living in a Third World country. We can facilitate this better through calm explanation and patience rather than irrational hatred.
The justification for the actions in both these stories are the same regardless of the behaviors exhibited by the Hmong men in either because the second story only exists to try to justify the first: The Hmong are behaving badly and should learn their place. Replace the word “Hmong” with “Jews” or “blacks” or “Mexicans” and you have the same thing. It’s racism, pure and simple. Both Derrick and the unnamed friend felt perfectly comfortable doing what they did because the Hmong are “other” and not regular people like us.
That’s racism. Whether my Pop likes it or not, that’s what it is.
The Jews are greedy.
The Blacks are lazy.
The Mexicans are stealing our jobs.
The Chinese are a bunch of heathens.
The Somalis are rude.
The Hmong are bad fishermen.
These are all reasons given to hate an entire people into the ground. These are all reasons given to take any opportunity to put them in their place.
These all fail to understand many underlying causes for this perceived behavior.
The Jews tend to be bankers because early Christians were forbidden to take part in that kind of work.
The Blacks were freed from slavery only to be forced to exist in ghettos and denied opportunity.
The Mexicans are an industrious people willing to work hard jobs for little pay to support their families.
The Chinese aren’t anymore heathen than any other non-christian group.
The Somalis come from a place where things are so ugly that being a pirate is a legitimate career choice.
The Hmong have a cultural history of depending on the land to provide.
My being upset at my father about this directly correlates with my depression. The world around me seems like it’s full of horrible people doing horrible things to each other. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like the Human Experiment is worth continuing. I used to pine for the end of all things. Comet impact. Pandemic. Super-volcano. Nuclear war. The sudden and irreversible release of the frozen methane hydrates that lie on the sea floor (which, given global warming, is looking like the most likely scenario). I’d even settle for the Rapture, why not. Anything that would end this madness and shove us backwards to a place where we are either wiped out entirely or forced back into cooperative tribes to start all over again from scratch so we could make a better go of it.
This is a major reason why I decided to kill myself last fall. Life did not seem worth living in the society we have created for ourselves.
I have now a renewed sense of purpose. To try and make things better. To try and show that there is a better way. That we can build for ourselves something good and true if only we stop viewing every other person around us as a potential threat to our existence and stop seeing them as “other”.
Perhaps I did cross a line with my father, perhaps I let my own ego dictate my actions by thinking I was better than him. It didn’t feel that way in the moment, but on reflection that could have been. Still, I didn’t expect him to react the way he did. I wished merely to show him that shoving your finger angrily in someone’s face is an act of aggression and I suppose my point was vindicated when he responded to it as such. That is small comfort compared to the rift it has created between us though. If I am lucky, his anger will fade. It’s not like we’ve never gotten heated with each other before. Most of my childhood, especially my teens, seemed spent in constant conflict with one parent or another.
The difference this time is that I wasn’t angry. He was the one having a fight. To me it was just a conversation.
He’d also be angry if he knew I wrote this and posted it. There is nothing worse to him than airing his business where people can see it. I’m not supposed to talk about him on Facebook at all. Pride, you see. That original of sins. Lucifer’s fall, Eve’s folly. Pride. Ego. Normally I respect this wish, but this has affected me deeply and it isn’t just his business. It’s mine as well and if he won’t talk about it with me, I’ll talk about it with whomever will listen. I tried to call my mother in Texas for someone to talk to, but she wasn’t home. So I started writing.
He’ll never see this. Short of prying into my personal journals that were left behind when I left home (which I don’t begrudge) and, of course, the suicide note I left when I swallowed all those pills when I was sixteen, I don’t think he’s ever read a single thing I’ve written. I know he doesn’t care about this website. It’s been up for years in varying forms and he’s never looked at it once that I know of. In fairness, he’s not much of a computer guy, but he never asks about it and always seems surprised when I mention I have a website. Even though I’ve told him at least a hundred times and given him the (relatively easy to remember) URL on more than a few occasions. If I thought for a moment he cared one bit about my body of work, I wouldn’t put this here. I’m not worried about him seeing it so just don’t tell him, okay?
I love my father dearly and he’s there to help if I need it. I appreciate it greatly. He is, on the whole, a kind man though he does not seem to realize sometimes the world is not the same place it was in Kentucky in the ’50’s. He tells me he loves me. He probably does, but most of the time I really don’t think he likes me very much. It often feels like his love stems more from a perceived duty to me, a filial responsibility, than genuine affection.
I am who I am, though. Like everybody else, I’m doing the best I can and I can only hope that it’s good enough.
Happy Father’s Day.