By Bryan Thao Worra
Innsmouth, MA – Miss Innsmouth made history last fall as the first Tcho-Tcho to ever be crowned Miss Innsmouth, but this month courted controversy among concerned citizens critical of her snubbing the Tcho-Tcho New Year celebrations.
Leukao comes from a family of Tcho-Tcho refugees from Southeast Asia. She moved to the U.S. as a baby and was raised in Innsmouth during the 1990s. Her parents own a popular Tcho-Tcho restaurant, the New Leng Cafe. Her father was a veteran of the Vietnam War, assisting U.S. advisors in the region. Leukao’s family had a rags-to-riches story. She paid her way through college as a photographer for several years, but when all of her equipment was stolen from her car two years ago, she switched to the other side of the camera as a model before competing in the Miss Innsmouth competition.
Initially, Leukao received criticism from both progressive and conservative members of the Tcho-Tcho community. Some felt beauty pageants were anti-feminist and that she should not be looked up to as a role model because it objectified women, especially as a woman of colour and a refugee. It raised more than a few eyebrows. “Are you saying that a Tcho-Tcho woman cannot be considered beautiful unless an old, rich, white man with a bad toupee validates her?” Natasia Vonmakara, a spokeswoman for Tcho-Tcho Women United, said during a community forum last year. More-conservative members of the community felt Leukao’s participation violated traditional Tcho-Tcho principles of modesty and filial piety.
The Tcho-Tcho Sisterhood made efforts to explain the meaning and opportunity for the community to have a positive spokeswoman for the community over recent months. “This latest scandal has made us significantly reconsider our position,” admitted Mai Yathong, the
executive director of the organization. “As a culture, we’re very tolerant and easy-going. There are many ways to be a Tcho-Tcho. But skipping out on the Tcho-Tcho New Year, especially during our Year of the Waking Golden Dragon? To hang out in a casino with a sleazy, has-been lounge singer who fancies herself the Tcho-Tcho Madonna? That’s utterly inexcusable in our book.”
Yathong was referring to Florida-based Tcho-Tcho pop singer Essaoni, who had made a name, or, according to some Innsmouth activists, a nuisance of herself in the late 80s and 90s. Essaoni was known for covering and updating popular Tcho-Tcho folk songs using synthesizers
and electric guitars. Until recently, she had fallen out of popularity next to emerging Tcho-Tcho singers like Vivica Ehonay. “She mostly hustles more than actually produces anything reflecting real Tcho-Tcho art and innovation,” said one-time fan Khy Vonkhatam. “She better watch her step or, one day, the Tiger Kings will return for her three souls.”
Essaoni defended her decision to take Rhammala Leukao to other states, especially during the Tcho-Tcho New Year, because later in the competition, Leukao would benefit from the wider visibility. “People need to see her to be proud of her,” Essaoni said.
Yathong countered Essaoni’s position. “Essaoni can ‘shake her money-makers’ all she wants, but Miss Innsmouth should have been at the Tcho-Tcho New Year. Our community has a very long memory. And what Miss Innsmouth told us is that a bunch of strangers staring at her
like a stripper were more important to her than the people who raised her. But in the end, there are higher powers we all have to answer to, aren’t there?”
Yathong also pointed out that Essaoni further incensed the community by asking them to pay for the singer’s flight to take Leukao to the Snake River Casino for her concert. “She actually called and said it would be inappropriate for Leukao to go without an escort,” Yathong snorted. “In our tradition, we believe that one day, Y’thsottog, the lord of balances, will set all things right. I wouldn’t be standing near Essaoni when that day comes. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Leukao has been unavailable for comment, citing preparations for her next competition.
“It’s a free country. Miss Innsmouth can do what she wants,” said Meela Yebendao, a Tcho-Tcho senior at Innsmouth High School. “But that doesn’t mean I have to watch her or look up to her as a role model.”