Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Rampage

I was holding my 6 day old son in my arms today watching the news when I first found out the shooter was a Korean. Yesterday, I was so saddened by the whole shooting when I found out about it, but for some reason, it really hit me hard when I found out the shooter was Korean. As a Korean American, I cannot describe the feelings and thoughts that started racing through my mind, and are still racing in my head. I know it should not be a race thing, and the shooter could have been any other race, but it is hard for me to not overlook the fact that he is a Korean. Feelings of anger and sadness have been overwhelming this morning. I am sure part of it is that I am completely sleep deprived from helping to take care of our baby, but I know part of it is that I took it personally for some reason when I found out he was Korean. It was almost as if I felt ashamed, like he was part of my family or something. It made me feel sad that in the future, when one thinks of Korean males, the thought that we are going to be remembered that one of us was responsible for the largest mass massacre in U.S. history. I am sure I am overreacting, but still. Its hard for me not to take it personally, and be so angry at Seung-Hui for what he has done and the heartache he has caused these people that lost their lives, their families, and their community. Could all the hard work that Koreans have done to develop their positive presence in the American community be overlooked with this event? I am sure it won't, but its hard for me not to think about. I know its not a race thing, but it is hard when I keep hearing "Senior from South Korea" over and over again on the news.

I could not help thinking about my son, and wondering how the parents of Seung-Hui must feel right now. I wonder what drove the him to do this? Was he abused as a child, did his parents put too much pressure on him to succeed, was he teased a lot for being Asian, did his girlfiend cheat on him, did he feel alone and rejected and it was topped off when his girlfriend broke up with him? I am sure there are multiple factors which led to his actions.

I want to teach my son how to deal with his anger and sadness. I want to raise him in an emotionally healthy environment. I want to protect my son from repressed anger, sadness, or racism, but know that I always can't. I can't imagine how the families and friends of the students who were killed must feel. I pray for them. Looking at my son, I can't imagine my life without him now. I pray this does not turn into a race thing, or that Korean males get stereotyped as all having repressed anger and violent tendencies. I am sorry if I sound irrational, but I feel so filled with so many emotions and questions right now. I wonder what could have been different about Seung-Hui's history that would have prevented him from dealing with his anger in this way.


daddy in a strange land said...

Thank you for this perspective on this tragedy, Doc. Just going through all the news...it's overwhelming. Thanks for bringing it home.

Linda said...

Sadly, it's already become a race thing. I, too, felt a personal connection when I heard he was Korean. I felt that same shame that you felt, because he suddenly is a representative of our race and culture?

Thanks for your perspective on this. And congrats to you on the birth of your son.

Jason said...

I'm so disheartened by this tragic and senseless event. I also have a very young son, 6 weeks old...and it sucks that this idiot totally disgraced Koreans, whether intentional or not, my parents always told me growing up that in America, I am an embassador to non-Koreans. I hate to think that this national media frenzy keeps repeatedly saying, Senior South Korean over and over again. He just sent Korean-Americans back to the stone ages. So f%*^(n pissed and ashamed.

mamazilla said...

i remember feeling sad and angry and even fearful for my three brothers when the news reported that andrew cunanan (who killed five people, incl. gianni versace and then himself) was filipino. i took it very personally and felt guilty and even ashamed...

when i heard about the shootings at VT, it reminded me of a similar incident that happened at univ of iowa. in 1991, gang lu, a chinese student, killed five people and then himself. the bad news... i just found out it's the subject of a new film called "dark matter".
it's supposed to be released this year sometime. i hope the filmmakers will reconsider and release it later.

i hear you and i'm with you, just praying for the families and friends of the victims.

IFLYG said...

Dudes -
I realise that the media in the US must be making a big deal of the fact that he was from South Korea, and no doubt the usual haters and racists will use this as an opportunity to promote their agenda. But the vast majority of thinking people understand that the dreadful actions of this individual are just that. He is no more representative of your culture than Timothy Mc Veigh was a representative of mine.

Thanks for sharing your perspective on this tragedy, and please know that it isn't a reflection on you guys (no matter what the assholes on talk-radio might say).

Anonymous said...

I'm more worried about the media turning the tragedy into an immigration issue that local communities will use to support their xenophobic agendas.

Darryl said...

thank you for your humanity

as a father of a daughter of 1.5

years i share in your concern

and compassion for future

generations...are we to sow seeds

of love or senseless violence?

Anonymous said...

Just wondering, do you think that white people feel the same way towards Timothy McVeigh as you feel towards this Korean shooter? I personally cann't make any connection with this being a "race" thing. He was a deranged, crazed individual that is in no way representative of human beings in general, let along a specific group of people.

Here's my response to IflyG,

I don't see any reference to the "media in the US must be making a big deal of the fact that he was from South Korea, and no doubt the usual haters and racists will use this as an opportunity to promote their agenda" AT ALL. In any of the news reports I have read (which is a lot). I am not sure where you are getting this from, could you post a link to a story or radio talk show host who actually has the audacity to say somehow this is a race issue? Or is this just something you THINK the media will play this angle?

Also, there is no YOUR culture and OUR culture, it's our collective American culture and experience. This is an American tragedy, not a White tragedy, not a Korean American tragedy, but an American tragedy.

Let's not draw this racial line even thicker than it needs to be. And by saying it is no reflection on "you guys", you ARE grouping all the Korean Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans into one single group. Which we all know it's a big no-no.

Superha said...

you're totally right about feeling ashamed. i'm taiwanese and i feel like some people might judge all asian americans differently based on this tragedy. all we can do is continue to do our best and hope that people won't judge us on the horrific acts of a madman.

crushed said...

I'm nearly 40 now and I've heard my share of korean college student freakout stories (one girl from college went home and walked into the path of a commuter train) but none of them ever made national headlines like this.

I don't think you're overreacting. the whole situation is heartbreaking. When the news first broke out about the shooter being asian I thought, oh God please let it not be a korean person...not that the initial rumor of him being a chinese national was any better. And I too was looking at my infant son thinking what the hell is coming to this world and what can we do to stop this madness, where someone is so upset that everyone is happy that he has to mow them down with bullets?

I wonder what drove him to do this as well -- but in part I can't help but think that all aspects of his community failed him, including his ethnic one. Could it be that his parents pushed him too hard? Or did the other kids at his local church and their parents think he was a freak of nature all his life? Come on churchgoers out there, you know this happens all the time. Church like life is filled with good as well as not so good, bullying being one of them. Bullying comes in many forms --- monentary based bullying being possibly the most common in many upwardly mobile environments.

Centerville and most of NoVA is heavily korean and it's not like this kid was living in the middle of nowhere without other people just like him. Even if living the burdensome life of a 'model minority' sucked, even if he heard things like "gook" and "chink" -- you'd think that he could have turned somewhere where people would care for him. But for whatever reasons people checked out on him and consequently he checked out on all of us, with tragic consequences.

Flora said...

Woah. Hold on.

I was at Simon's Rock when the shooting happened there in 1992. Listening to this recent news has been upsetting, but when they said the suspect was an Asian man, I almost drove off the road.

The shooter at my school was a Taiwanese immigrant. For a split second I wondered if he'd gotten out of jail. Doesn't make sense - that he'd get out, or that he'd head there if he did - but that's how the grief-addled mind works.

But I didn't know about the Iowa thing. That changes things a bit. Three of these school shooters were Asian immigrants? Not to make a race thing out of something that's not a race thing, but... could we be missing something?

Full disclosure: I know dozens of Asian men who will never shoot anyone. One of them is my husband. He's Korean, and has been going through the horror and shame the rest of you describe. Lately he's always turning up the news, and I'm always turning it off.

Kathy said...

Like many of you I've been waiting for the race card to played by the media, but I must admit I haven't seen it. Either I've missed something or maybe there is hope.

Unlike some of you, my initial reaction to this was just horror at the senseless loss of so many lives--I really don't give a shit who the shooter was or the ethnicities/races of the victims. In my heart and mind these things just don't matter right now. I hope that everyone who is moved by this tragedy is able to see it for what is: a completely senseless loss of promising human lives--sons, daughters, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers... I feel for all the families. And I certainly don't think that Asian Americans or Korean Americans should feel any shame. I don't think race should play a role in our grief or astonishment. I felt the same way after Oklahoma City and 9/11.

SoulSnax said...

Dr. Lo:

First of all, congrats on the arrival of your son. Welcome to the planet, kid. Though it's not a perfect place, I know that you will leave this world better than you found it.

Anyway, I have to say that I am rather impressed with the media in that for the most part, they haven't addressed the issue of his ethnicity as much as I had feared.

But I do feel for those of you Koreans who are feeling a bit anxious. But let me remind you that the reason hardly anyone is focusing on his ethnicity is because from what I have seen, Koreans' contributions to this country (and to this planet) far outweigh the brutality of Cho's rampage on Monday.

Seriously, everyone I've talked to is just surprised to find that the gunman was Korean. It's an anomaly. Most people expected the guy to be white.

Flora said...

Great column: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/19/DDGVHPB07N1.DTL&feed=rss.jcarroll

Flora said...

Sorry, I'm back again.

My (Korean-American) husband and I have been talking about this a lot. He's feeling very self-conscious in public lately. I tell him he's imagining things, he tells me I'm the white devil and I'll never understand, etc., etc., etc.

I, in turn, rant about the only reaction from the Korean-American community being, "It's not us!" Immediately, President Roh issues a statement: "It's not us!" Even the company I work for got a letter from our colleagues in Korea. Only ever a passing mention of the victims, of course. Last night I told my husband I thought it was narcissistic, and completely missing the point. Which made me the white devil again.

It was a nice little, "You don't understand!", "No, you don't understand!" for a while, until we agreed that neither of us understands. We're both having strong reactions to this based on life experiences that the other will never have. We both need a little gentleness right now.

The Beast Mom said...

Thanks for you perspective on this. I was just talking to my husband last night and trying to understand more what he as a Korean male feels about it. His thought were tossing and turning like yours.


Erin said...

My initial thoughts after finding that the killer was a young Asian student was utter disbelief. I, like most of my friends and families, thought that it was a White man. Because in my opinion, they are typically the one's who "snap" and go on a killing rampage...

But that's wrong too, right? I get offended when people stereotype African Americans into being violent, criminal, & automatically guilty of the alleged acts; yet I also stereotype serial killers and crazy men who lose control and kill innocent victims as White men.

I blame the media and of course some of the blame belongs to me as well. But the media perpetuates this division among Americans by using race because they know it's still something that is still used to separate ourselves from mainstream America: Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans.

But everytime we act upon one of those fears, we are indeed making the situation worse. So let's stop doing that. Let's stop being afraid when we see two or ten Black men walking in the streets wearing doorags and baggy t-shirts. Let's stop assuming that Asians or Hispanics can't commit these types of heinous crimes while only suspecting Whites. Let's stop making things be about race. Because it has nothing to do with the color of the person's skin or what ethnic culture they belong to.

When I think about Cho, I don't think about the fact that he was Korean (or Korean American). I see a troubled, angry, dangerous individual who fits the profile of a monster. Not an Asian. Not an American. Not a person. I don't blame his parents. I don't blame his friends or lack thereof. I don't blame V tech. There were a lot of things that brought Cho to this point, including mental illness. But I blame Cho because's he could have gotten help and saved his life and 32 others. He belonged to a gun culture. He belonged to a culture that revered violence and revenge. He was a member of your race...but sometimes that's the only thing that ties someone to a group. It's a definition of who he was, and it's not a definition of what mass murderers are, and it's not a definition of who Korean and Korean/American or Asian American men can do.

And of course, I blame the fact that we Americans view the right bear arms as the right to hunt human life and we have not come together to address this issue even though millions have died from gun violence and I fear that number will only continue to escalate.

Anonymous said...

My husband came to the states from Taiwan when he was 9 years old, and was teased all through school as well--for looking different, for having an accent, for being a little bit slower to "get" things like slang, jokes, etc.

But he grew up into a strong, kind, gentle person and I couldn't imagine spending my life with anyone else.

The bottom line is that this kid had a chemical imbalance that prevented him from filtering out the abuse, and getting on with his life like everyone else. This should be a discussion of mental illness, not of race.

daddy in a strange land said...

Check out our own InstantYang's piece on this at Salon.com:


Hannatu said...

I just want to tell you that our family (Caucasian Americans) have many Korean friends. It's never good to stereo-type a race, but if I were to do so, I would have to say that this young man's behavior was very a-typical of Koreans. He was messed-up, but not because he was Korean. Be proud of who you are.

Dr. Lo Siento said...


LUCAS said...

Thank you for your insight and words that many in the Korean American community are feeling right now. I too have many misgivings about the fact that the shooter was Korean. It obviously affects my perspective of the events, however, I also feel selfish in my reaction, making this event about me rather than feeling for the families and friends of those lost in the tragedy. I've posted my reactions on my blog here: http://adventuresinbabygrowing.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

I guess I just will never agree with why Korean Americans feel "ashamed" simply because the shooter happened to be of Korean decent. It's like saying Polish Americans should feel ashamed because the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski turned out to be Polish. Or European Americans should feel ashamed because Tim McVeigh was caucasion. Makes no sense to me.

I understand and respect that it is a Korean culture phenomenon where the "whole" is greater than the "individual." But I just don't agree with it. The only people that should feel ashamed is the shooter himself.


Trixie said...

Thank you for sharing. As an adoptive parent-to-be of an Asian child in a community full of young Asian transplants, I explored this train of thought for sometime. We had a gathering of transracial adopters this weekend and discussed the subject in some detail. Oddly enough while we worried about how OTHERS were absorbing and handling this information, none of us were really shocked or concerned with the race factor. We were saddened that any PERSON would contemplate this type of self-expression. We felt saddened for those young people who might look upon this killer and wonder how his racial identity and their own racial identity relate. Drawing comparisons just isn't factual. He is not representative of your hertitage. Murder in America happens in all communities by persons of all heritages. We see nothing in this action that reflects negatively on the Korean or Asian community. NOTHING. Please don't let the actions of this one young man cause you to feel shame...