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the haunt April 29, 2007

Posted by peterong in Asian American, Immigrant Church, Korean American, racism, Rants, Reflections.
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Mourners visit the Drillfield, where 32 stones are set out for shooting victims. Laura Stanley places flowers on the site of the 33rd stone – the killer’s stone. DELORES JOHNSON/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

There seems to be a twilight of thoughts in regards to the VT incident and as much of the discussion around the Asian American blogs have give a perspective of how Cho’s ethnicity as an Asian American has made an impact in the APA Christian community. DJ Chuang’s summary of what is being said and preached on in the Asian American church gives an overview of the sermons by Asian American regarding this tragedy.

But I think that it was a moment of exploitation for the Asian American community to make this an Asian American issue (as much as the media kept echoing “South Korean” and “Korean” as a descriptive) but later rescinded that as the Asian American community called the media on it. I realize that that Cho was Asian and came from an immigrant family background but as the story unfolds, there is little to nothing to attribute to what happened on that horrible Monday. His ethnicity did not play a major factor or added to any meaning to the motives of Cho. So, what we did (and we seem to always do…) is to make it into an opportunity to speak (or should I say “vent”) out on issues that have little to nothing to do with this. But it fueld the unwanted attention of Cho’s ethnicity and yet we wanted our cake and eat…don’t identify him as Korean! But let’s all explore this…I don’t know how to reconcile that…

But what I find interesting is the “collective shame” as reported in several media outlets as Time magazine and the Associated Press. In one interview on ABC, it was quoted…

“How your child turns out is a reflection on you,” said Katherine Moon, a Korean-American and associate fellow at the Asia Society. “Their son has, in effect, killed them too. The Cho family has been destroyed — obliterated by their own son. You don’t recover from this,” she said.

I think that in the arena of “collective shame” is one that we can discuss and see how we can enter into a reclaiming of the gospel’s power to redeem this aspect of our culture. To deconstruct this “shame-based” gospel into one of redemption and forgiveness…One of the moving picture of this tragedy was the memorials that were made for each of the victims and there was one for Cho (see article here, here and here). How forgiveness among the community who lost the most…What most of the Asian American bloggers and minister who wrote about it seemed a bit removed and wanted to chime in as a opposed to reflect on this on a collective mourning of lives who were cut short on the threshold of so much hope. But instead we aligned and obssessed our thoughts and fueled the collective shame of the killer. That was what seemed most easy to do and so hollow.

As the bell chimed 33 times this past Monday…the community did what seemed impossible…to forgive and not react in ethnic shame or outrage towards this lost young man but built a memoria and rang a bell one more time…to remind us of the loss that day. To cry. To read each profile of the victims and pray. To send a regards to the community. To celebrate the brilliant lives of these short lived people…To join in sorrow…to be part of the loss and the recovery….Instead we clustered into a cloistered parlor and speculated on the dispassionate ramifications of this on the Asian American community.

This was what moved me most and we lost an opportunity to gather at memorial stones…to acknowledge those who were lost…instead, we made this a moment of validation for our ethnic rants irregardless of its relevance or lack of.

I think L.A. Times Op-Ed by Gregory Rodriguez echoed what my sensibilities were to not be lured by the ethnic trap that this was so easily done. I have posted the whole content here as an closing thought…

Gunman was one of us

The Virginia Tech killer is a reflection on all of us, not just a single ethnic group.

Gregory Rodriguez

April 23, 2007

WHAT IF YOU don’t have anything in common with your brother? What if you live on different continents? What if you’ve never even met the man? Are you still his keeper?

In a diverse nation such as ours, there is always that expectant pause after a major violent tragedy, between the moment we hear the news and when we’re told who did it. In that time, we tend to look around the proverbial room and wonder from which group the perpetrator came. Last week, the point of origin was South Korea, and Seung-hui Cho’s ethnic “brothers” in Asia and the U.S. grappled with their relationship to him.

Of course, a murderer’s ethnic, religious or racial background is relevant only if he is acting on what he thinks is a tribal imperative — like the Armenian teenager who gunned down the Turkish consul in L.A. in 1982, or the 2001 plot by Jewish Defense League leaders to bomb the office of Arab American Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).

But even when ethnicity or race add little to the understanding of motive, there is still the “need” to know. It’s scary to think that everyone and anyone is capable of murderous rage. So if the bad guy can be pigeonholed based on skin color, origin or class, the fear can be focused, one group at a time.

Such profiling is silly for lots of reasons, not least that we live in a country that exalts individual over group identity. Not long after Timothy McVeigh slaughtered 168 people in Oklahoma City, I caught myself profiling a potential threat outside the Federal Building in Westwood. I saw a working-class, blond white male with a mullet cut running toward the building, and I jumped.

Although I understand the unfortunate tendency to consciously or unconsciously ascribe responsibility by group, I still don’t think governments and ethnic organizations should endorse this sort of stereotyping. After the Virginia Tech killer’s identity was released last week, the South Korean president and many Korean American associations did just that.

Even though 23-year-old Cho was a permanent resident in the U.S., South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun felt obliged to issue at least three messages of condolences for an act that occurred far away from the Korean peninsula.

Here in the U.S., Korean American organizations issued cravenly self-serving condolence statements to the victims of the massacre. In a news release, one organization promised that “the Korean American community will join the efforts of others in tackling the root causes of these senseless school shootings that continue to endanger our children and young adults.” In L.A.’s Koreatown, there was a candlelight vigil held, well, in clear daylight.

Although part of this ethnic reaction is driven by fear of a backlash, South Korea’s famously defensive nationalism also plays a role. Hunkered down in the shadow of China and Japan, South Korea has always felt a need to watch its back.

Ultimately, though, any reaction that reinforces primitive notions of racial or ethnic collective responsibility is headed for absurdity. That includes the scramble on the part of Koreans to express special outrage over the murders, and the mainstream’s desire to move Cho to a convenient margin. Late last week, U.S. news outlets tried to draw connections between Cho’s menacing self-portrait with a hammer and South Korean film director Park Chan Wook’s gory 2005 psycho-drama, “Oldboy.”

But the truth is that Cho was an American kid. He had lived in the United States since he was 8, and he was clearly immersed in the dark side of U.S. popular culture. In his video ramblings, he compared himself to the Columbine killers; he spoke English-major English.

All of us knew Cho, and, like it or not, he was one of “us,” not the ultimately elusive “them.” His horrific crimes are not a reflection on Korean people — immigrants or Korean Americans — but rather on the state of our cities, campuses, counties and country. We all were, and are, his keepers.

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Comments»

1. Josh - April 30, 2007

very much agreed. To be honest, people here (I go to VT) had no noticeable discrimination against the ethnicity of Seung Cho. Our asian fellowships (CCF and KCCC) were a bit shaken (aka lots of people went home), but nothing else has happened…

2. Jonathan Han - May 3, 2007

your post speaks to me. and i myself am guilty of this collective shame…that somehow the actions of one APA directly affects the entire community, how we can soften the impact and reinforce our defenses. i’m very glad va tech took the route it did, one demonstrating courage and forgiveness. following the massacre, certain SU bigwigs were debating whether to hit a bell 32 or 33 times, whether Cho counted or not. ultimately they chose neither for fear of offending or being non-PC. while they and others weren’t so quick to demonize Cho as subhuman or mentally ill (and hence, more susceptible to violent acts), they chose not to acknowledge him. indifference is just as bad if not worse than ignorance.

i think i may have strayed off-course. anyways i’m glad to have known you, peter, and furthermore to know you’re a fellow brother and worker. i hope our paths may one day cross again.

(i’m curious of your thoughts – http://theresurgence.com/md_blog_2007-04-28_banned_church_planting_video)


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