Update: Read the article I wrote for the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
Like everyone else – here [Seattle], there [Virginia], West [United States, East [Korea], and everywhere, I am trying to make sense of something that is simply – senselesss. Personally, the emotions have been even more convoluted because I am Korean-American. I am a Korean immigrant [immigrated at the age of 6] and understand the immigrant experience; I am a Korean-American Immigrant Male [who even shares the same last name - 'C-H-O' - as the gunman]. I am a Christian pastor involved in the institution of Religion that Seung Hui Cho criticized and expressed disappointment. For these reasons, many have asked, called, IM’d, and emailed asking me to share some of my thoughts – as a person, a Christian, an immigrant, a pastor, but especially as a Korean-American man. I’m sharing some thoughts [some which are still in vomitaceous process] in hopes that we can dialogue here – that it may serve as part of the healing and redemptive process.
Monday night was an incredibly eerie day for me. After watching the news with incredulity and horror, I posted a blog entry about the tragedy in Virginia Tech. About 9pm [PST], I began to literally have over hundred people instantaneously get to my blog in a span of two hours.
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As I examined my dashboard through wordpress, it was fairly obvious to me that while the news wouldn’t be shared to the larger world until the next morning, there was strong suspicion - perhaps through authorities or through some of the student body - that the gunman may have been someone named Seung [Hui] Cho. I was speechless, ashamed, angry, and afraid. [You can also add 'guilty' because of my selfishness. Like others, I felt "pathetic" in wishing the person wasn't Korean or Asian...I became more self-focused rather on mourning with those who have suffered in the tragedy].
Some vomitaceous thoughts, questions, and reflections:
1 We need to remember, foremost, that lives have been dramatically impacted. 33 people have died. 32 who were completely innocent. Each person that died or was severely injured has a name, a story, a family, a passion, a dream, and a life. Let’s not forget that in the midst of the media frenzy. This is a must read.
2 It’s clear that Seung Cho was unhealthy, unstable, disturbed, ill [schizophrenia?], angry, lost, and [place your words here]. But that’s the only clear thing. I needed the turn the TV off because the ‘stretching’ for information, analysis, scrutiny, and answers to who, what, where, when, and why was overly speculative. Compare the reporting of Fox News and BBC News…
While I understand the need for ‘why,’ we’re simply not going to know the full picture. While Seung’s action were horrible and evil [and premeditated], we must remind ourselves that he too is a human being - as difficult as that might be. Knowing some of the dynamics of the Asian/Korean culture and the synthesis of pain, guilt, and shame, I am sincerely worried for his family – particularly his parents. They, too, are victims in this story. Update: read the statement issued by Sun Kyung Cho and her family.
One thing that the media won’t touch is the simple and painful matter: Evil exists in our world. There is a spiritual dimension that the media won’t discuss but the church must engage. As much as we seek to create a perfect world [and it is a worthwhile pursuit], this will not be the first nor will it be the first murder or tragedy.
3 why do the media keep calling him ‘cho’? he has a first name… maybe it’s me, but i’m tired of hearing and reading my last name. couple folks actually emailed me [from other parts of the country] through the blog to ask if i’m related to seung.
4 Will there be racial backlash? Do Asians and Koreans need to fear? On the most part, I do not believe there will be overt backlash but there are always going to be pockets of people that will be stupid and do stupid things. It would be nonsenical for people to associate this violent act to Koreans or Asians simply because of Seung Hui Cho’s ethnicity. In that same vein, it would have been preposterous and unjust for us to place blame on African-Americans for the actions of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in the ‘Beltway Sniper attacks’ of 2002 or to ask White Americans to share blame with Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma bombings of 1995.
But the question must be asked. How is the media influencing the construct of the national consciousness? That’s a worthwhile question for me. In the early reporting, I was perturbed that Seung was being referred to as ‘the Asian killer’ and ‘the Korean killer.’ While he is Asian and Korean, the media needs to be more responsible in their sensational reporting. What do you think?
As one commenter replied in an earlier posting:
i definitely wish/ hope that most would not see the shooter as representative of all asians, but in america, if the person in question is not a white, heterosexual, protestant, middle class, educated man, then their race, creed and color seems to always be part of the equation. he has been marked as the resident alien from abroad who came into our land and terrorized us, and with our heightened fear of the other, this situation seems to be full of potential for type casting and APIA caricatures. and i think if these kinds of caricatures flourish (as they did with mid-easterners post 9/11), then it’s not unreasonable to fear violent reprisal. and so while i certainly hope that people can view the event as isolated, i know that it’s very difficult for our culture to separate media representations of people groups from ‘reality.’
5 Why are Koreans/Asians afraid of backlash? My hope is that in the midst of this tragedy, a small glimpse will be captured of the Asian-American [immigrant] experience. Asians and particularly, Korean-Americans are xenophobic. Historically, Koreans have been invaded, pillaged, and exploited…one of the foremost Korean historians Ki-Baek Lee refers to Korea as ”the prostitute of Asia.” From an immigrant experience, two very formative events in modern Asian American history impact our responses as Asian-Americans - particularly those who are older. In my opinion, the most significant event in modern Asian-American history is the story of Vincent Chin - a Chinese American man beaten to death by a baseball bat by two white auto industry workers – outside of a club during his bachelor party. Even worse, the white men were acquitted. For Korean Americans, the most significant event in their modern history is the LA riots and specifically, Sai-I-Gu (4/29).
The United States is an incredible country and I am a proud citizen of this country; but it’s not a perfect country and while I believe there won’t be an overt backlash, I do worry how it will impact the individual and larger [White] collective view of Asian-Americans, Korean-Americans, “foreigners,” “immigrants” and such. We should agree: if one Asian or Korean is bullied as a result of this, it’s one too many. If one woman is bullied because of her gender, it’s one too many. If one gay person is bullied because of their orientation, it’s one too many.
6 As we mourn for those impacted, we must ask the question, “Why am I mourning?” Are Korean-Americans and Asian-Americans mourning because the perpetrator was Korean [because of shame and/or fear] or because of the larger tragedy? Are we mourning because of the 1 or are we mourning because of the 32? For Koreans, the answer is likely both. We are mourning because of the 33. This is important to understand. To be Korean – culturally – is to be communal. Koreans are interconnected in a communal culture. We rejoice and mourn with the successes and failures of our fellow Koreans or Korean-Americans. We cling and rejoice with individuals like James Sun [The Apprentice], Paul Kim [American Idol], Michelle Wie [LPGA golfer], Yul Kwon [Survivor: Cook's Island], Hines Ward [NFL Football], and Yunjin Kim [ABC's Lost]. And because we are a communal culture – interconnected – not only as Koreans but also within our KA immigrant experience, we mourn and feel deep pain and shame over Seung Hui Cho.
For the larger Anglo worldview, the question must also be asked: Is Seung Hui Cho an “Asian Killer” or “the Korean Killer” or is he a Korean-American [emphasis added] or an American that committed an evil crime? What is the demarcation of what it means to be an American? He immigrated at the age of 8; grew up in Detroit; moved to the suburbs of Washington DC; educated in the States; and was an English major in Virginia Tech.
A great definition of community (Romans 12:15) is when [or if] we choose to “mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.” As Asian-Americans, we must mourn with those who mourn not simply because an Asian was involved in the crime, but because our larger community – our country – is in mourning. This is also our country, our people, our college community…this can’t be their tragedy. this is [must be] our shared tragedy.
7 Why are we so violent as Americans? Should we discuss gun control here? Where do we start? What is our Christian response? Why are so many Christians so adamant about the right to bear arms? Where is that found in the Scriptures? I can cite tons of places about mercy, humility, justice, the oppressed, the poor, the widows…but why such obsession with arms and yet, such silence on the items listed above? How are we as Christians and as consumers feeding the violence acceptance of our culture? Insert pop culture here.
8 The lives of those who have perished must be remembered, cherished and celebrated. Period.
But today alone, nearly 200 people were killed in Bahgdad. It is estimated that approximately 30,000 children will die today because of poverty [according to UNICEF]. That’s 210,000 children this week; a little under 11 million children [five and under] each year.
While this is a horrible tragedy, [one life lost - is one too many] we must commit ourselves to the elevation of the sanctity of life. each person – with a name, a story, a family, a dream, a beauty…
Let’s remain in prayer for those impacted in this shared tragedy; let’s mourn with those who mourn; hope together; and work – whatever faith, ethnicity, country, political affiliation – for the shared responsibility of being a good neighbor.
One last note. As a Korean-American Male Cho Immigrant Christian Pastor, I do have another response:
God is love. Because He is Love, He created order out of chaos. His purpose was love and shalom. We were created for beauty – created in the image of God. Shalom was violated and marred. Our image tainted and cracked. Jesus came to redeem and restore. Invitation is extended to all – including the lonely, the outcast, the marginalized, the rich, the debaucherized, and such. And lest we forget or bathe in our righteousness, we have all fallen short of the glory of God. We are confronted by our depravity. We all need God and thanks be to God, the Lord is not far. He is near.