Here’s the guest column I had the privilege of writing for the Seattle Post Intelligencer [published for Tuesday, April 24, 2007]. I’ve also included some other reads I have personally found very moving and insightful. I was limited by time and a word count, but hoped that this ‘guest column’ would be a source of healing, deeper understanding, and blessing to many. I wish I did a better job, [and given them my own title], and spoken from a larger Asian perspective. One clarification I want to make – while I and other Koreans/Asians grieve and feel pain and ‘shame’ over Seung Hui Cho, we are not the victims in this tragedy. My hope was to convey that no matter who or what we are, we are all connected to one another – not just because of our ethnic identity but our larger human collective and narrative. Because of the invitation to address the larger Washington readership, I chose not to be preachy. Much of this editorial comes from some initial thoughts shared in a blog entry from last week entitled, ‘Making Sense of the Senseless.’
Here’s the direct link to the Seattle PI column:
Like everyone else — here (Seattle), there (Virginia), West (United States), East (Korea) and everywhere (the larger world), I have been shocked and horrified over the Virginia Tech shooting. I have been trying to make sense of something that is senseless.
Personally, the emotions have been even more convoluted because of my bicultural identity. I was born in Korea, immigrated to the United States at the age of 6 and thus am Korean American. I am also a U.S. citizen; I am a Korean American male immigrant and even share the same surname as the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho.
Once I discovered that the gunman was Korean American, I had some initial fears of racial backlash. As a proud citizen of this country, I do not believe there will be any overt backlash. It would be nonsensical for people to associate the heinous crime to Koreans or Korean Americans 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 City bombings of 1995.
But in the days after the identity of the gunman was revealed, many in the media and larger culture may have been perplexed by the responses of Koreans and Korean Americans. Many Koreans expressed embarrassment, shame and even guilt. State Sen. Paul Shinn fought back his tears as he apologized to fellow lawmakers. Even despite being reassured by others that an apology was not necessary, he continued.
Although I personally don’t feel the need to directly apologize for the actions of Seung-Hui Cho, I understand why Shinn and others feel the need to do so. Although not apologetic, I share in deep pain, embarrassment and shame. I share in the deep pain because when I see images of this young man, I don’t just see a “crazy Asian killer,” I also see someone whose life story sounds very similar to mine. Such words as lonely, isolated and quiet were often used to describe my younger life as I struggled to fit in as an immigrant.
I share in embarrassment and shame because I see Seung-Hui Cho as a part of my larger community. As Koreans or Korean Americans, we share not only similar life stories but also a communal bond. Contrary to perhaps the more “individualistic” worldview of Westerners, Koreans have a certain communal identity.
One can contend that to be Korean is to be communal. No one is an island to themselves. For that reason, Koreans tend to rejoice and mourn on the successes and failures of fellow Koreans. We rejoice with individuals such as James Sun (“The Apprentice”), Michelle Wie (LPGA golfer), Yul Kwon (“Survivor: Cook’s Island), Hines Ward (NFL player) and Yunjin Kim (ABC’s “Lost”).
And because we are a communal culture — not only as Koreans but also within our Korean American immigrant experience — we mourn and feel deep pain and shame over Seung-Hui Cho.
Last week, someone asked me “Why am I mourning? Is it because of the one or the 32”? For me, and many Korean Americans, the answer is both. We are mourning because of the 33. We are mourning because great pain and harm have been inflicted upon the lives of 32 individuals and their loved ones — each one with beautiful lives, stories, dreams and futures.
We are mourning because the one, Seung-Hui Cho — a part of us — chose to commit a horrible act of violence and devastation. Last week, my wife and I have broken down in tears in random situations. We cry and pray for the 32, their families, the students and community at Blacksburg, but also cry for Seung-Hui Cho and his family. We cry because in him, we see a younger brother. And so, we grieve for the 33.
Although I know that it is not necessary to apologize, I do want to share these words. On behalf of Koreans and Korean Americans, I want to extend our deepest condolences and love to all the families of those affected by the tragedy at Virginia Tech. It is my sincere hope and prayer — that no matter who or what we are — we grow to understand we are all connected to one another.
May each of us take to heart the ministry of reconciliation, the pursuit of justice for the oppressed and ‘other’ and be peacemakers.
Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
Worthwhile Relevant Reads:
Cho Family Statement [Sun Kyung Cho], Guilt, Shame,and Corporate Identity [elderj],To Blame is Human [James Choung], A Lesson in Your Apology [Philadelphia Enquire Editorial], One of Our Own [Bo Lim], Nikki Giovanni Convocation Address [N. Giovanni], Making Sense of the Senseless Comment [rk], Va Tech VictimsPics & Stories [NY Times], and Silence of a Murderer’s Mother [Diana Bass].