As we all begin to reflect on the week that has passed, I think I can safely say I’m done with the 24-hour coverage, I’m done with the pulling-apart of every one of the killer’s last words. I’m done with psychiatrists, criminologists, landlords and experts. Seung-Hui Cho was a mentally unstable student who committed the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. We will never know the full story, his actions will never be justified or excused, and do any of these opinions or analyzed conclusions make it any less painful? Now, the attention begins to turn inward, for all of us to reflect on what we can learn from this, how to start the healing process and, most importantly, to remember the lives that have been lost.
For me, reporting the news from a young person’s perspective, from the community of my peers, I am mostly tuned in to the images of the unending grief of the students at Tech and the shock and fear of young people on campuses all across this country. To me, this perspective is the only one that really matters anymore.
So, I’ve been continually stunned to see how in very subtle ways people have been trying to create a false sense of truth by attributing Cho’s “foreign-ness” as part of the answer. When we are continuously bombarded with media headlines or sound bites that use the words “Virginia Tech Massacre” and “Korean National,” a subtle connection is made. The assumption is made that somehow Cho’s place of birth, his immigrant status, has something to do with the massacre. It doesn’t matter if the rest of an article goes on to talk about Cho’s schizophrenia or troubled past or gun control or violent movies, the implication is there. Cho is a foreigner, let’s get that straight from the beginning, let’s make sure that’s part of the conversation.
I’ve been struggling to understand how some have found comfort in identifying Cho Seung-Hui as a foreigner, as an immigrant and as someone who is certainly not American. It’s just a seemingly slight change of language, dropping the word “American” from “Korean-American” and replacing it with “national.” You also put his last name first, like they do in “other” countries. There you have it; suddenly, he’s not one of us.
Up until this week, I had never heard the term “Korean national.” But in the first 24 hours, before we knew anything about his identity, other than his race, apparently, all the news outlets could agree on — the one description, the one identifier that made sense — was that Cho Seung-Hui was a “Korean national.” I am a permanent legal resident of this country, I was born in Korea, my parents came to America for a better life for our family, I’ve lived here nearly my whole life, and even though I consider myself through and through Korean and American, I guess when it comes down to it, anyone can take away my identity. It doesn’t belong to me.
There has been a proliferation of groups on Facebook, blogs and online chatter about how Cho’s foreign status should factor into the conversation about the deadliest shooting massacre in American history. I’m confused why anyone would want to discuss if Cho should be allowed to be buried in this country, or how someone would write that a “foreigner should never be allowed in this country to kill real Americans.”
This is how the voices of the few can distract all of us from having the real conversation — the one that tried to determine why, in the wealthiest country in the world, in the land of opportunity, we continue to use violence as a means to express personal frustration. Because in the end, all any of us wants is to find a way to make sure this never happens again.
Read “Students From Across U.S. Respond To Shootings: ’It Is Beyond Unsettling’ “ , “On Virginia Tech Campus: ’I Can’t Believe This Happened Here’ “ , “Gunshots ’Sounded Like A Hammer’: Virginia Tech Students Speak About Shootings” and ” ’People Are Missing’: VT Student Reflects On Loss Of Friend” for firsthand accounts from the Virginia Tech campus and additional student reactions.
Go to “Virginia Tech Students Reach Out To One Another” and “Virtual Memorial, MySpace Pages Help VT Mourners Cope Online” to find out how students are coping with the tragedy.
And read ” ’The Scariest Moment Of My Life’: A Timeline Of VT Shootings” for a timeline of the tragedy.