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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston Asian-American Students Respond to VA Tech Aftermath

As media coverage of the April 16 killings at Virginia Tech has poured forth, students, staff, and faculty on campus have found various ways to express our personal and collective grief and outrage. Some of us have had additional concerns, questions, insights, and fears because of our experiences as Asian Americans and our involvement in the field of Asian American Studies.

Based on initial background facts concerning the shooter, Sueng-Hui Cho- his age of immigration and likely conflicts with Virginia peers in terms of race, language, and culture as well as his parents’ struggles, financial hardship, and health risks as immigrant workers in the dry cleaning industry- it was easy to see and feel possible sources of rage and resentment. But given the absence of Asian American reporters and editors in mainstream media, especially those with Korean language skills, few stories pursued these themes.

I thought about how schools and families need more Asian Americans with bilingual/bicultural skills to serve as teachers, counselors, and advocates in both regular and special education. At UMB we have Graduate College of Education Professor Lusa Lo who is an expert on learning disabilities, special education, and Asian immigrant populations. Other faculty such as Prof. Rajini Srikanth, who directs the University Honors Program and is the elected president of the National Association for Asian American Studies, and Prof. Karen Suyemoto, who is the elected vice-president of the National Asian American Psychological Association, have worked so that their national associations make public statements about the VA Tech tragedy.

Others on campus, undergraduate and graduate students and faculty connected to Asian American Studies, have been sharing their own perspectives as well. Some are offered here anonymously in the spirit of sharing, learning, and community building, choosing not to be quiet or alone.

***

…Yesterday morning, I received a call from the mother of one of my Korean-American students in Acton High School. She learned from the news that a South Korean man was responsible for the killings at VA Tech and she was really scared. She was afraid to send her children (one in high school and another in elementary school) to school and she was saying that she was glad that it was spring break. She asked me for advice in terms of what to do to prevent/deal with possible negative outcomes against Korean Americans/South Koreans. She was also concerned about stereotypical imagery the media used in describing the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui. Although she didn’t describe the terms she was concerned about I assume that they must have been the same red flags raised for me such as ‘He was very calm’, ‘loner’, ‘quiet normal Asian guy.’

***

…I also think, ‘Please don’t tell me the shooter is Chinese’. If yes, oh my god, we will be facing a big racial catastrophe either in America or other countries… At some point, I am mean and selfish because I was glad that the shooter wasn’t Chinese. Although all media has clarified the murderer is an Asian-Korean, how much does it help that Asian is not equal to Chinese. The misconception is still in Americans’ mind. This morning is my first time to get on the T after the news of Virginia Tech was released. Suddenly I’ve a feeling that would other people think I am a Korean, would they think I am or my family is very dangerous, you know? Most Americans can’t tell the actual ethnicity by a person’s appearance…

***

…Today, I found someone who kept asking every Asian person they saw if they were Korean. I think it was very cruel and ignorant for that person to ask the Asian person that and make assumptions about that person through other people’s actions…

***

…My Africana Studies teacher said that every time a person of color causes a great tragedy, the media feels the need to point out what race he was, but this doesn’t happen when the person is white. I feel that after taking an Asian American Studies course, I get the sense that all issues regarding Asian Americans affect me in some way because what happened might project fear against Korean immigrants and someone may take on racist actions against us when we did nothing wrong… ***

…The shooter was Asian. He was Korean, but that does not mean anything specific to the general public. He is Asian. I feel like all Asians are under threat now by association. After all, ‘Asians all look alike’. Had the shooter been white, I think most people would try to rationalize his actions by saying he was psychologically unstable or something along those lines. When race is factored in, and also the immigrant status, America feels threatened not by an individual, but by the imagined fear of foreigners and their place in American society. America has a history of blaming entire races and victimizing… I’m starting to think that we will never learn from our mistakes…

***

…We should think about the effects this has on Asian students who can face prejudice/stereotypes as a result of this shooting. Students on campus are generally friendly with each other, but there are still those who do not have an understanding of racial relations or the effects of this shooting. I think a dialogue or announcement should be made on campus…

***

…Seeing all the coverage on him and seeing his manifesto, he was a kid who was lonely, quiet, and was picked on. This senseless act brings up a point of being social awkward in today’s society. It is a thing that I as well as some of my Asian students have experienced due to a probable sheltered upbringing and the fact that they love to hide in their rooms to study and play video games. People see it as being ‘quiet’ and ‘reserved’ but it is really the sense that they just do not have the capability to talk to people normally and to interact with others normally. This leads to a feeling of despair and the feeling that the world is against them in some way.

***

Complementing our students’ critical clarity and engagement, we are fortunate to have strong and deep faculty commitments at UMass Boston. The final three voices reflect painful, personal ways that Cho’s actions triggered responses from individual faculty members with affiliations in Asian American Studies, Latino Studies, and Africana Studies respectively.

***

My son felt that apart from the shooter’s mental health problems, there might be more complex reasons such as how he was treated in middle school: bullied, pushed around and laughed at. He said he had similar experiences when he was in primary and middle school but he was glad he grew out of it. The cultural, language, life experience, ethnic differences may make Asians feel marginalized, especially Asian males who may find difficult to adjust- mental health problems will make things even worse. It would be good if we could organize a campus discussion on this important issue, how our students feel about this.

***

As a Puerto Rican, I can attest to the difficulties I felt in my college years in trying to connect to others, and the constant feeling of rejection, real or not, that I felt during these early years. Being from a different culture is sometimes seen as odd, or just a negative characteristic, making many of us disconnect with the rest.

***

My best friend in high school was a Chinese-American young woman. The two of us bonded over both being victimized by the ‘popular kids’ – all white- who would hurl racial slurs at us on almost a daily basis. I always tried to defend her, and she would defend me. Nevertheless, we both got scarred by those mean-spirited actions. I started writing an editorial about Cho, assuming that he had perhaps experienced the same kind of trauma, even before getting all of the facts about his video confession, because I just knew it! I knew, intuitively, that such hate is only caused by others hating and abusing you.

***

For anyone who finds connections or insights from the voices presented above regarding VA Tech and Seung-hui Cho, I suggest that it would also be helpful to see how Asian American Studies students articulate and prioritize their concerns here at our own campus. Indeed, at the end of March, a core group of students in Asian American Studies released a document titled, “After 20 Years… Nine Priority Issues for Asian and Asian American Students at UMass Boston,” which outlines a series of concerns ranging from student advising and faculty/staff hiring to the curriculum and racial climate on campus. In the document’s opening paragraph, they state:

“As undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled at UMass Boston, we have benefited from the curriculum, support services, and access provided by our urban public university. We have also faced discouragement, inequity, and neglect. We write this document in order to bring attention to both aspects of our university experience- what is helping and also what is hurting.”

This document is available from students in the Asian American Studies Program office (W-2-097).

Furthermore, beginning on May 1, students led by Son-ca Lam, Janet Vo, and Sue Lambe, along with staff such as Shiho Shinke and faculty such as Profs. Ping-Ann Addo, Paul Watanabe, and Andrew Leong will be presenting a two-week series of educational and cultural events in honor of Asian/Pacific-American Heritage Month. Some activities will specifically respond to issues related to the VA Tech killings. Others will address topics such as Black-Asian relations, post-9/11 racial dynamics, and Cambodian intergenerational communication. Students from Prof. Shirley Tang’s Asian American Media Literacy course (AsAmSt 370) will exhibit their digital story projects and students from Prof. James Bui’s Resources for Vietnamese American Studies course (AsAmSt 294) will share their work with rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast Vietnamese communities of New Orleans and Biloxi. The centerpiece of the commemoration will be the opening of an Asian American Stories art installation in the campus center produced by local artist/activist Tri Quach and a culminating spoken word performance by renowned Vietnamese American poet from Minneapolis, Bao Phi. The full schedule is also available from the AsAmSt Program office.

This is not a time to be quiet. Or alone.

Dr. Peter Kiang is Professor of Education and Director of the Asian American Studies Program. He is the 2007 recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award.