Virginia Tech … although most of the nation has moved on to other headlines, Virginia Tech has not faded from my memory. As each day passes, I can’t help but feel the same mixed emotions I had during the 1992 L.A. Riots: anger, bafflement, and sadness. In both cases, the media played with the lives, fortunes, and futures of Korean Americans, portraying them as foreigners who did not belong in the U.S.
Like Seung-Hui, I came to the U.S. at an early age and consider the U.S. my home. I doubt that I would survive if I was dropped off in South Korea. Consequently, I was quite disturbed – and even angry at times – to see the media distort Seung-Hui Cho’s name and identify him as a foreign alien. I am even more baffled by the fact that even after over 150 years of history and contribution to this country, Asian Americans can still be mistreated as foreigners by today’s media. As I braced myself with other Korean and Asian Americans for the potential backlash from the Virginia Tech massacre, the whole ordeal saddened me deeply. Because of our country’s racism and ignorance, minority communities are forced to deal with the tragic action of one person.
There is no denying Seung-Hui Cho was one sick individual whose wild rampage was senseless and tragic. At the same time, I can’t help but mourn and wonder whether or not this tragedy could have been averted if Seung-Hui had early intervention. For too long, Asian American communities have been ignored or left out of policy, program, and funding decisions under the justification of being “model minorities.” Only recently, studies are acknowledging that monolingual Asians and their families are underserved in this country. Such short-sighted decisions are costing many innocent lives, and taking a huge toll on the community and the country. For example, juvenile delinquency for Asian Americans has increased while it has decreased for other groups in the last 20 years. Asian Americans suffer from high suicide, depression, and domestic violence rates.
Last year, the Korean American community and its family challenges received some attention by mainstream media, including the LA Times and The Washington Post, when three Korean American men committed family murder suicides, killing their spouses, their children, and themselves, all during a one-week period. In all three cases, there were serious business, financial, and marriage problems, even though they had projected the appearance of wealth, good education, and the typical model minority image. Although these stories are just the tip of the iceberg, the tragedies and problems that exist in the Asian American community are often ignored or simply not covered. Just two weeks ago, a Korean woman killed her husband and then herself. This week, a Korean American man confessed to killing both his wife and mother in law.
The need for accessible, comprehensive, and culturally and linguistically sensitive services is great – yet adequate resources are still not allocated for the Asian American community. How many Seung-Hui Chos does this country need to see before policy makers, government officials, and others starting paying some serious attention to the Asian American community? How many more innocent lives will be lost before there is serious action?
Virginia Tech is a wake up call to the nation. Asian Americans are no different than any other American in that we all want to be part of the American dream. When any segment of society is left out and left without hope, the rest of our society bears the consequences.
Hyepin Im is the the Founder and President of Korean Churches for Community Development (KCCD).