April 20, 2007

Commentary:

Cho Was Like Me — But Don’t Judge Our Community

By Autumn Lee

SAN FRANCISCO — The story of Virginia Tech University student Seung Hui Cho, 23, a Korean-American who shot and killed 33 people (including himself) touched me in a weird way. Cho was a lot like me: a permanent resident with a green card who came to the United States from Korea in 1992. I was two then. He was eight.

I am a proud Korean-American young woman living in San Francisco and a junior at Galileo High School. I will be applying to colleges this November, hoping to get into the University of California at Davis or Cornell University in New York.

A lot of Koreans, like my family, immigrate to the United States thinking it’s going to turn their lives into something magical. I am anxious to go to college and become “successful” like my parents expect.

When you come to the United States at an age when you are already used to one culture you tend to struggle more. Luckily I came here when I was a toddler and had an easy time adjusting.

My family is a lot like Cho’s — very devout Christians. A boy at my church who is 13 came to the United States about a year or two ago. He struggles more than his little brother. He is the oldest and is expected to know more English and to be smarter. He gets hated on and punked by the older guys in church because he isn’t used to the way teens joke and ridicule each other in America. He makes smart remarks that piss people off, trying to fit in, but he just seems annoying.

The boy in my church has no friends to talk with about his personal problems because he lacks social skills. I know how sad he must be. I have huge empathy for him because I also get made fun of for being slow and stupid. Sometimes I wonder why I tolerate the disrespect and hold my feelings inside. I think there are a lot of people who experience similar problems.

I do not know how many Koreans are in Virginia, but according to his classmates he was a loner. He probably felt like crap. At Galileo we have a Wellness Center that provides free and confidential counseling, among other services. Your parents do not have to know about it and students are able to receive the help they need. I wonder if Cho had the same resources on his campus and if he did, did he utilize them?

I wonder how his parents are right now, knowing that their son caused the Virginia Tech massacre. Koreans, and other Asians, tend to deny any problems in their families. One of my teachers told me he had an Asian student who he thought was schizophrenic but the student’s parents refused to get him treatment. A lot of people are probably pointing their fingers at Cho’s parents, telling them they raised a bad son who brought disgrace to their family and the entire Korean community.

But how is one guy’s shooting spree a disgrace to an entire community? After the stories about nuclear weapons in North Korea came out some people at my school started calling Koreans “Kim Jong Il” — the North Korean dictator. The Virginia Tech incident will probably add another black eye to Koreans’ reputation, but it won’t change how I think about myself as a Korean-American. What someone else in the Korean community did does not change who I am.

Thinking about going to college next year is exciting, yet scary. I am anxious about finding friends and the other problems I might face. What if I get so depressed that I want to hurt people I believe caused my problems? Will I get the help I need? Will I have someone to talk to? Will I be judged by who I am and not what Cho did? I bet everyone has had times when they felt like Cho, lonely and isolated with no one to turn to.

Autumn Lee, 17, is a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia a project of New America Media.

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