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Remembering Virginia Tech

Edithstein Cho | Sunday, April 15, 2012

I remember April 16, 2007 because I almost did not go to school that day. When you’re in your high school schedule of waking up at ungodly times to go to school every morning, you remember those rare occasions when you almost got to go back to bed. Any form of parental excuse was a blessing from the heavens in the midst of endless standardized testing.

Today is the fifth anniversary in which we remember the Virginia Tech Massacre. It was the first of a string of tragedies to follow in American school-shooting history. 32 people were shot to death and 22 people were wounded by Seung-hui Cho. The news of the shooting hit the media quickly, especially as a video of the shooter sent to NBC was released. Seung-hui Cho was quickly identified as a son of Korean immigrant parents who struggled with adjusting to school from a young age. He killed two people in a residential hall, then headed over to the classrooms in which he shot at random. At the end, he took his own life.

The world was shocked awake, and the nation went into mourning.

That morning, my race had to do with why I almost didn’t go to school.

I went to a public school in the Twin Cities with 2,500 students. Only handful of Asian-Americans made up classes. In the entire school, there was a fluctuating population of Korean-Americans ranging between 10 and 20.

My mom worried that some ignorant peer might target me for revenge on the shooter. I am Asian-American. Adding a layer to that, I am Korean-American. Then, what struck the strongest chord of fear in my mom was my last name was the same as the shooter’s last name – Cho.

At large, Korean-American communities across the nation froze when they learned about the massacre. College newspapers expressed being extremely worried for future harassments of Asian-American and Korean-American students.

Korean-American communities’ fear stemmed from history and the memory that people hold on to. The Asian-American communities have sorrowful memories of being isolated at times of hardships. April 2012 is also the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots – a sorrowful memory in which the minority communities were looted, and no assistance or police intervention took place during the 15 day-long riot. Such historical facts cannot be divorced from a community when they react. Likewise, the concerns of Civil Rights with the Trayvon Martin case arise from the milieu in which we belong. Trayvon Martin’s death is one of numerous cases of a young black male being shot. Whether or not this one case will be filed as a case of discrimination will not determine if we live in a post-racial society. We do live in a racialized society, whether we like it or not.

Five years ago, I decided not to skip school in fear of accumulating make-up work, because that was what I was more afraid of at the time. When I went to my classes, I was shocked to discover my peers’ obliviousness about the shooting. What turned my world around seemed to have affected no one else. I did not complain about how I did not have to explain that I am not related to the shooter if any targeting was to happen. However, I did know my facts about how there are over 1.7 million Korean-Americans and over 1.3 million Cho’s in the world.

The fact that I was prepared to distance myself from the shooter’s identity highlighted how race affects me. It seemed as if I had to undermine my belief in the dignity everyone deserves with the selfish logic of gearing the hate towards people related to the shooter in order to save myself.

Despite the relief my mom felt when I came home unharmed, I felt frustrated with the blindness to what I went through psychologically.

From my interactions on campus, I think the Trayvon Martin case is casted off with the similar obliviousness I faced five years ago. By not talking about it, we will not learn about how different individuals are affected in such different ways from an incident. Unless we take the steps to engage in conversation, we will not know how race plays a role in the workings of our world.

Edith Cho is a sociology and peace studies major. She can be contacted at echo1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.