Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cho Family's American Dream Broken in Pieces

As the media still focus on Cho Seung-Hui's killing motive, I sort of want to know a little about his parents and family. Here is an article providing a little information on that.

Part of the article reads:

"Many young Koreans who move to the U.S. with their parents seeking the American dream suffer culture shock from exposure to the strange environment where they cannot even understand the language.

They also have confusion about identity _ neither being Korean nor American.
Despite their difficulty, most of them may not always receive enough care from their parents, who have to focus on working all day to survive in the new country."

I am not here to make excuse for Cho, but there is a problem at universities -- some students don't get enough attention, especially international students. A few months ago I wrote an article published in the Washington Post, and one of my interviewees told me: "At school, nobody cares about you." There are more problems behind this VT tragedy, not just Cho's distorted and disturbing personality.

I was very disappointed by Nikki Giovanni, the distinguished poet. Cho was in her class in 2005, and Giovanni told the department that she would resign if Cho was not removed from her class. Last night, Giovanni was on Larry King Live. She told Larry King that once she talked to Cho face to face, "Cho, either of us has to leave this classroom." She also said, she felt evil in Cho and she didn't want to see him.

During the VT Convocation after the tragedy, Giovanni spoke so eloquently and so humanitarianly

"We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water..."

I was just wondering, if Giovanni had given a little more attention, care and love to Cho, would the thing have been different? That makes me think: some people can talk, but they can not do...

Sorry for the long entry


Sean said...

I don't buy the whole culture shock idea at all. Sure, it's tough for kids that move to a new country. It must be especially tough when you're living in a $400k house and your parents provide you with every opportunity to succeed in life that very few people get.

My family moved to the U.S. when I was 7 (Cho was 8), and a lot of people that I know moved here at a young age. But it would be ridiculous to say that I had it tough growing up just because my parents couldn't spend a lot of time with me, I was balancing cultures, etc. etc. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Most Korean immigrant children are given privileges and opportunities that others can only be envious of. To say that Cho had a tough childhood is laughable considering the circumstances under which most kids grow up.

I also don't blame Giovanni. There is a disturbing trend that is growing in which people think that schools are places where kids should be made to feel good. Schools, especially colleges, should be places where kids learn something about the real world and hopefully get an education that will land them a job so that they can survive in that world. A classroom is not supposed to be a love fest or psychology session because students are paying a lot of money to learn about the subject matter - not feel warm and fuzzy. I can't blame Giovanni or any of the other hundreds of people who came in contact with Cho because we can't live in a world where any punk kid that causes trouble and disturbance needs to be coddled and catered to on the off chance he might go on a shooting rampage.

Erin Robinson said...

I think the points made about immigrants can be said about any kind of immigrant, not just Koreans, and in fact can often be said about anyone who moves. I moved when I was 13, from one middle school to another, and it was an awful, awful experience. Integrating into a new society, whether it is in a different country, or even just on the other side of the one you already live in, is tough on any kid. But I don't think it's a legitimate... excuse, I guess.

And I'm also with Sean on this. I've watched numerous interviews with Giovanni on CNN, both the Larry King one Diana describes, and others previously. I don't think she gave up on him too easily. I think at that point, there was no way anyone was going to get through to him. Honestly, she's a teacher with so many more students she can actually help. Also, if he really was intimidating the other students in her class? Which is something she's stated in every interview I've seen, Giovanni had to prioritize the other students rather than one she couldn't work with. Additionally, he was sent after that to work one-on-one with the department head, so it seems to me that he wasn't lacking for personal attention from the department.

There's no one place anyone can find to blame this. It's not the immigrant experience, because other individuals who have committed crimes like this have lived in one place all their lives. It's not the fault of one teacher who couldn't deal with him either, because at that point, other people had to have refused to deal with him already. It's incredibly unfair to put this all on Prof. Giovanni, or on his status as a Korean immigrant.

Erin Robinson said...

As an addendum (I've got to reread these before I hit submit) I'm not arguing that his experience as an immigrant (I don't think it matters that he was Korean, but I do think an immigrant experience could possibly be relevant to his psych profile) was not impactful, just that there is no one thing that caused it, and no one thing that could have prevented it. I'm something of a fatalist about these kinds of tragedies at this point.

diana said...

I think my feeling about Giovanni is sort of the love-hate feeling (by the way, I don't hate her), which the Korean students had and we talked about in yesterday's class.

When I heard Giovanni's speech, I was so moved and even cried. But when she recalled on TV, "Cho, either of us has to leave this classroom," it just destroyed my admiration for her.

People's perceptions are different. I don't why, I have sympathy on Cho, although I hate what he did.

Jaime said...

In response to Diana, Sean and Erin... Although the immigrant experience is absolutely no excuse for Cho's actions (and runs the risk of belittling the accomplishments of incredibly successful students who are able to navigate mulitple cultures, survive the xenophobic US bureaucratic system, and the deal with racism, classism, and ethnocentrism prevalent on US campuses), I think this is an important opportunity for school communities to honestly evaluate their community's treatment of immigrants, people of color and class.

I don't know how to engage a community in a relevant and meaningful dialouge without running the risk of thousands of touchy-feely workshops, but every person in the US should be aware of these social problems and how their individual actions can help ameliorate or exacerbate them.

Cho was clearly deeply psychologically distirbed. However, his terrible actions are a sort of social commentary that speak to greater social ills that every individual expereinces and participates in. I hope this opportunity for reflection is not disregarded because of the complete horror of the event and because of Cho's psychological state.