Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Readers on pain, stereotypes, and the Oikos shooting

Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images

A post earlier this week featured what began as an experiment: An online panel of seven people, professors of Asian American studies, psychology, ethics, world religions and English, all of them Asian Americans themselves, answering questions and sharing an open discussion about the uncomfortable undercurrents swirling beneath the story of a tragic mass murder in Oakland.

A week ago Monday, a former student opened fire at Oikos University, a small, private Christian vocational college that catered to nursing students and whose student body was largely Asian. Of the seven people who died, most were immigrants - the majority from Asia - as was the gunman, One L. Goh, a 43-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea.

As the story developed, some of the reaction brought with it an ugly ethnic stereotype that’s endured since five years ago this month, when troubled Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people on campus before taking his own life. It also raised questions about mental health outreach to minorities, the by-now-familiar speculation about social pressures in immigrant communities, and why the tragedy received relatively scant national media attention compared with similar incidents - and whether race played a part in this.

It was a nuanced dialogue about complicated issues that flowed candidly and, as intended, has fueled further conversation online. Here are a few comments from M-A readers (and yes, some express their thanks, but this isn't meant to be self-congratulatory, as the discussion continues):

Glen Mimura wrote:

Thanks for this very thoughtful discussion! I esp appreciate how it wraps up: refusing racialized blame but accepting some sense of collective responsibility or, better, "remorse." (Interestingly very different from the critical work of 'queer shame'; but that is for another discussion.) It is very difficult to convey this vital and irreducible, even necessary complexity in the typically allotted sound-byte or one-line 'expert comment' in print media; so thanks, too, to LBR and KPCC for providing this space.

It does appear as if this instance of 'Asian on Asian' or 'Asian on non-white' violence has registered as illegible or inconsequential in mainstream media.

Perhaps it has simply been displaced by the racialized media 'event' that the Trayvon Martin case has become? (Yet another tragedy that suffers from mainstream simplification and reduction, that would be oh-so enriched by the the kinds of sensitive, critically engaged views expressed even in the short space of this discussion here.) Thank you all again.

Kelly Jeong wrote:
I echo Glen's sentiments and would like to thank you all for the space and the thoughtful discussion. I followed this discussion somewhat on Facebook  and belatedly would like to introduce a slightly different take, at the risk of perhaps going out on a limb.

Whatever Goh's problems have been, I'd guess that the violent explosion seems to be -- at least in part -- motivated by his wounded male ego and what he saw as a deliberate ostracization and attack on his masculinity and seniority by his classmates, who were mostly younger and female. I think this was somehow miscommunicated or translated in the media as 'bullying,' which is related to but a bit different from what many would consider instances of bullying.

It might be a case, in other words, of someone whose ideas about his own social position and identity clashed with how he was 'seen' and 'treated' by others around him, a kind of violent culture clash.  So what others said/questioned about the aspect of gender is on point; this tragedy is about some very specific issues facing Korean men living in America.

Min-Woo wrote:

I think you put your finger on one of the heart issues surrounding this incident, Kelly. Where there is no spiritual/mental capacity good enough to enable one to deal with some of brutal aspects of acculturation process, only thing that ultimately remains, especially for a male senior, seems to be this abrupt explosion of violence.

The acute pains for potential violent act can of course be alleviated if one is in good ecology of care. Goh's environment, regretfully, wasn't so. I also regret about the fact that a seminary, which was supposed to be caring for this kind of people happened to be such a malfunctioning community. What a shame!

Here's the post with the panel discussion. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section here, or beneath the original post.