Anyone who arrived at the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies last Thursday at 4:30 p.m. expecting to hear a lecture titled “Detroit’s Twilight” was confronted with a dramatic change in topic. Min Hyoung Song, Associate Professor of English at Boston College still spoke as planned, but he decided not to give a lecture on Asians and Asian Americans in Detroit. Instead, Professor Song chose to speak about the April 17 shooting at Virginia Tech that left 33 people dead, including the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho. The new lecture, titled “Reflections on the Virginia Tech Shooting and Race,” gave Song an opportunity to speak on a subject of timely relevance.
Song, who also serves as co-coordinator of the Asian American Studies Program at Boston College, noted that writing and researching about the events at Virginia Tech gave him an emotional distance from the tragedy.
“The healthiest thing I can do is write about it,” Song said. “I wanted to work through some of these issues while they were still fresh in my mind.”
In his lecture, Song said that the press initially presented Cho, a South Korean citizen with U.S. permanent resident status, as a foreigner. These initial attempts to racialize Cho largely failed, he said. Cho’s status as a socially isolated, depressed individual was more prominent in the media than his nationality, Song said, noting that even one of Cho’s classmates said he “seemed the stereotype of a school shooter.”
Song found it troubling that the South Korean government response took the opposite approach. South Korea’s ambassador to the United States asked Koreans living in America to fast for repentance.
“I think the Korean government response went too far,” Song said. “There was an immediate claiming of responsibility.”
Song also mentioned that Cho might have felt the pressure of what he called the “Asian immigrant redemption narrative.” This narrative describes the idea that the self-sacrifice of one generation is redeemed by the next generation’s educational success.
Another idea Song presented was the prediction that though the events of Virginia Tech were certainly tragic, they would soon fade into the background.
“Like any spectacle, the tragedy is easily seen as something far removed,” Song said. “In a few years time the Virginia Tech massacre will be remembered in the way Columbine or the sniper event of Washington D.C. are.”
It was evident during the question and answer session that followed Song’s lecture and from later comments from students that many had already been thinking about some of the issues he had raised. Esther Kim ’07 said she appreciated the fact that Song addressed the issue of racialization.
“I almost felt pressured to feel guilty,” Kim said, offering her perspective as a Korean American student.
Kim was among several students who attended the event as a requirement for Professor Ellen Widmer’s Introduction to Korean Literature class. Students in Widmer’s class had previously read Song’s book “Strange Future: Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.”
Widmer, who had arranged for Song to lecture, said she was pleased with Song’s lecture, as it echoed her class’s most recent discussions.
“It was not a talk that was trying to lay down rules,” Widmer said. “That kind of openness is unusual.”