Given that Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer, was Korean, we decided to ask some Korean-Americans if they are worried about a potential anti-Korean backlash here in the United States.
We first tried reaching people in Fairfax County, Virginia, which is a half-hour drive from our bureau from Washington, D.C. This county has a large Korean community, but as we called restaurants and other Korean-owned establishments for interviews, no one wanted us to talk to their patrons. Too sensitive, they said. Our customers won't want to talk about it, they added. Many of them don't speak English, others said.
So through friends we got in touch with 36-year-old Christian Oh, a "budding" (as he puts it) filmmaker, IT contractor and president of an Asian-American film festival. Christian's next video project is on Asian identity. He tells us that when he first saw reports the Virginia Tech shooter was Korean he was worried about what he calls the "Asian-American male stereotype."
"That we're nerds, we're geeks, we're socially not skilled, you know, in terms of the whole social scene. We're also portrayed in movies and film as the kung fu, karate, chop saki guy, so I was, like, thinking 'Oh great! So there's another thing we can add to the Korean or Asian-American image.'"
Oh says Korean-Americans often are considered a "model minority": well-educated, hard-working, raised to be successful but not to stand in the limelight. That sounds positive, but Oh claims the media and the film industry often portray Asians negatively.
We join Oh at an organizing meeting for a film festival. The room was filled with well-dressed 20- and 30-something Asian-American professionals, including an attorney, a financial analyst and a software developer. They, too, initially worried about a backlash, but as more details of the Virginia Tech shooter's twisted psyche emerged, they began to lose some of that fear.
Annabel Park, a 39-year-old who works with a non-profit organization that helps the Korean-American community, said the shooter "really sounds almost like the stereotype of that sociopath who would go on this killing spree. It's almost like he's following this script and it's so non-Korean specific. I think that's one reason why eventually people will not see him as Korean, but just as a psychopath."
"Why should we feel any shame?" Benjamin Lee, a 29-year-old financial analyst, asked. "That's one thing I haven't been able to understand. Why should we as Korean Americans feel some sort of shame or feel that we need to perhaps feel as if he is one of our own? Yes, he was Korean-American, but this is a lone wolf."
"The only people who have been talking about backlash are really the Korean community," Haesung Han, a 28-year-old lawyer, tells us. "The Americans," she said, "From the media, they haven't been reporting anything about racial profiling."
And yet everyone in the room says early fears of a backlash brought back thoughts of the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which Korean businesses were targeted. They said that made them and their families feel vulnerable.
Benjamin Lee said many Asian-Americans feel that the acts of the children are a reflection of the parents. "And for that reason, I can't imagine or even fathom the guilt that the parents must feel for this tragedy," he tells me.
Annabel Park said her organization is discussing whether it should set up a national hotline for people to call if they are harassed. She said they also have consulted with Arab-American groups that faced retaliation after the 9-11 attacks.
Their advice, she said: "Don't overreact. This is going to pass. Don't talk about it so much that it actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy."
-- Jill Dougherty, U.S. Affairs Editor for CNN International