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Korean grief, not an apology

By ADRIAN HONG Special to the Washington Post
Published April 22, 2007


Last week South Korea's ambassador to Washington, Lee Tae-Shik, spoke at a candlelight vigil I attended in Fairfax County, Va. Through tears, he said that the Korean-American community needed to "repent" and suggested a fast, one day for each victim of the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, to prove that Koreans were a "worthwhile ethnic minority in America."

Hundreds attended the vigil, and many Korean immigrants sobbed.

Washington state Sen. Paull Shin issued an emotional apology for Cho's actions, citing American sacrifices for South Korea during the Korean War. And news reports indicate that Koreans have approached police stations across the country, apologizing.

But Korean-Americans do not need to apologize for what happened Monday. All of us feel tremendous sorrow and grief as Americans. And the actions of Seung-Hui Cho are no more the fault of Korean-Americans than the actions of the Washington-area snipers were the fault of African-Americans.

A deranged individual acted on his own initiative, not on behalf of any ethnic grievance or agenda.

Further, it is inappropriate for the Korean ambassador to the United States to apologize on behalf of Korean-Americans or speak of the need to work toward acceptance as a "worthwhile minority" in this nation. While he represents the interests of Korean nationals in America, and those of the Republic of Korea, he does not speak for naturalized Koreans.

While there have been random acts of juvenile hate and racial slurs in the past two days, the vast majority of Americans understand that Korean-Americans were victims, too - that we all took part in the tragedy at Virginia Tech, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Koreans of America, please continue to express your heartfelt condolences and help the healing. But please do not apologize. If our heads are hung low, this should be in grief, not in apology or shame.

Hong is a director of the Mirae Foundation, which promotes mentorship and empowerment of Korean-American college students.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 19:46:46]

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