April 22, 2007

Photographer Alan Chin From Blacksburg

(click any image to enlarge)



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I want to make some comments on the campus and the students:

Considering that I’m a Chinese-American photographer and that the murderer was Korean, I was not hassled or treated any differently than any other photographer. Quite the contrary. In fact…at the bar, a student bought me a drink because he was worried that racists might attack me, and wanted to reassure me. And look at who was killed — a true cross section of immigrant America, equal opportunity in death — and all of that made me think, wow, America, a rural university in Virginia, actually, really is a diverse place, all these young people and faculty thrown together in what, 40 years ago, was the segregated heart of the former Confederacy…

…And yet, you could tell, Virginia Tech IS a southern university…obviously a big fraternity/sorority scene, big ROTC / military cadet program, big sports teams with the school colors and the nickname “Hokies”…and of course, most of the students are nice, white, middle class kids from the South… There was a moment during the evening candlelit vigil, thousands of students in the field, and they began singing “Amazing Grace” — and you realized, only southerners (black or white) can sing like that spontaneously, still have it in their traditions — not to make a joke about it, but had this happened in Iowa or Vermont, they would not have sang like that, with natural, shared, beautiful emotion.

Which does bring us to, and this is not in any way to excuse or justify the killer’s actions, but what it does bring us to is the situation of a young Asian-American man in such a place, such a culture that is on the one hand, modern and open and cosmopolitan, and, yet, still insular and proud and traditional…

..And of course, there are plenty of other Asian students at Virginia Tech. They don’t go out and kill anybody, of course. Yet when you listen to Cho’s words on the tape, the anger and rage against privilege and wealth, you do realize that this remains a country that has yet to figure out just how we’re going to deal with our contradictions…

Many Asian Americans, young men in particular, have been stereotyped as computer geeks, nerds with poor social skills, over educated but under masculine, etc. A sexual tension exists, also, with a popular sexual culture that fetishizes Asian women (“yellow fever,” “geisha,” etc.) and, at the same time, emasculates Asian men. Unfortunately, Cho seems to have fit some of these stereotypes…

These are just some of my observations, if not fully thought out…


(All images courtesy of Alan Chin.  Blacksburg, Virginia.  April 17 & 18, 2007.  Posted by permission.  Alan’s previous work at BAGnewsNotes is available here.)

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Alan Chin
See other posts by Alan here.

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