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Monday, April 23, 2007

Eastern Connecticut Koreans fear backlash after shooting

Pastor Shinyong "Daniel" Song, a South Korean pastor who ministers to about a dozen South Koreans in Norwich, said he and his congregation have felt a tinge of guilt after the Virginia Tech massacre.

The shooter behind the killings was South Korean and in South Korea, Song said, people think as a group, or as a congregation. And, with the heated climate surrounding immigration nationwide, Song also felt concern about potential backlash against him and fellow South Koreans.

"I worry about that," he said, between preaching at two services Sunday at the First Baptist Church, which provides space for his church.

Hundreds of South Koreans held a candlelight vigil Saturday in South Korea for the Virginia Tech massacre victims, the country's largest such gathering since the shootings in the United States by a South Korean-born student.

The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, came with his family to the United States more than 14 years ago.

"Koreans are extremely embarrassed and feel shameful as a result of Cho's actions. At any rate, we are sorry for what happened," former college professor Yae Young-soo said in a speech at a makeshift podium near Seoul's City Hall.

South Korean government officials have sent repeated condolence messages to the United States, and Internet message boards are overflowing with similar sentiments. U.S. diplomats have sought to reassure South Korea the shooting will not affect the two nations' tight relationship.

But the participants at Saturday's event -- including military veterans, Christians and conservatives -- expressed lingering concern about a possible fray in U.S. relations and a racial backlash against South Koreans and Korean-Americans there.

Song, the Norwich pastor, said the Virginia Tech killings may bring to light another issue: the plight of immigrant children, many of whom struggle to gain an identity when they arrive in the United States and are often left at home while their parents work long hours.

"My role as an immigrant pastor is to care for the kids," he said, adding a community center would also help meet their needs. "A lot of kids are home alone. That's a problem with immigrants."

Bennick Tan, part owner of the Red House pan-Asian restaurant in downtown Norwich, said Asian-Americans may sense an initial backlash from the shootings. But he said the best reaction is to let time heal the wounds and not to dwell on the negative. Tan said better gun control is one of the answers.

"Anybody could do it," said Tan, who is Malaysian, of the killer. "It doesn't matter about the color. It's about people, human beings. Anyone with mental problems could do the same."[Link]

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