When the first news reports about Monday's Virginia Tech shootings came out, a fearful thought crossed Will Li's mind.
"I hope he's not Chinese," Li, a 36-year-old University of Arizona employee, said he told a friend.
Anantha Raman Krishnan, a UA engineering doctoral student, was relieved when he first heard the shooting suspect was Asian. He knew right away the suspect was not East Asian like him.
And Aamir Shaalan, an Egyptian Muslim, was almost elated to learn it was not a Muslim responsible for murdering 32 people, the worst killing of its kind in this country.
"I can't imagine what the backlash would have been," said Shaalan, 27, an engineering graduate student.
Such is the state of race-related sentiments felt by some religious and ethnic minorities in Tucson in response to horrific crimes: Let's hope it's not one of us.
In a post 9/11 America, foreigners in our midst are on their edge.
I understood their feelings. I had a similar reaction when I first read of the shootings. I was cringing at the thought of the consequences if the Virginia Tech killer was discovered to be a Latino immigrant or, heaven forbid, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
The jeers and I-told-you-so rants from the anti-Mexican and anti-undocumented-immigrant folks would have been deafening. When an undocumented immigrant commits a crime in Tucson or the country, it adds another strand of heavy gauge wire in support of building a border fence.
But, as sick as it sounds, fortunately for Latino undocumented immigrants the killer turned out to be a South Korean-born, 23-year-old English major.
However, no sooner than Seung-Hui Cho was identified, he was tagged as a resident alien, which he was. But it didn't matter that Cho had lived more than half his life in the United States.
It did matter, however, to Koreans in this country and in their country. So fearful of retribution of any kind or even the hint of resentment, the Korean community in this country apologized for Cho's slaughter of students and faculty members, some of whom were from abroad.
Cho's family, who according to some press reports have left their Virginia home, released a statement expressing sorrow for the Virginia Tech victims.
Even South Korean President Roh Moo-hyan expressed his country's condolences. South Korea's ambassador to the U.S. suggested Koreans in America fast for 32 days to honor the dead, according to The Associated Press.
The good news is that there have been no reports of violence or anger aimed at Koreans or Korean-Americans after the killing spree ended when Cho committed suicide.
Krishnan, who is from southern India, understood the Korean community's reaction. He called it natural. But he also called it irrational that some people would scorn a whole ethnic group for the crimes of a single person.
But our reaction to questions of race, ethnic and religious relations is often irrational.
When a foreigner does something horrible in this country, too much focus is placed on the person's origin, said Bebe Mufti, a South African-born Muslim of Pakistani parents.
To some people, the sense of dread felt by others after the Virginia Tech killings is overblown. Maybe it is, but it's real to people like Li, who came from China six years ago.
"It still doesn't feel good," he said. "The killer is Asian." [Link]
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