“A gunman invaded an immigration services center…” So begins the lede sentence to the New York Times story about the massacre in Binghamton, N.Y. at the hands of Jiverly Wong.
For most of Friday, officials kept Wong’s identity a closely held secret until it was leaked. But why the reluctance to fully reveal these facts: Jiverly Wong, 42, an Asian American immigrant, opened fire on a citizenship class in Binghamton, N.Y., shooting 13 people and wounding 4 others before taking his own life.
What were officials afraid of? Whipping up some ethnic stereotype? (Crazy murderous Asians, anyone?) Or creating a backlash against Asians and Asian Americans? Whites didn’t fear a backlash when a John Wayne Gacy or a Jeffrey Dahmer appeared, why should Asians now?
In this sad tale, race and ethnicity are what makes this story. It’s not a generic mainstream thing. The Wong rampage is about the violence that can stem from the very real and specific cultural schizophrenia that results from the psycho journey that is immigration.
In a country of new immigrants, we need to do more than check for green cards and passports. We need to check with people’s mental health.
Wong was just another Asian American immigrant lost in language and communication, culture and society, and it all contributed to what we saw on Friday.
There are a lot of Wongs in America. And they need help, before it’s too late.
We just don’t hear about them much because, of course, mental illness is so stigmatized in the Asian American community, that not even the drugs to remedy it can make it seem cool or attractive. Culturally, Asian Americans prefer to deal with these issues quietly, away from mental health arena. Besides what are the chances of finding someone trained in language, or with the cultural awareness to recognize and deal with the most troubled situations? Not so good. In normal medical situations, finding doctors and nurses who can communicate with immigrant patients with normal needs is hard enough.
What do we know of Wong? That he lived in Inglewood, Calif from 2000-2007, according to the Times story. That he worked as a delivery driver for a sushi company. A Vietnamese doing sushi deliveries. Seen one Asian, seen them all.
Paulus Lukas, the H.R. person for the sushi company told a reporter Wong had few friends and wasn’t social. “I cannot point to anybody here who really knew him because he was not outgoing,” Lukas said in a report. Or maybe Wong just felt trapped in his own immigrant’s hell. I wonder if his medical records show he sought any help or counseling? Or if as his co-workers observed, he was merely seen as a quiet person who kept to himself. Nothing unusual. In fact for an Asian American, that sounds “normal.”
In the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter and the perpetrator of the biggest shooting spree in modern American history, his parents didn’t know what to do with all the signs they were getting.
They turned to a minister.
That didn’t work.
Part of the problem goes to the identity of the perpetrators. In both Wong and Cho, were two men in need of addressing a certain mental anguish that comes with being an Asian American, caught in a void between cultures. When those like Wong and Cho have trouble identifying themselves in this new society, that’s when trouble begins.
In the end, both men chose to go out American-style, violently, guns ablazing, perhaps the only part of our modern culture to which they could truly and deeply relate.
Both incidents show that diversity sprouts new and unique problems in every arena. Now the two biggest shootings in recent American history are at the hands of Asian Americans. That should be an alarm to those APAs in public health, especially in the mental health area. There should also be a concern to community folks and activists who may have sorely neglected the need to talk about such things as violence in general, domestic violence, and specifically, guns.
Guns as the answer? Not in the old country. Only in the New America.