One Asian American victim, another an Asian American hero, in SPU shooting

June 6, 2014
Paul Lee, 19, in a photo posted on a class website.
Paul Lee, 19, in a photo posted on a class website.

Yesterday marked another grim incident in this nation’s ongoing litany of gun violence. A man, identified as 26-year-old former LA Fitness janitor Aaron Ybarra walked into Seattle Pacific University’s Otto Miller Hall and opened fire with a shotgun at point-blank range, killing one person and wounding three others.

When I first heard about the incident yesterday, I scoured the web, hoping that the victims or the perpetrator were not Asian American. Something about Elliot Rodger — who is biracially Asian American — and his deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista had me hyper-sensitive. I just couldn’t help thinking: “no, please, our community can’t take any more tragedy”.

I wish I had been right.

Yesterday’s single fatality at SPU — who was pronounced dead at Harborview Medical Center — has now been identified as 19-year-old Paul Lee, a Korean American freshman from Portland who reportedly enjoyed dancing and “eating delicious food”. Friends and family remember Lee as a “lively” person who made the classroom fun.

On Facebook, Albert Lee, Paul Lee’s brother, posted about his anguish:

“At a time when we feel a level of loss, grief, and pain we couldn’t have ever imagined, we are so overwhelmed by all of the thoughts and prayers from the community.

“At this moment all we can ask is to continue to remember Paul and all that he has left behind for us. Thank you all for blanketing us with your kind words, we will thank you all individually in due time.

“Paul, you handsome shekki, we miss you and love you more than you know. Keep dancin’ in heaven.”

The term “shekki” is an expletive in Korean, but between friends it’s used as an endearment.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Lee family. The loss of yet another young man — barely older than a child — by gun violence, wounds deeply. That he is now the fourth Asian American man to die in relation to a mass shooting on a college campus in the span of two weeks is unfathomable and senseless.

Photo credit: EveryJoe.com
22-year-old Jon Meis who took down a gunman with pepper spray. Photo credit: EveryJoe.com

There is no word yet as to Ybarra’s motive, but what we do know is that another Asian American has also found his way into the spotlight in relation to the SPU shooting. Emil Guillermo of AALDEF reports today that Jon Meis, the heroic student working as a hall monitor at Otto Miller Hall who saved untold number of lives by spraying Ybarra with pepper spray and tackling him to the ground while he was reloading, is biracially Asian American. Described as quiet and “courageous”, Meis is also deeply religious, engaged, and the son of a Boeing engineer.

This story is as tragic as it underscores the complex humanity of the Asian American community — we are heroes and we are victims. Unfortunately, some of us are capable of horrific and heinous villainy. We are not the Model Minority. We are not a monolithic sameness. We are not stereotypes. We are simply people.

What I hope the shooting at SPU will help to reinforce for our country is the deadly cost we are paying in our unwillingness to confront gun violence. In having virtually unchecked access to guns whose sole purpose is the ending of another human life, we are paying too high a price. We are seeing too many stories unwritten, too many lives cut short too soon.

Meanwhile, heroic student — and Asian American — Jon Meis stopped a gunman armed with legal, and totally non-lethal, pepper spray. Guns may start violence, but clearly we don’t need them to end it.

So really, I have to ask: at what point will this country start to have a real conversation on gun control? How many more deaths will it take?

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  • crazy MMer

    Too young. T_T

  • I’m going to make an assumption about Jon Meis (based on his surname and the photos I’ve seen) and observe that this article describes _one_ of the Asian Americans, the Isla Vista killer, as “biracially Asian American,” but omits that “biracial” modifier when describing the man who stopped the SPU shooter. Heroic Meis’ biraciality is apparently not as noteworthy as villainous Rodger’s? (File under “Claim us if we’re (heroically) famous”?)

  • Oop. I retract my comment. Didn’t read carefully enough (or read an earlier version?) — Meis is also described as biracial. My bad.

  • You can make that assumption, Eric, but you would be wrong. For both Jon Meis and Elliot Rodger, I describe the men as “biracial” or “biracially” Asian American.

    From the post above (emphasis added):

    There is no word yet as to Ybarra’s motive, but what we do know is that another Asian American has also found his way into the spotlight in relation to the SPU shooting. Emil Guillermo of AALDEF reports today that Jon Meis, the heroic student working as a hall monitor at Otto Miller Hall who saved untold number of lives by spraying Ybarra with pepper spray and tackling him to the ground while he was reloading, is biracially Asian American. Described as quiet and “courageous”, Meis is also deeply religious, engaged, and the son of a Boeing engineer.

    From my Isla Vista post (emphasis added):

    Elliot Rodger was also a biracial Asian American – a fact almost completely lost in mainstream coverage of this incident. He self-identified as a “beautiful Eurasian”, an identity that he believed elevated him above “full-blooded Asians”, but that he believed also hindered social and sexual acceptance by his White peers. Rodger’s fetishization of Whiteness manifests throughout his life: he bleaches his hair blonde and pursues only blonde White women. Rodger’s biracial identity clearly contributed to his feeling of social ostracism. Ironically, in death, his race has been completely White-washed.

    A simple reading of this site was all you needed to inform yourself and not go making spurious charges that are clearly incorrect. Next time, I suggest you take a minute to fact-check yourself before you go around making bad and easily disproven assumptions.

  • Steve

    Didn’t Ice T put it best? When the cops give up their guns the gun owners will give them up too. Don’t forget the police blasted two women delivering newspapers while looking for Chris Dorner. You keep saying Asian American Community and I have to laugh. The dislike between the disparate Asian groups is vast where I come from.
    Was the shooter Asian? I didn’t get a report on that.

  • Junwei

    Elliot Rodger was an HAPA who admired his white father and hate his Chinese mother. HAPA identity is comparable to mulatto identity. They are positioned higher in the racial hierarchy of white supremacy. The narrative of the tragic mulatto is a white strategy in pictorial and textual narratives to put mixed-raced folk down with the linking of a sad, suicidal psychology to their phenotype. White narratives establish a male and a female version to sexualize a new racial identity. You can observe the dynamic already in Haiwaii. There is no need to name this hybrid identity bi-racial Asian American and exclude whiteness. We have several terms for these folks:

    * hapa haole (part European/White)
    * hapa kanaka (part Native Hawaiian)
    * hapa ?Inikiki ?Amelika (part Native American)
    * hapa popolo (part African/black)
    * hapa kepani (part Japanese)
    * hapa pilipino (part Filipino)
    * hapa pake (part Chinese)
    * hapa kolea (part Korean)
    * hapa kamoa (part Samoan)
    * hapa (hi)sepania (part Spanish/white and Latino)
    * hapa pukiki (part Portuguese/white).

    This is precise and it shows recognition. Hence, I find this sentence offensive:

    “Something about Elliot Rodger — who is biracially Asian American — and his deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista had me hyper-sensitive.”

    You should take these people seriously as own racial group. They will never identify themselves as Asian American. The existence of hybrid identity is good for us to make whiteness looks strange.

    The existence of more racial categories is not a problem for society, because the more racial categories the less hate speeches whiteness can mobilize. Brazil for example have more than 140 ethnic categories between black and white and describe itself as racial democracy. A white minority is still at the top, but the darker populations got more than hundred options for belonging. Of course within such a racial system it is not possible anymore to use racial movements for social progress and white (minority) rule stay forever. The consequence of high rates of Asian American women outmarriage is the relative decline of erotic capital in relationship to HAPA women, because mixed-raced women normally are considered more beautiful.

    The superiority of white male-centered mass communication make it impossible for Asian American women to change their submissive sexual identity that antagonize white feminism, Asian American men and HAPA women at the same time.

    White feminism look down at Asian American women, because they think that they use their pussy to get white men and destroy the image of strong independent white women and make them look unagreeable in society.

    Dorky Asian American men blame their dating failure on Asian American women. But this consequence is basically a result of your use of language. There are actually no Asian American women who refuse to date Asian American men. Chinese-American women refuse to date Japanese-American men etc., because of long distance nationalism. Intra-Asian dating is actually very low. There are actually no Asian American patriarchy, because Asian American are not the dominant group. They share benefits from white patriarchy, because they are men and entitled to social, cultural and symbolic capital to certain extend.

    HAPA women will become the most sexualized women along with other mixed-raced women and will look down to women who looks like their mothers.

    But all these phenomenas are less important in the long run if you consider the fact that the white voting bloc will loose the tyranny of majority.

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