James Kim: a real hero and a real man

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

This is the transcript of a commentary I did last week for the radio show Pacific Time on KQED in the Bay Area.
james kim

I didn’t know him, but it seemed like we could easily have run in the same circles. I’m just a couple years younger than him, also Asian, not quite the tech evangelist he was, but I definitely have my geeky streak.

Apart from those attributes, what made me feel a special connection with James, Kati and their two daughters was that they were an interracial family, just like mine, just like the families of many of my friends. And I just don’t see families like ours on TV very often.

Sure, there are more and more TV shows featuring interracial couples – think of Grey’s Anatomy or Heroes – but the focus is solely on the couple. We don’t get to see what that relationship looks like after the excitement of a new romance wears off, when children enter the picture, when the world no longer revolves around just two people, when love becomes something bigger.

But that’s exactly what we saw in the photos of the Kim family. It was hard to take your eyes off those pictures – they were so vivid and colorful, the warmth and joy practically leapt off the screen.

Like the photo of James in the park, holding his adorably chubby baby daughter, smiling as he looked to the side while his other daughter stands in the background, pensively chewing on a piece of candy. Or the other photo with the baby resting peacefully on James’s chest, while Kati looks on with a loving and protective gaze.

Race was never discussed in the media coverage of the Kim family’s disappearance, but the pictures spoke loud and clear. And to those of us from mixed families, it was a powerful affirmation to see a reflection of our own families in the Kims.

It was also a powerful affirmation to hear about James’s heroism. We live in a country where the media frequently portrays Asian men as weak, asexual and emasculated. These stereotypes dehumanize Asians, and that dehumanization has consequences in real life.

When Asians don’t seem like real human beings with real feelings and needs and dreams, it makes it seem okay when Rosie O’Donnell cracks “ching chong” jokes on TV as she did last week. It makes it seem okay for Gwen Stefani to use Asian women as human props in her act. Maybe it even makes a few people think that the lives of Chinese food delivery men aren’t worth anything, and therefore murdering them to steal their pocket change isn’t that big of a deal.

James Kim defied these racist notions with his actions. I was amazed when I read about what he had done to save his wife and children. He ventured into the bitter cold wearing only street clothes. He covered 10 miles of treacherous terrain. And all along the way, he dropped personal items so that a search team would have some way of tracking him.

James had strength, determination, loyalty, love, intelligence, and resourcefulness. To me, he will always set the bar for what it means to be a real man.

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