For 15 years, Andrew Cho has been leading students at Tacoma Community College to explore their lives and find their places in society.
On Sunday, the sociology professor will help lead a discussion with audience members viewing the opening movie in this year’s TCC Diversity Film Festival.
The eighth annual festival will open with “Gook,” a 2017 film that depicts Day 1 of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, as experienced by two Korean brothers who befriend a young black girl from the neighborhood.
The riots erupted hours after the acquittal of three of four white police officers filmed beating Rodney King, a black man. Over five days of rioting, 63 people were killed and more than 12,000 were arrested.
Joining Cho at the post-viewing discussion will be Tanya Grace Valasquez, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington Tacoma.
The two wrote “Not in My Hood: Identity, Crime, and Policing in Seattle’s International District,” a contribution to the 2016 book, “Asian/Americans, Education and Crime: The Model Minority as Victim and Perpetrator.”
After the film, Cho and Valasquez will present the audience with questions intended to explore issues raised in “Gook.”
“I think we’re going to have a great discussion,” Cho said.
The News Tribune spoke with Cho about his work, the film, its message and the Asian-American experience. The discussion has been edited and condensed.
Q. Comments from students online say that you’re likely their favorite teacher. What do you think sets you apart in your teaching style and delivery of the subject?
A. I think one of the things I can do is relate to students of diverse backgrounds and different ages. I don’t think there’s anything special about me in particular, but I have got the relatability factor.
Q. What is “Gook” about?
A. It’s a hard film to describe, but generally it’s about the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict and it’s told from the perspective of the Korean-American business store owner, which has often been lost in media coverage about the riots. They really didn’t provide the perspective of Korean-American store owners.
That’s what this film is kind of about, but a bit more personal. It received a lot of acclaim.
Q. In light of the social, racial, political atmosphere in the United States, what message from the film do you hope to highlight?
A. “Gook” brings up several sociological issues that will be pivotal to great discussion after the film, because of the things you mentioned - what’s currently going on in our society, racial tension amongst different groups.
TCC is a microcosm of what’s going on in society and there’s a lot of great collaboration amongst students of different races and ethnicities – from all sorts of diverse backgrounds. They’re doing some good stuff.
Q. Will you integrate the film into your work as a professor?
A. The film is about sociological issues that my students and I discuss in class.
Q. As an Asian person having spent significant time in both Seattle and Tacoma, what are the major differences in your societal experience of the two cities?
A. Back in the 1880s the mayor of Tacoma led residents in burning down the city’s Chinatown. This is one of the major differences, especially as it concerns sociology of Asian Americans, and this is why Tacoma doesn’t have a big Chinatown today, like there is in Seattle.
While Seattle can definitely use some improvement in combating issues of racism and discrimination, I think in this area it’s a little better overall. Tacoma’s still trying to get there.
TCC Diversity Film Festival
When: Sunday-May 2
Where: Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma
▪ 2 p.m. Sunday (April 15): “Gook:
▪ 2 and 6:30 p.m. April 17: “Out of State”
▪ 2 and 6:30 p.m. April 24: “Radio Dreams”
▪ 2 and 6:30 p.m. April 25: “Whose Streets?”
▪ 2 p.m. April 29: “Winter’s Bone”
▪ 2 and 6:30 p.m. May 2: “East Side Sushi”