Therese Park

Questions linger after teen's slaying of mother

On March 6, Blue Valley North High School student Esmie Tseng pleaded guilty to killing her 55-year-old mother, Shu Yi Zhang, seven months earlier with a kitchen knife.

Prosecutors had sought to try Esmie as an adult with charges of first-degree murder. Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison said then: “This defendant knew what she was doing. She had her wits about her at the time she committed this crime.”

But seven months later, the table was turned. Morrison now thought the slain mother was “unfair and cruel” to the defendant, implying that Esmie was a victim of abuse. Taking her “home life” into account, he dropped the charge to voluntary manslaughter in adult court.

“Attorneys for both sides recommended that Esmie serve eight years and four months in prison,” The Star reported. Sentencing is May 3.

Unfortunately, neither investigators nor the general public will ever know what had been going on at Tseng’s household before Shu Yi Zhang’s brutal death on Aug. 19. The defendant’s father has kept a stony silence about the mother-daughter relationship that led to the matricide.

I, an Asian, have nagging questions: Are the prosecutors treating the American-born defendant and her slain Chinese mother fairly and justly? What if some of the accusations against the victim are false? Who can speak for one in eternal rest when the laws are made strictly for the living?

I can’t help but wonder whether the prosecutor’s generosity in allowing Esmie to plead guilty and reducing her prison time has to do with the fact that she was an American-born honor-roll student and had an army of American supporters — teachers, parents and legal experts.

According to The New York Times, 9,700 prisoners are serving life sentences today for crimes they committed before turning 18, and the number of teenage felons is steadily increasing nationwide. Mother-killing is a grave crime in any culture, no matter who committed it. Should a girl who stabbed her mother to death walk out of the prison after serving only eight years and four months?

Zhang might have shared a common quality with many other Asian mothers by attempting to protect her daughter from the social ills that American youngsters are exposed to today — sex, drugs and alcohol, crime, fantasy for glamour and lust. I, too, set strict rules for my girls, often eavesdropping on their phone conversations and demanding to know who they were talking to and why. Am I lucky to be alive?

While reading the “Kansas City Chinese,” the community online journal, I glimpsed the shock and pain that community members had suffered over Zhang’s sudden death. One member considered the tragedy a wake-up call.

“If this could happen (to Zhang), anything can,” she said.

Zhang’s friends remember her as a “very well-educated lady who could talk about anything ... (a) responsible and conscientious worker.”

Esmie posted her journal on her two online blogs, expressing her frustrations toward her Chinese parents. One of the messages reads: “We were always on the (expletive) road in the stupid van with that damn tourist group my mom chose. All Orientals, speaking AT me because they know I only understand the minimal jist [sic]. ... I’m not who I’m ‘supposed’ to be, and I’m happy about that, but they’re going to (expletive) it up.”

Her words are blatantly disrespectful to her parents, their friends and their Chinese “roots.” If this were her everyday language, it would have been a nightmare for her Chinese mother, who came from a culture where youngsters respected adults, to deal with her.

Why didn’t Esmie’s teachers and counselors help her understand that, by honoring her cultural heritage, she would gain knowledge of herself and her parents, and further appreciate her life here in the United States? Understanding of our parents and their legacies reflects not only on our lives but our children’s lives, and the cycle of give-and-take continues, linking one generation to another.

The wake-up call isn’t only for Chinese parents but all parents of American teenagers.

Born and raised in South Korea, Therese Park is a former cellist with the Kansas City Philharmonic, now the Symphony. Since her retirement in 1996, she has published two novels. She lives in Leawood. To reach Midwest Voices columnists, write to the author c/​o the Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108. Or send e-mail to oped@​ .

The Kansas City Star
"Heartland Honor Flight is all about showing our gratitude to those who fought for our country's freedom," the president John Doole says.
During the Korean War, long segregation in the U.S. military ended.
"To win, you must know your enemy," wrote Chinese Ancient General Sun-Tzu (544-496 B.C.)
...their beloved country in whose honor they defended my helpless homeland in the Far East six decades ago has become my own beloved motherland.
To the parishioners at Curé of Ars Catholic Church in Leawood, their pastor is a healer, confessor, teacher and compassionate friend who rejoices with them at happy times and grieves with them at times of loss and injury.
“The truth about Jesus Christ reached Korean soil in 1784," Pope John Paul II said during the canonization of 103 Korean Martyrs in 1984. In a most marvelous way, divine grace moved your ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God’s word and then to a living faith in the risen Christ..."
During the trip to Korea together, our mother-daughter roles were reversed. My daughter seemed to think that I needed her care, not the other way around.
The Kansas City Philharmonic enriched the lives of many during its 49 years.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Messages on Violence
A Korean Grandma and her American Grandkids
Average people made the world we live in today.
Albert Schweitzer said, “You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it’s a little thing…for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.”
Pilgrims are everywhere here on the square of the Basilica of Our Lady, some are walking on their knees and some are kneeling at the glass-walled Chapel of Apparition where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.
Woodcarvers find fun, therapy and friendship
Behind a tough cookie, there's a culture that nourished her soul
Not biting is a sign of appreciation
After Tucsan shooting rampage
Without a healthy brain, one cannot live a healthy life
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "In War, there is no substitute for victory."
Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues but the parent of all others.
Our home became a church when homeless priests and nuns moved in with us.
Victor Hugo's view of his old age
Forgetfulness comes with aging
Learning is for all ages.
Mixture of feelings about seeing Amercans' departure from my country Korea
Foreigner's view of today's China
The "Wake up call" isn't only for Chinese parents but for all American parents.
The Korean War isn't "Forgotten"
I once had compassion for all caged birds. But since I became a bird-owner, my opinion about them has changed.
South Korea today gives thanks to all American troops who fought to preserve its peace at the cost of their lives.
The Kansas City Star Commentary 9/20/14
My first visit to Fort Leavenworth as a guest of LTC Kim Kwang-soo, South Korean Liaison Officer to the U.S. Military
Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit South Korea in 1984--to canonize 103 Korean martyrs
The seeds of the Church is the blood of the martyrs.
Column/ Kansas City Star
Father Emil Kapaun: recipient of Medal or Honor 2013
The U.S. government purchased Alaska in 1867 for only $7.2 million dollars from Russia, that includes 500 million acres of land with 3 million streams full of fish and otters, and tall snow-capped mountains providing shelter for bears, moose, mountain sheep and more.
The Best Times
He liberated music from a cloistered form set by earlier composers...
The racial discrimination the white American inflicted upon their black neighbors.
Magazine Article
Traditional Chinese medical doctors have been using bird-nests for centuries to treat respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis, to rejuvenate skin, and to boost energy for both young and old.
It takes courage to deal with the human condition called "aging."
Feature article
Inchon Landing was one of the most successful operations in modern military history.
Magazine Articles
Korean War Prisoner-of War Story