Chips, salsa and an assassination

Assassination sites and parties just don’t mix. There’s something odd and creepy about trying to have a good time in a place where someone was killed. You’re trying to schmooze and show off, but then you realize you’re in a place where an assassin once stood. Yeah, creepy.

Completely baffled? Wondering if I lost my mind this summer, partying at such a grim place? Allow me to backtrack a little. You see, I was in Dallas earlier this month, attending the Asian-American Journalists Association convention. As a student, I was invited to Student Tex-Mex Night at the Sixth Floor Museum. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the museum also happens to be the old Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald (or one of the real assassins, to all you conspiracy theorists) had stood while firing at President John F. Kennedy.

Our party that night was supposed to be a mixer for all the student journalists to kick back, trade interview tips and learn what it takes to be a good intern. I’m not sure what the organizers were thinking when they booked the museum, but how could they honestly expect us to do that in such a place?

Then again, I don’t think most students realized this was the place where Kennedy was shot. I’m sure if most of us had known, we wouldn’t have been so hell-bent on collecting business cards. You certainly couldn’t tell by all the red, white and blue streamers draped across the ceiling or by all the cheesy gift shop memorabilia on the first floor. Our speakers didn’t even mention this was the place (although as journalists we should have researched the place beforehand. My excuse? I didn’t read the description very carefully). They just casually told us not to take pictures of the photos or to bring food downstairs (we were on the seventh floor) to the exhibits.

So when I went down to the sixth floor, I thought the museum was just extremely devoted to Kennedy (this was before I realized it was a Kennedy exhibit). There were photos of him everywhere – of his family, of him on his political trips, of his wife and of him riding the limousine in Dealey Plaza.

As I looked at those photos, I remember thinking how cool it would be to visit the place where Kennedy had been shot. I kept thinking I could tell all my friends about it when I got home – after all, how many of them could say they had been to the site of an assassination? But as soon I reached a row of photos – stills from Abraham Zapruder’s now famous home video – of Kennedy the minute before he was shot, I realized I was at the assassination site.

12:30:00: Kennedy’s motorcade arrives in Dealey Plaza.

12:30:15: The motorcade passes the Book Store Depository.

12:30:28: The limousine passes the Stemmons Freeway sign.

12:30:30: The first shot is fired.

There’s something about suddenly realizing the obvious that makes you want to slap your own face. I didn’t do that, but I certainly felt stupid. However, I also felt a little irritated that our Tex-Mex night was even here in the first place. If we had parties like this here, what other kind of events or social functions did museum organizers book for this place?

This wasn’t some banquet hall. This wasn’t an international ballroom where people were supposed to dance, eat, laugh and socialize. This was the site where the life of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, had ended. I know the organizers wanted us to see and experience a little bit of Dallas’ history, but really. It was a bit too depressing, especially for a night they wanted us to really enjoy.

Moreover, it felt extremely wrong to be there under such circumstances. I felt very uncomfortable and also very sad. I couldn’t believe we were expected to eat chips and salsa, trade resumes, and network in this place. It was disrespectful not only to the memory of Kennedy, but also to the people who witnessed the event in 1963. And I also couldn’t believe I had originally thought it would be “cool” to visit this place – it wasn’t anywhere near that. Don’t get me wrong, I still tell people that I went to Dealey Plaza, but I also tell them I wish it had been under much different circumstances. Say, for a history class or simply to learn more about Kennedy. Not for a party.

Next year, the journalism convention is scheduled to be in San Diego and I plan to attend. But count me out if the student mixer is in the courthouse where former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock was convicted of perjury and accepting illegal contributions during his 1983 campaign. I don’t think that atmosphere would mix well with a party, either.

Nancy Yang is a University junior majoring in Journalism.