MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — As investigators began probing the killing of five women and five men at a dance studio in this predominately Asian American community, Asian Americans across the nation say the incident has revived the fears and trauma brought on by a wave of hate incidents and tragedies that have struck the community over the last few years.
On Sunday evening, authorities identified the shooter as Huu Can Tran, a 72-year-old Asian man, and said he died of a self-inflicted wound earlier in the day. Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said the suspect was carrying what he described as a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine, and a second handgun was discovered in the van where Tran was found dead.
“Even if we cannot be sure an attack was racial in intent, it nonetheless can be racial in effect,” Frank Wu, president of Queens College, City University of New York, said before the attacker was identified. “For a community already traumatized, this is just another terrible moment. It is easy to understand why Asian Americans are anxious.”
Pastor and writer Raymond Chang said the shootings are yet another shockwave for a community still trying to regain equilibrium after the anti-Asian violence of recent years.
“We have not had enough time and space to heal from all the collective trauma and loss our communities have gone through,” said Chang, president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative. “Incidents like these add to the unprocessed pain and trauma that has piled up over the years.”
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City’s first Lunar New Year celebration since COVID pandemic began
The Saturday night incident at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, just after the city had launched its annual Lunar New Year festival, also shook a quiet community just east of downtown Los Angeles that takes pride in its diversity, with annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations and cherry blossom festivals.
“This was the beginning of what we thought would be a great time,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, told reporters outside the Monterey Park Civic Center, less than a mile from where the rampage occurred. “This is especially shattering because of that.”
This weekend had marked the first time Monterey Park held its Lunar New Year celebration since before the pandemic, but on Sunday morning, normally bustling Garvey Avenue lay eerily quiet, with deserted vendor tents and idle carnival rides.
Second-day festivities canceled
While the incident took place away from the city-sponsored event, officials canceled the two-week festival’s second-day events as a precaution. About 100,000 people were expected to attend the Year of the Rabbit festivities, which were to have included traditional lion and dragon dancers in addition to food booths and other entertainment.
“The city expresses condolences to the individuals, families and friends who were injured in this tragic incident,” a statement on the city’s website read.
At Monterey Park’s Lincoln Hotel, where many festival vendors and contractors were staying, Kevin Chu, 52, worked the front desk in a state of shock.
“They’re all leaving now,” he said. “I never imagined in this kind of community such things could happen.”
Lunar New Year is time of celebration
Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, a San Francisco-based organization formed during the COVID-19 pandemic to combat and gather data about rising anti-Asian hate, called the crime “devastating beyond words.”
Stop AAPI Hate has received more than 11,000 reports of anti-AAPI hate incidents since it began tracking such data in March 2020, Kulkarni said.
“After a day of celebration, we are waking up to a nightmare,” she said. “This tremendous act of violence, on one of the most important days of the year for many Asian Americans, at a place where Asian American families come to gather and celebrate, is sending shockwaves through our community and resurfacing all-too-familiar feelings of pain and fear.”
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“How are we supposed to mourn and celebrate at the same time?” Amanda Nguyen, founder of civil rights organization Rise and a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, posted on Twitter. “Lunar New Year is sacred to us. I’m desperately trying not to cry because I was brought up with the tradition that anything that happens on LNY sets a precedent for the rest of the year.”
In Atlanta, Marian Liou said news of the shootings made her briefly reconsider attending a Lunar New Year celebration in her city, but she did anyway. “In community, to spite the fear, was, for us, the best place to be,” she posted on Twitter, along with photos of the event.
“If Rabbit is the luckiest sign,” she wrote, “why must we welcome this new year with weeping?”
Monterey Park residents celebrate diversity
Chu, the California state representative who formerly served as Monterey Park mayor and council member, said she was “stunned and shocked” that the crime had taken place in the peaceful community she’s called home for 37 years.
A small city of about 60,000, Monterey Park was named one of the country’s best places to live in a 2017 Time/Money article that praised the city’s plentiful parks, amphitheater, and farmer’s market in addition to its diversity. Drive around the city – which is about two-thirds Asian, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates – and you might see street signs in Chinese or elders practicing tai chi in the park.
“To have this happen shatters our feeling of normalcy that we’ve had for so many years,” Chu said. “This is a city that has gone through a lot, but it has worked together, and the people in the city enjoy the diversity that’s here.”
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Lawmakers, Asian American celebrities react to Monterey Park attack
On Twitter, actor Simu Liu, of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, wrote that he was “shocked, saddened, angered and heartbroken for the families who have been affected.”
Liu noted that Monterey Park was home to “Asian American families, parents, grandparents, siblings, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles. All of whom were looking forward to celebrating the New Year this weekend.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed similar sentiments.
“Monterey Park should have had a night of joyful celebration of the Lunar New Year,” Newsom tweeted. “Instead, they were the victims of a horrific and heartless act of gun violence.”
Monterey Park Mayor Pro Tem Jose Sanchez, who will be installed as mayor in two days, said he had to cancel his daughter’s sixth birthday celebration because of the shooting and wanted to be present for the city and community in light of the tragedy.
Sanchez said the city is planning to hold a vigil on Tuesday for the victims of the attack. The ceremony will replace the one that was supposed to be held for Sanchez’s mayoral installation, he said.
Asian Americans fear rising anti-Asian attacks
Some said the violence, in the midst of the Lunar New Year celebration, rang too familiar. As the United States began to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the country’s Asian American community began to experience a different kind of attack as slurs and acts of violence against Asians rose, in part prompted by the anti-Asian rhetoric pushed by politicians and pundits blaming China for the outbreak.
“Asian Americans are on edge,” said Wu, of Queens College, noting a series of videos that went viral during the pandemic of Asians peppered with slurs or elders being shoved to the ground. “So many fear being attacked on the street, just going about their business. … I know many elderly Asian immigrants who are still scared, staying in their apartments rather than going to the grocery store.”
While not every incident is technically a hate crime, Wu said, “you add it up and it forms a pattern. … Asian Americans yearn to belong. This is a moment when we are wondering if we will be accepted.”
Chang, of the Asian American Christian Collaborative, said the violence Asian Americans have faced not only in recent years but historically will lead many to question whether they can safely live normal lives.
“The fact that we can’t tell if we will be attacked for simply being Asian or that we might be on the receiving end of a bullet that a shooter should never have gotten their hands on creates all forms of stress and adds to a culture of feeling unsafe,” he said.
Contributing: Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY; The Associated Press