How Asian American communities move forward after violence

Monterey Park is just one of the latest incidents amid years of tragedy for various Asian American communities.

Photo of a person taping up a paper on a wall next to an American flag and a large portrait of an older woman

Yannie Chau remembers hearing the helicopters whir overhead as sirens blared through her neighborhood. As a high school student living in Monterey Park, she is still shaken a month after the deadly shooting that claimed the lives of 11 at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

“It’s something beyond shock … I think a sense of numbness, like the sense that you don’t know exactly what to feel after,” Chau said.

The shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay were the latest attacks on the Asian community. In the past several years, acts of violence involving Asian and Asian American victims made headlines, including multiple shootings in spas across Atlanta, anti-Asian hate crimes in cities like New York in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an attack within a predominantly Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods.

While motives vary, it is undeniable the profound impact these acts of violence leave on the Asian and Asian American communities across the nation. Monterey Park is just the most recent example.

For Council Member Henry Lo, who recently finished his term as the city’s mayor, news of the shooting came when tweets and texts flooded his phone late at night.

Photo of a man with glasses speaking with a microphone

“I think that my reaction, which collectively is the reaction of all residents, is disbelief,” Lo said. “We’re a community that is very family focused … I think oftentimes when you hear about incidents, you tell yourself, ‘Well, it happened elsewhere or under different circumstances. It wouldn’t happen here in our community,’ and yet it happened.”

This event shattered the usual sense of security felt by many residents of the city. Yannie Chau’s father, Richard Chau, has lived in Monterey Park for nearly 17 years. To him, the shooting was unprecedented.

“I was personally shocked, and then I started to say, ‘Wow, this can happen in a Chinese community,’” he said. It was made more tragic given the timing of the shooting, on Lunar New Year, a time for gathering and celebration among many East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.

Yannie Chau recalls the moment she heard the news the morning after. “I woke up to my parents having the television open with the news on,” she said. “So I was in shock and receiving messages from my friends asking if I was okay … my family was there like two hours prior to the incident at the exact same spot.”

For both Lo and Chau, they feel the best way to move forward as a community at the moment is to support each other in their time of need.

“Through my lunch breaks, I’ve gone to eat at some restaurants,” Lo said. “Just ask the owners. ‘Have you seen a return of customers?’ ‘Are people still scared’ and ‘What can we do?’ We have to make sure that for those who need trauma counseling, it’s provided.”

Photo of index cards with Chinese and "RIP" on them

“We’re grateful to see this community to try to come together and try to rebound back from this tragedy,” Chau said. “And we’re really impressed to see the amount of help we’ve been able to receive in such a short amount of time.”

To prevent such incidents from happening again in the future, Lo feels that pinpointing the root of these attacks is important in order to better provide services to tackle issues ranging from mental health to domestic violence to senior isolation in the Asian American community.

More than 60 mass shootings have already occurred in the United States since the start of the year. “I shudder to think how many more may occur between now and the end of June,” Lo said. “We need to demand, demand resources, demand that we have linguistically and culturally competent access to health care services.”

Chau, on the other hand, stated that she sees this event as a wake-up call, pushing people to become more aware of the dangers they may face even in their quiet neighborhoods.

“We definitely did not have as much awareness in regard to these sort of crimes because it did feel so far away,” Chau said. “I do think that because of this, people of all ages, especially in this area, are more aware, and I think going forward, we can increase that awareness.”

Although the culprit has been identified and pronounced dead, the case has not been entirely closed for the community. A national discussion of violence within the Asian American community continues, with the incident also reminding the public about questions on tighter gun control and safety for marginalized communities.

Photo of two people. One has a sign saying "The Problem is Guns!"

In addition to the acts of violence committed on Asian and Asian American victims, recent news sheds a light on the issue of gun ownership within the community. During the pandemic, gun sales to Asian Americans rose 43%. The reason, according to a study by the University of Michigan, was a response to acts of racism and hate crimes on the Asian community.

For many who armed themselves, it was an act of self-defense, but with the rise of gun violence perpetrated by members of the Asian and Asian American community, some see this as a red flag to more acts of violence.

Just in the past week, an Asian man was charged with committing a hate crime after shooting two Jewish men leaving synagogues in Los Angeles.

One month after Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, the pains of tragedy still linger. Still, the affected communities find ways to push forward, whether it be raising awareness or starting self-defense classes for Asian American seniors.

But these attacks leave more questions than answers on preventing the attacks themselves across the country. Gun control and mental health remain critical talking points, but the ultimate goal lies in breaking the constant cycle of fear, animosity and prejudice that plagues the community.