Asian community reeling from Lunar New Year shooting

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — It was a joyous start to the first Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park since before the pandemic, with large crowds filling the streets of the predominantly Chinese-American city near Los Angeles for live entertainment, carnival rides and plenty of food.

But the celebrations were marred by tragedy on Saturday night after a gunman entered a dance hall and opened fire, killing 10 peoplewounding 10 more and sending panicked revelers into the streets.

The shooting, which left 5 men and 5 women dead, brought a jarring end to the planned two-day party to ring in the Year of the Rabbit, which featured dragon dancers parading through downtown streets decorated with red lanterns.

Sunday’s festivities were canceled, although some Lunar New Year celebrations went ahead in neighboring cities also home to large Asian-American populations.

“We haven’t had a celebration like this for three years, so this was important. People came out in droves,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jose Sanchez, who was there with his 6-year-old daughter. He estimated 100,000 people attended Saturday, and the festival is usually one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations in the state.

The massacre sent shockwaves through Asian-American communities around the country, prompting police from San Francisco to New York to step up patrols at Lunar New Year celebrations in their own cities.

No motive has been given for the crime, and authorities said the suspect is an Asian man. But Asian American advocacy groups said it was another blow after years of high-profile anti-Asian violence around the country.

“Regardless of what the intent was, the impact on our community has been very profound,” said Connie Chung Joe, executive director of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California. The nonprofit had a booth set up at the festival, and she had planned to attend on Sunday.

“To have this tragedy on one of our most important holidays … it feels very personal to our community,” she said. “There’s still that feeling of being targeted, and being scared, when we hear about a shooting like this.”

The San Gabriel Valley is home to a diverse range of Asian-American communities, including people of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino descent.

Yingying Guan, 29, saw a mass of police cars Saturday night in Monterey Park and heard helicopters overhead. She didn’t learn it was in response to a shooting until she woke up to the news of the shooting Sunday morning.

Guan doesn’t know anyone involved, but said she is devastated for her community.

“It’s meant to be families coming together to enjoy and just have some time to get together,” she said. “So many innocent victims.”

The suspect was described as an Asian man. Investigators believe he shot up the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, killing 10 people, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said. Then 20 to 30 minutes later, he entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in nearby Alhambra, before people there wrestled the gun from him and he fled, Luna said.

“When something like this happens — and I never thought it would happen in our community — it’s very difficult to process,” said Sanchez, who teaches in city schools. “There is so much grief.”

Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles where nearly 70% of the residents are Asian, mostly of Chinese descent. The area became a destination for Asian immigrants in the 1970s and 80s after a real estate developer named Fredric Hsieh bought land and advertised its rolling hills and warm climate in Chinese-language newspapers.

The city’s Lunar New Year celebration has become one of California’s largest. Sanchez, who is Mexican-American, said it’s a Chinese tradition that everyone enjoys and reflects the diversity of Los Angeles.

The festivities were canceled but several other events across the region, including a parade in the City of Westminster, went ahead as planned but with extra security.

The dance studio where the shooting took place is a few blocks from City Hall on Monterey Park’s main thoroughfare, Garvey Avenue, which is dotted with strip malls with small businesses with signs in both English and Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin are both widely spoken, Chinese holidays are celebrated, and Chinese films are regularly shown in the city.

Lynette Ma, 28, woke up to text messages from worried friends asking if she was okay. She had planned to take her mother to the festival on Sunday, but instead they sat in a city park to come to terms with the tragedy.

“It was just the most horrible thing,” she said. “It’s just terrible because you never expect it to happen somewhere so close to home.”

She said her family will go out to eat to mark the holiday, but it won’t be the same.

Sanchez said a public vigil for the victims will be held in the coming days.

___ Weber reported from Los Angeles.

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