Column: In Monterey Park and now Half Moon Bay, the pain of being told it’s “one of us.”


Chuching Wang, Chairman of Taiwan’s Benevolent Assn. from California, peered into the lights of about a dozen TV cameras and spoke softly, deliberately.

“How could this happen in my Monterey Park?” he asked, shaking his graying hair. “We are so proud to be a model minority.”

It was 7:40 p.m. Monday and a crowd of more than 100 people had gathered for the first of several vigils planned for this week as people tried to make sense of a mass shooting that left 11 dead and nine wounded in the heart of South Africa. America. The Chinese American Community of California.

Authorities say 72-year-old Huu Can Tran burst into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on the eve of the Lunar New Year and opened fire on Asian-American grandparents and parents in their 50s, 60s and 70s — then tried to do the same at Lai Lai Balzaal in Alhambra before the flight. There is much speculation, including that Tran was driven by jealousy over a woman, but his exact motives remain unknown.

“How,” Wang asked again, “could this happen?”

What many mourners in Monterey Park didn’t know was that at 7:40 p.m. Monday, “this” had already happened again—nearly 400 miles away in the Bay Area.

Exactly three hours earlier, San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies announced they had arrested Chunli Zhao and said the 66-year-old Asian-American man had shot eight people — killing seven people — at two locations near Half Moon Bay . Chinese-American farm workers are among the victims.

“Tragedy upon tragedy,” Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted.

Indeed, in tragedy.

Not only have the Asian American communities in California lost lives in recent days in a very public, very violent, very senseless way. Those losses were compounded by the pain of learning that – as more than a few people told me during Monday night’s vigil – “one of us” did it.

Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the mass shooting that killed 11 people in Monterey Park.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

“One of the big problems right now is anti-Asian hatred. And of course it’s terrible,” Eric Chan, newly elected San Gabriel city councilman, said after saying a few words to the candle-carrying crowd. “But as an Asian-American man, I am proud of my race. And then be told it was an Asian American who committed the crime? It’s terrible.”

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He shook his head.

“Just the thought that within our own community,” Chan continued, “we have someone who has so much animosity and hatred in his heart, wherever it comes from. If it is committed by one of me, I feel extra bad.”

It’s a painful feeling that I can easily relate to because, sadly, black people understand it all too well.

For a host of reasons—many of which can be traced back to poverty, trauma, and centuries of systemic racism—Black people are both disproportionately victims and disproportionately perpetrators of crimes. It’s a reality that has long been lamented by black pastors and black families as self-defeating and self-defeating.

And yet, even when black people are killed in acts of hate — like when an 18-year-old white supremacist drove 200 miles last year to shoot black people in a Buffalo, NY, supermarket — it doesn’t take long for the conversation to settle. shifting to “but what about Chicago?” Or when activists take to the streets to denounce an act of police brutality that has claimed yet another black life, it’s always “but what about black-on-black crime?”

Blaming this kind of victim, wrapped in a flimsy shield of whataboutism, leaves little room for our community’s pain, or for honest policy talks about economic justice and mental health. Instead, it insidiously inspires shame.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna gives an update on the Monterey Park shooting at the Hall of Justice in downtown LA

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna provides an update on the Monterey Park mass shooting.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

And so I was disappointed, though not entirely surprised, to see social media erupt in similar demented, right-wing cheers after Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna released a photo of Tran as a suspect in the Monterey Park shooting.

“Liberals were quick to shout hate crimes against Asians over the mass shooting,” one person tweeted. “There is only one small problem. The shooter was Asian. Liberals want a race war so badly that they will stoop low to cause it.

“The racist a-Democrats are not angry or sad about the Monterey shooting itself,” another tweeted. “They’re mad it was an Asian on Asian crime and not a WHITE REPUBLICAN, so they can’t push their gun control narrative on hate crimes.”

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The Twitter atmosphere was so toxic that prominent Asian Americans began to push back.

“There’s a certain amount of glee in these ‘the shooter is Asian’ replies that just… go for yourself,” tweeted Korean-American blogger Phil Yu.

And then there was this tweet by Stephanie KyeongSeon Drenka, co-founder of the Dallas Asian American Historical Society: “The sneer of some people who are happy that the shooter may be Asian because they now successfully ‘own the libs’ who feared that this was a hate crime rather than acknowledging the collective trauma and grief our community has faced so far says a lot.

Most disturbing were the blatant attempts to downplay and even dismiss the very real wave of racism and hate crimes against Asian Americans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In California alone, there was a 177.5% increase from 2020 to 2021 (although black people are generally still targeted).

“Asians and Asian Americans have been nothing short of terrorized during the pandemic (as well as throughout American history),” tweeted Korean-American author Min Jin Lee, “and adding mass shootings committed by members of our own community only exacerbates our loss of security and our precarious sense of security.”

Hate crimes can also be intraracial – as we were reminded last year when David Wenwei Chou, a 68-year-old security guard from Las Vegas, shot six people at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods. Authorities found notes in Chou’s car stating that he did not believe Taiwan should be independent from China and that he had a problem with Taiwanese people.

FBI agents arrive Tuesday at a farm near Half Moon Bay where a mass shooting took place.

FBI agents arrive at a farm where a mass shooting took place near Half Moon Bay, California. Seven people were killed in two different locations.

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Helen H. Hsu, director of outreach, counseling and psychological services at Stanford University, regrets that this type of violence is not being talked about enough within Asian-American communities.

Meanwhile, gun deaths have risen along with gun purchases. Toxic masculinity remains a largely unaddressed problem, which all too often leads to domestic violence and even murder.

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“If you break us down, we Asians have the highest household income and the very lowest. We have the highest level of education and the very, very lowest,” she said. “If you mash those up, we look like a nice, normal bell curve. But there are people in our community who are really, really, really not doing well and we don’t talk about it.”

“But some of us like the model minority myth, and so there’s a lot of cultural stigma to hide our problems,” added Hsu, who is also president of the American Psychological Assn.’s Society for the Study of Race, Culture and Ethnicity . .

If anything, the mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay have made it harder to hide and ignore those problems.

Tran, who committed suicide on Sunday when a SWAT team surrounded his van in Torrance, was described by a former friend as a loner who was “miserable and desperate.” Two weeks before descending two dance studios with a gun, he told police a wild story about his family trying to poison him years ago and about being a victim of fraud and theft.

Zhao, who has been charged with murder, lived and worked with several farm workers whom he accused of being shot. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a former associate accused Zhao of trying to suffocate him in 2013 and subsequently filed a restraining order.

Hyepin Im, president and CEO of Faith and Community Empowerment, said now is the time to dispel the myths and unpack that stereotyped minority model. Because, as we see, one person’s problem, if left unaddressed, can quickly become everyone’s problem.

“Many of the community leaders, we’re all championing the need to address gun violence and address mental health resources,” she told me. “And so we don’t consider it — at least in the rooms I’ve seen — as an infamy factor.”

Newsom, speaking to Monterey Park residents earlier this week, acknowledged walking through a community that “feels underrespected, underappreciated.” [and] understaffed.”

It shouldn’t take a mass shooting to make it clear that people have unmet needs. And no community should be ashamed of demanding the government’s attention and resources necessary to prevent future harm.

That applies just as much to Asian Americans as it does to black people.

“It is always sad when someone in your community has committed a heinous act. We’re always afraid, ‘Is that our race?’” Im told me. “That’s, I think, the reality of America.”


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