Asian Americans in California, already on edge over a wave of hate crimes against their communities, are taking small comfort from the fact that the suspected perpetrators of the past week’s two mass shootings were Asian Americans themselves.
“Simply because this person happens to be Asian American from Monterey Park, doesn’t mean he wasn’t also targeting community members,” said community advocate Manjusha Kulkarni in reference to the man accused of fatally gunning down 11 people at a dance hall on Saturday night.
“He knew that there was a large Lunar New Year celebration, and he came armed,” continued Kulkarni, executive director of the Los Angeles-based AAPI Equity Alliance, in an interview with VOA.
Monterey Park Councilman Henry Lo agreed that his community will take time to get over the shock of that mass killing and another two days later near San Francisco.
“We will need everyone’s support as we begin the long road to recovery from this awful trauma,” he told VOA’s Mandarin Service.
The first shooting happened at a dance hall in Monterey Park, a largely Asian American suburb east of Los Angeles. All 11 victims were Asian Americans. The suspect shot and killed himself.
The second shooting was hundreds of miles north in Half Moon Bay, an idyllic small coastal town with nurseries and restaurants.
Seven people, five Chinese citizens and two Latinos, were killed at two Northern California mushroom farms. Police have identified the suspect as a worker at one of the nurseries.
The two tragic events took place during the Lunar New Year season, which is normally a time of rebirth, says state assemblyman Phil Ting, whose district includes part of San Francisco.
It’s a time “looking towards prosperity and good fortune,” he said. “To have these incidents that are impacting Asian American farmworkers here and then 11 Asian Americans down in Los Angeles is really just the worst kind of news we can ever have.”
About one in six Californians are Asian Americans. In recent years, many of them feel like they’re under threat, said California Governor Gavin Newsom at a recent press conference in Half Moon Bay.
“I’m also mindful that we saw hate crimes go up 177% against Asians last year,” he said. “We have to do more.”
The most recent shootings are different from the anti-Asian crimes committed by non-Asians. The two suspects in the mass shootings are themselves Asian Americans.
While the suspects’ motives are still under investigation, some believe mental health could be a factor. Asian American advocates highlight the fact that life in the U.S. for an immigrant can be challenging.
“The social and linguistic isolation they may have, the lack of mental health and community support that they need,” said Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. “The easy availability of assault weapons. These trends demonstrate that Asian Americans face a lot of issues as minorities.”
James Zarsadiaz, an associate professor of history at University of San Francisco, grew up in East Los Angeles.
Filipino and Chinese, Zarsadiaz says he wants to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit.
“It’s hard to really feel fully present and enjoy the festivity when you know that tragedy has hurt and has impacted the community,” he said. “And even though it’s one place, it does impact pretty much all of Asia America because, again, these are very familiar and intimate spaces and during a very personal and family-oriented time.”
Organizers of the San Francisco Lunar New Year parade, scheduled for February 4, said this week they would meet with city leaders and police to implement additional safety measures. The parade attracts thousands of spectators.
Calla Yu with the Mandarin Service contributed to this story. Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse.