It was a happy start to Monterey Park’s first Lunar New Year celebration before the pandemic, with live entertainment, carnival rides and coffee filling the streets of the predominantly Chinese-American city near Los Angeles.
But these celebrations were marred by one tragedy after another on Saturday night The gunman entered the ballroom dance hall and opened fire, killing 10 people and injuring 10 And sending terrified people into the streets.
The shooting, which left 5 men and 5 women dead, brought a grim end to a two-day party planned to ring in the Year of the Rabbit, with dragon dancers parading through city streets decorated with red lanterns.
Sunday’s festivities were canceled, although a few Lunar New Year celebrations continued in neighboring cities with large Asian-American populations.
“We haven’t had a celebration like this in three years, so it was important. People came out in droves,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jose Sanchez, who was there with his 6-year-old daughter. They estimate that 100,000 people attended on Saturday, and the festival is usually one of the largest Lunar Year celebrations in the state.
The massacre sent shockwaves through Asian-American communities across the country, prompting police to step up patrols in cities from San Francisco to New York for Lunar New Year celebrations.
No motive has been released and authorities say the suspect is Asian. But Asian-American advocacy groups say it’s another blow after years of high profile. Anti-Asian violence across the country.
“Regardless of what was intended, our community has had a really profound impact,” said Connie Chung-Jo, CEO of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice of Southern California. The nonprofit had set up a booth at the fair and planned to attend Sunday.
“For this tragedy to happen on one of our most important holidays … it feels very personal to our community,” he said. “There’s still a sense of victimization and fear when we hear about shootings like this.”
The San Gabriel Valley is home to a diverse array of Asian-American communities, including people of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino descent.
Ying Ying Guan, 29, saw a crowd of police cars and heard the sound of helicopters in Monterey Park on Saturday night. She didn’t learn her response to the shooting until she woke up Sunday morning to news of the shooting.
Gowan doesn’t know anyone involved but said it’s devastating to her community.
“It’s supposed to be families getting together to have fun and just have some time to be together,” he said. “Too many innocent victims.”
The suspect is described as an Asian male. Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said investigators believe he shot up the Star Ballroom dance studio, killing 10 people. Then 20 to 30 minutes later, he entered the Lai Lai Ballroom at the nearby Alhambra before bystanders disarmed him and 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. “Very sad.”
Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the east side of Los Angeles where about 70% of the residents are Asian, mostly of Chinese descent. The area became a destination for Asian immigrants in the 1970s and 80s when a real estate entrepreneur named Frederick Hsieh bought the 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 broader diversity of Los Angeles.
Its festivities were cancelled, 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 located a few blocks from City Hall on Garvey Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Monterey Park, a strip mall of small businesses with signs in both English and Chinese. Both Cantonese and Mandarin are widely spoken, Chinese holidays are celebrated, and Chinese films are shown regularly in the city.
Lynette Ma, 28, woke up to text messages from worried friends asking if she was OK. He had planned to take his mother to the fair on Sunday, but instead sat in a city park to deal with the tragedy.
“It was just the scariest thing,” she said. “It’s just scary because you never expect it to happen somewhere so close to home.”
He said his family would go out to eat on the day off, but it wouldn’t happen.
Sanchez said there will be a public vigil for the victims in the coming days.