Haoning (Zoe) Guo
Edited by Alexandra Huggins
On Lunar New Year’s Eve of this year, a 72-year-old man opened fire inside Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, a vibrant Asian-American enclave east of Los Angeles. Less than 48 hours later, a 66-year-old man attacked two mushroom farms in the coastal community of Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, taking the lives of seven farm workers, most of whom were Chinese immigrants.
California’s two back-to-back gun rampages claimed the lives of 18 people collectively and devastated the Asian American communities at a supposedly joyous time for celebration with families and friends. While incidents of hate and discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community have been surging due to anti-Asian racism from the COVID-19 pandemic, the two shootings hit the community on another level, as both the victims and the perpetrators were Asian American themselves. The reality that these crimes were “from my people and against my people” baffled a community already grappling with tides of hate crimes and prejudice. In particular, Monterey Park, with the surrounding San Gabriel Valley, is a magnet for Asian Americans in Southern California and an ethnoburb that creates a bastion of Asian-American suburban life. Now, back-to-back carnages have shattered the precarious sense of belonging and safety carefully constructed by generations of immigrants. As the Asian American community reels from hate and hostility from outside of the enclave, the safe haven itself is no longer safe when crimes are perpetrated by its own members.
Another anomaly was that the gunmen were of retirement age, much older than typical perpetrators of mass shootings. Although personal grievances and enmity are speculated to be part of the motives, the authorities have not yet specified the exact reason behind the Monterey Park shooting. In a recent jailhouse interview, the perpetrator of the Half Moon Bay shooting revealed that he had endured years of bullying from colleagues and inhumanly long working hours. Yet, his complaints to the supervisors were never addressed. The man is also believed to suffer from mental illness. His grievances are part of a larger narrative of immigrant life, which is characterized by the lack of availability and access to mental health support services due to language barriers and social stigma, particularly among older immigrants. Studies have found that Asian Americans are the least likely to seek psychological services when compared with the overall U.S. population, which could force them to live through the hardship of living as ostracized and alienated immigrants, internalizing the racism they encounter and the hostile work environment that they lack the agency to escape.
The tragedies during the Lunar New Year in 2023 highlight the peculiar circumstances of the Asian American community under the confluence of exacerbating racial tensions and the gun violence epidemic in this country. Asian Americans are not exempt from the phenomena of gun violence and mass shootings. As Min Zhou, the Professor of Sociology & Asian American Studies at UCLA, pointed out, the perpetrator could be “emboldened by the gun culture in this society and also by the violence against Asians in recent years, especially during the pandemic.” The traditionally gun-averse community is now witnessing increasing numbers of gun ownership in recent years, as gun sales to Asian Americans rose by 43% during the pandemic. But firearm ownership for self-defense is not the optimal solution to the insecurity, frustration, and trauma accumulated by the community in recent years. In the future, more firearms are going to be used and misused within and outside of the community, compounding the issue of gun violence. In the meantime, amid a tense geopolitical backdrop, including the recent episodes of the spy balloon saga and the Chinese-made cargo cranes speculated as potential spying tools, the Asian American community could be more vulnerable to the xenophobic rhetoric and arbitrary hate and hostility amid the backdrop of increasingly fragile US-China relations.