In just the first few weeks of 2023, the U.S. has already suffered at least 39 mass shootings—more than any other January on record, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The massacres have left many communities reeling in trauma, though perhaps none more than Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), who made up most of the victims in back-to-back California shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay. What should have been a week of Lunar New Year celebration became a time of mourning, as these shootings build upon the ever-growing catalog of violence and hate crimes toward the Asian community.
Advocates from Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay are calling on folks to continue donating money and resources to ensure the victims’ families and communities are cared for.
The first shooting occurred on Jan. 21, when 11 people were killed at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. The studio was a place for people of all ages to learn how to dance, but it was especially popular with retirees. The victims were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.
“This is a dance studio where most people are retired Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino,” said Chun-Yen Chen, the executive director of the Asian Pacific Community Fund. “They are in their retirement, trying to enjoy their lives.”
Chen first took her son and daughter to the studio years ago when they developed an interest in ballroom dancing after watching “Dancing With the Stars.” Star Ballroom Dance Studio was one of two ballroom dancing studios in the community, and Chen immediately signed them up. In a press conference, she related how the elders in the community were like “grandparents” to her children. The morning after the shooting, Chen woke to a phone call from her son, who feared she had been caught in the attack. “I know those people who normally go to the dance party and that studio,” said Chen in an interview with Bazaar. “Nobody would have thought this would be their last dance.”
The AAPI Equity Alliance has released an extensive document with resources for the community following these attacks, including mental health and legal resources, immediate resources for victims of the shooting, including Mandarin-speaking funeral homes, and contact information for the California Victim Compensation Board Resources for Victims of Crime.
A team of 29 organizations has also created the Monterey Park Lunar New Year Victims Fund, which reached $900,000 in less than two days. During a press conference, Connie Chung Joe, the chief executive officer of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, explained that government relief workers and agencies are working directly with victims’ families, but they may not necessarily speak the language or be familiar with the Asian American community. Chung Joe said she had been working tirelessly to connect with government agencies to bridge that gap and ensure victims’ families receive the funds safely and privately. After four days, she was finally able to connect with an official.
“There is a disconnect where they have access to information, but they don’t know the community,” said Chung Joe. “They don’t understand the network of support that is already in the community, whereas those of us on the ground in the community understand all of that.”
As many continue to process the loss of their loved ones, some community members are also concerned they will lose what was once a safe space for dancing.
“So many people reached out to me, afraid that the dance studio will be permanently closed,” said Chen.
One dancer who frequented the studio for 20 years wrote Chen an email asking if the shop would be closed. He told her that, as long as they’re willing to open, the community will come back.
“I think it’s a very powerful message of support and love,” said Chen. “We need to keep dancing. Please do not let the Lunar New Year Eve be your last dance ever.”
Merely two days after the Lunar New Year shooting, a farmworker killed seven of his coworkers at two farms in Half Moon Bay, an Asian and Latinx farmworker community about 400 miles up the coast from Monterey Park. Darlene Tenes, the founder of Farmworker Caravan, had only recently visited the mushroom farm where one of the shootings took place. She founded the organization at the start of the pandemic to provide emergency supplies and resources for the farmworkers who were often undocumented, underpaid, and working under arduous conditions.
After the Half Moon Bay shooting, Tenes opened a GoFundMe to support the victims, their families, and workers affected by recent flooding, which rendered their land unworkable for up to three months. Now, because of the shooting, the farms will also be closed due to the investigation. According to Tenes, the remaining workers who lived on the farm have been evacuated into temporary motel rooms. They do not know yet when they will be able to return to their homes.
“They’re going to be out of work,” said Tenes. “When a farmworker doesn’t work, they don’t eat. Bottom line. What they really need is money right now. There’s such a multitude of issues that farmworkers are dealing with on a daily basis.”
Tenes is asking for Visa gift cards, other forms of monetary donations, nonperishable items, and culturally relevant foods.
Organizations like Stop AAPI Hate and Chinese for Affirmative Action have created a resource list for victims of traumatic violence in Half Moon Bay, which is also available in simplified Mandarin. Chinese for Affirmative Action has also created a GoFundMe page for the victims and their families, and Asian Pacific Fund is collecting donations for nonprofits providing in-language and culturally appropriate support to individuals affected by the tragedy.
On the other side of the country, in Pittsburgh, the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) is hosting a solidarity rally Feb. 4 led by Phoebe Balascio. According to Balascio, the event was a space to process grief, loneliness, and anger while uplifting feelings of remembrance, care, community, and hope.
“We aim to work alongside local organizers and organizations from our sibling marginalized communities as we continue their legacies and uplift their work because we know that violence against Asians and Asian Americans is not new,” said Balascio. “It is rooted in the same state-sanctioned, interconnected sources of harm that impact all of our communities, including racism, xenophobia, sexism, white supremacy, ableism, imperialism, and cisheteropatriarchy. We create safety and cultivate wholeness together in community when we work toward a future where all are free with abundant resources to thrive.”
This is ECAASU’s second solidarity rally, having been first created with the help of 25 community organizations following the 2021 Atlanta shooting that killed eight people, including six Asian spa workers.
Balascio wants folks to listen to Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park organizers to find resources for support—beyond these efforts, she hopes people will begin to challenge interconnected systems of oppression, including white supremacy, xenophobia, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism, imperialism, and militarism, in whatever ways they manifest.
“It sounds daunting and complex, but we are reminded that there are decades of activists, scholars, moments, and movements upon which we build and continue this work,” said Balascio. “Our AAPI communities will create safety, wellness, and wholeness only by working alongside our sibling communities in solidarity toward a future where all are free with abundant resources to thrive.”