Two recent mass shootings have rocked Asian-American communities in California — and the rest of the country.
The shootings, which involved Asian-American victims and perpetrators alike, were shocking and devastating to a community still grappling with the violence many of its members experienced during the pandemic.
“These two particular tragedies are shocking and triggering for many Asian Americans,” said James Zarsadiaz, a professor at the University of San Francisco who has written extensively on the history of Monterey Park, where one of the shootings took place. “It was really hard to process all of this…because before [many] Asian Americans, in recent years it has been a consecutive tragedy.
The shootings happened within days of each other last week. In Monterey Park, California – a suburb near Los Angeles – a 72-year-old Asian-American man killed 11 people, all of whom are of Asian descent, on Saturdays at a local dance studio; he also injured nine others. Police have not yet identified one motive for the shootingthough they are reportedly looking at personal connections the shooter had with patrons of the studio.
In Half Moon Bay – a beach town south of San Francisco – a 66-year-old Asian-American man killed 7 people, including Chinese and Latino farm workers on Monday. The suspect worked with some of the victims at a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay and previously worked at a second farm that employed other victims. Police are treating the attack as a possible incident of “workplace violence”, although the investigation is still ongoing. In both cases, more information about the victims and the motives of the suspects is being released.
Both shootings occurred just as the Lunar New Year holiday, a time that is typically a joyful occasion to celebrate with friends and family, was just getting underway. Community activists note that the shootings have only exacerbated past traumas, tapped existing fears about anti-Asian violence, and raised concerns about gun control and mental health. These shootings follow anti-Asian attacks that have surged in recent years as Asian Americans have been scapegoated for the spread of the coronavirus. Between March 2020 and March 2022, the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate received reports of nearly 11,000 anti-Asian incidents including physical violence, verbal abuse and property damage.
“I feel like it’s just been an onslaught of violence, one after the other. We just went through a series of storms,” said Chrissy Lau, a history professor at California State University Monterey Bay who specializes in Asian-American studies.
The California shootings were a terrible “series of storms”
The shootings have increased the pain and fear Asian Americans have experienced in recent years, activists say.
“Really, it’s, you know, piling it on,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, an organization dedicated to tracking anti-Asian violence and harassment. “Each incident becomes another where the community is reeling.”
For some, the initial news of the Monterey Park shooting sparked fears of another racist attack against Asian Americans, similar to the violence that increased during the pandemic. In the last few years, there is an increase in hate crimes to Asian Americans, who blamed the group for the pandemic. And while politicians lean on more inflammatory anti-Chinese rhetoric, experts fear such statements could also fuel xenophobic feelings and actions.
“There’s still that feeling of being targeted and scared when we hear about a shooting like this,” Connie Chung Joe, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, told the Associated Press.
This fear was exacerbated by past anti-Asian attacks, including the 2020 stabbing of an Asian family in Midland, Texas, Sam’s Club parking lot and a 2021 mass shooting at multiple Atlanta spas that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. As more information has been announced, the revelation that the suspects in both recent shootings are elderly Asian-American men has led to his own sadness and reflection. Given the limited information on the motives behind these attacks, many in the Asian American community are still trying to wrap their heads over both the causes behind them and some of the similarities between the shooters.
“It’s by my people and against my people, so it’s very sad,” said Min Zhou, a professor of sociology and Asian American studies at UCLA.
“He chose to harm his fellow Asian Americans, so I think that’s kind of an added pain,” added Kulkarni of the Monterey Park gunman.
The shootings have shaken people’s sense of security in both places. Historically, Monterey Park has been a “vibrant Asian-American enclave,” says Kulkarni, and “one of the first suburbs in the United States to have an Asian majority,” according to Zarsadiaz. Since the 1970s, Monterey Park has established itself as a “suburban Chinatown” and has become a central middle-class center of Asian-American restaurants, shopping malls, and meeting places.
“I go to dim sum in Monterey Park, I play volleyball in Monterey Park, I do my shopping in Monterey Park,” says Lau, who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, where the suburb is located.
“Monterey Park, you know, has a lot of cultural value for a lot of Asian Americans because, again, it reflects where a lot of us live, or at least a lot of us grew up,” says Zarsadiaz.
The violence in a historically safe space for Asian Americans has inspired both immense grief and solidarity. “That fear is always there when you have such a devastating incident and experience,” said Zhou, who said her son’s in-laws visited the dance studio where the shootings took place.
The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office has released the names of the victims at the Monterey Park shooting, including Xiujuan Yu, 57; Hongying Jian, 62; Lillian Li, 63; Mymy Nhan, 65; Muoi Dai Ung, 67; Diana Male Ling Tom, 70; Wen-Tau Yu, 64; Valentino Marcos Alvero, 68; Ming Wei Ma, 72; Yu-Lun Kao, 72; and Chia Ling Yau, 76. Many were older Asian Americans who frequented the studio and enjoyed ballroom dancing.
In Half Moon Bay, the shooter targeted farm workers at two mushroom farms, including both Chinese and Latino workers, fueling fear in an already vulnerable community.
Currently, 2,500 to 3,000 farm workers work in and around Half Moon Bay, a beach town in Northern California. according to the Los Angeles Times. These include migrant workers and long-term residents, people of Asian and Latino descent, and some undocumented immigrants. Historically, Asian Americans, including Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers, have constituted a significant portion of the California agricultural workforce, although their numbers have declined since 1965, when U.S. policies resulted in the influx of more Asian immigrants into other occupations.
Joaquin Jimenez, vice mayor of Half Moon Bay, has said some farm workers are afraid to return to work after this horrific attack, which took place where many workers lived and was witnessed by children returning from school.
“It’s important to humanize who these farm workers are: They’re mothers and fathers and uncles,” said Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, executive director of ALAS, a Half Moon Bay nonprofit dedicated to advocacy for Latino workers. told the San Francisco Chronicle. Farm workers have had to deal with it for a long time challenging working conditions in the state, including low wages, overcrowded housing and workplace exploitation. Now, added to those concerns is the fear of fatal workplace violence.
Information on the victims in Half Moon Bay is not yet fully available, although six of the seven victims’ names have been released by the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office. They are Zhi Shen Liu, 73; Qi Zhongcheng, 66; Marciano Jimenez Martinez, 50; Ye Tao Bing, 43; Ai Xiang Zhang, 74; and Jing Zhi Lu, 64.
The shootings have led to calls for policy changes
A wave of support for the victims and calls for policy changes followed the shootings. Members of both the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay communities are responding with mutual aid and financial support for the victims and their families.
“For us, the focus is on what we can do for the victims, the survivors, their families and community members,” says Kulkarni. The L.A. Times has compiled a list of fundraising campaigns to help victims of the Monterey Park shooting, and the San Jose Mercury news also compiled a list to help victims of the Half Moon Bay shooting.
In addition to victim-focused aid, experts and organizers are also pushing for stricter gun laws, increased mental health resources for older people, and increased surveillance of domestic violence within the Asian-American community. In both cases, the shooters were elderly Asian-American men, and in the case of the Half Moon Bay attack, the shooter had previously received a temporary restraining order for assaulting a roommate.
The similar age profiles of both shooters have led to calls for increased investment in mental health and economic resources for Asian American seniors, a group often faces gaps in such services because of stigma, a lack of cultural fluency among doctors and language barriers.
“I think the general consensus is that many Asian Americans, especially older Asian Americans, don’t have the language or the resources to address mental health issues,” says Zarsadiaz.
Lawyers and lawmakers have also been pushing for more robust gun control measures in the wake of the two shootings, including backing a federal assault weapons ban that has been blocked in Congress. In the past, Asian Americans have supported strong gun control measures — 77 percent supported them in a 2022 AAPI data survey — advocacy poised to continue in the wake of these tragedies.
“This is a big problem of gun violence,” Zhou says. “And violence isn’t just unique to a particular group, so that needs to be addressed across the board.”