Monterey Park Mourning Loss After Mass Shooting : Consider This from NPR The people of Monterey Park, California, would normally be celebrating Lunar New Year right now, one of the biggest holidays of the year in a community that is two-thirds Asian. Instead, the city is mourning a terrible loss.

Ailsa Chang went to the site of Saturday night's mass shooting in Monterey Park to speak to people there about the tragedy's impact on their community, which is often described as the "first suburban Chinatown" in America.

We also hear from Min Zhou, a professor of sociology and Asian American studies at UCLA, about Monterey Park's history and significance as a safe space for Asians and Asian Americans.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment to help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Shock And Pain in Monterey Park, Site Of Another American Mass Shooting

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

On Sunday, I stood on the corner of Garfield and Garvey Avenues in Monterey Park, Calif., just east of Los Angeles, and I watched a video on Lee Huang's phone. He had taken it the night before to capture the celebrations on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

LEE HUANG: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: Oh, yesterday there were clowns and balloons and...

HUANG: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Ticket booths and looks like amusement park games where you could win prizes - oh, just a sea of a people, a parade.

HUANG: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: Right here, right here on Garvey.

HUANG: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: This is last night? Yeah, at 5:38 p.m. last night.

HUANG: Yeah, yeah.

CHANG: I was at that intersection with producer Jonaki Mehta because of what happened just steps away. Just a few hours after that video was filmed on Saturday, a gunman opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio. He killed 11 people and injured others.

YANG ZUO: Chinese community-wise, I don't think we've ever encountered anything of this magnitude.

CHANG: On Sunday, Yang Zuo was clutching his young daughter's hand, both of them just trying to process what had transpired less than 24 hours earlier.

When you first heard the news, having lived here for a while, like, what went through your mind?

ZUO: Oh, outrage, just shock - not even outrage, just shock - just jaws-to-the-floor instant shock because this is a very conservative community where everybody is, for the most part, over 40. Everybody just minds their own business. They're just here to make an honest living. That dance studio is behind the Bank of America that everybody goes to. It's also right next to the sheriff's station. So this is a very safe neighborhood.

CHANG: For decades, Monterey Park has been a place of refuge for Asians and Asian Americans, those who've just arrived in the country and those who have lived in the U.S. for generations. It's the kind of place where you can go ballroom dancing and hear songs in your native language.

CONSIDER THIS - Monterey Park is home to one of the largest and most vibrant Asian American communities in this country. But now, instead of joyfully celebrating one of the biggest holidays of the year, people there are mourning a terrible loss.

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CHANG: From NPR, I'm Ailsa Chang. It's Monday, January 23.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Details about Saturday night's massacre are still trickling out as we tape Monday afternoon. The man police identified as the gunman is dead. They say he shot himself as police closed in on Sunday. He was 72 years old. Police say they're still searching for a motive, and there are no outstanding suspects. The medical examiner's office says all the people killed at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio were in their 50s or older.

When we went to the scene, remnants of the weekend's Lunar New Year celebration were gone, replaced by yellow police tape, road barriers and makeshift memorials of flowers, candles and cards. One read, may the AAPI community do what we do best - take care of one another. I don't speak fluent Mandarin, and I found myself awkwardly resorting to Google Translate with some people.

HUNTER CHAO: Google. Google Translate.

CHANG: Yeah.

CHAO: Yes.

CHANG: Monterey Park has been called the first suburban Chinatown. This community is about two-thirds Asian, mostly Chinese, many recent immigrants.

Tell me why you wanted to come here tonight with these flowers.

AUTOMATED VOICE: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: Hunter Chao had been hanging back, watching the mourners from a distance with a bouquet of flowers in his hands.

CHAO: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: Because today is Chinese New Year, and it's very sad that something like this happens on the first day.

Chao says he first came here after emigrating from Hunan Province in China because he wanted to live in a place where he could fit in culturally. And, you know, a lot of people think of Monterey Park and the surrounding area as a place to find really good Chinese food. And it is, but it's so much more than that. You come here to be with people who look like you, talk like you, share the same background as you. And for Vincent Wu, who just moved here a month ago, this was a comfortable start in LA.

VINCENT WU: Yeah, you don't ever - you don't got a chance to use English there.

CHANG: How much do you speak English when you're just going about your life here in Monterey Park? Do you need to?

WU: Ten percent.

CHANG: Ten percent?

Even though the majority of people in Monterey Park are Asian, other immigrants who live here feel a sense of kinship, too, including Adam Jona, who's originally from Budapest, Hungary. He's lived here almost two decades, and he happens to be one of the dance instructors at Star Ballroom Dance Studio. We approached him after he had just placed a bouquet of red and white flowers on the street.

Were you there last night?

ADAM JONA: I was supposed to be there last night, but my schedule got canceled due to my students went to a different venue.

CHANG: Oh, my goodness. What went through your mind when you heard what happened last night then?

JONA: Honestly, I'm just in denial still at this stage.

CHANG: Did you know personally any of the people who were killed or injured?

JONA: Of course. I worked with them. And I still don't know who the 10 other person who got injured are, but I'm hoping that everybody is OK.

CHANG: Can you tell me a little bit about the community at Star Dance?

JONA: Since a lot of patrons are elderly or retired, mostly recreational dance or classes, showcases, parties.

CHANG: I mean, was there a part of you that was so relieved that your class got canceled?

JONA: The part of me today started to hit reality that no day's guaranteed. And I'm very blessed that I'm here. And I was a little mad at my student, that starting out the new year, a little lazy, and a lot of classes are being canceled. But it is very sad.

CHANG: It is very sad.

Before leaving Garvey Avenue, Jona told us that he's bracing himself to learn the names of the victims that he fears he will recognize.

JONA: I'm not looking forward to that.

CHANG: Well, authorities in California have now publicly identified some of the victims, but the names of others have yet to be released as officials work to notify their families.

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CHANG: We're going to hear a little bit more about the city of Monterey Park itself and the community there. And for that, we turn now to Min Zhou. She's a professor of sociology and Asian American studies at UCLA. Welcome.

MIN ZHOU: Thank you. Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: Thank you for being with us. So, you know, I mentioned earlier that Monterey Park is often referred to as the first suburban Chinatown. Can you tell us more about the city's history and how it came to be the place that it is today?

ZHOU: Yes, that's correct. So in the 1970s, Monterey Park was a multiracial community already. And then in the 1980s, there has been very strong foreign investment into the community from Taiwan and other parts of Asia, especially Taiwan. And then that investment really kind of start to attract immigrants from Asia, first from Taiwan and later on from mainland China and then from other parts of Asia. So the suburban Chinese community, as it's evolved, it becomes a magnet for the more resourceful middle-class Chinese immigrants.

CHANG: What's striking when you walk through Monterey Park and other parts of the San Gabriel Valley is you see so many signs written in Chinese characters, right? Like...

ZHOU: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Your dentist is Chinese. The people who run the grocery stores and work at the grocery stores are Chinese or are of other Asian descent. Like, you can be immersed in your culture 24/7 while you live there, right?

ZHOU: Yeah. Yeah. And also, it's the American ethnic culture, right? And so that's why the immigrants and also Asian Americans, they are quite attracted to that area, both with the American cultural diversity and also with their own unique culture. Like, I myself quite frequently, I go there to shop. I live on the west side.

CHANG: Of Los Angeles.

ZHOU: Yeah. And so a lot of people who do not live in the area, they also go there to shop, to have fun. Like, dancing is part of it, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

ZHOU: So that dancing studio and the herbal store next to it, and then also the tea shop - you know, a very well-known Taiwanese tea shop right across the street - is where we go there often.

CHANG: Yeah. And I heard that you have even danced at the Star Dance Ballroom Studio.

ZHOU: Yeah. Several years ago, I danced there. I mean, I'm not very good at dancing, but, you know, it's a community, right? It's kind of the event with friends. But my child's in-laws, they are regular dancers. So that weekend, they would have been there if it had not been for the Lunar New Year.

CHANG: Wow.

ZHOU: Because they had to go to be with their family for the gathering. So they did not go, but they were kind of, you know, traumatized by that.

CHANG: Well, given your personal connection to the ballroom studio and to Monterey Park, I mean, what was your reaction when you first heard this news?

ZHOU: I'm just totally shocked and devastated because it's so dear to my heart, that community. And I even feel - you know, my heart went to the victims, you know? It could have been me and it could have been anybody. Yeah. And also I feel angry, too, there's such things happening in our community.

CHANG: Well, authorities say that they are still investigating what the shooter's motivation may have been. But whatever that person's reasons were for doing what he did, what do you think the impact of this mass shooting will be on the people of Monterey Park and the surrounding Asian communities there?

ZHOU: Well, whatever the motive of the killer - right? - one thing to me is for certain that that person is definitely emboldened by the gun culture in this society and also by the violence against Asians in the recent years, especially during the pandemic. So that for me, I don't think there is any doubt on it. Now to the Asian community, like to individuals like me, you know, when we are walking on the street and, you know, doing things in the community, now we are still scared, right? And that's - you know, that fear, it's kind of a traumatizing.

CHANG: A retraumatizing.

ZHOU: Yeah.

CHANG: Min Zhou - she's a professor of sociology and Asian American studies at UCLA. Thank you very much for joining us today.

ZHOU: Thank you.

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CHANG: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ailsa Chang.

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