Monterey Park shooting during Lunar New Year


A memorial was set up outside Star Ballroom Dance Studio to honor the eleven people who died in the Monterey Shooting (Credit to New York Times)

On Jan. 21, 2023, a mass shooting occurred in Monterey Park, California. The Congressional Research Service defines a mass shooting as firearm homicide incidents that involve four or more victims at one or more locations in close proximity. The gunman first opened fire inside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio after an all-day Lunar New Year festival, killing eleven people and wounding nine others. Around 20 minutes later, the shooter arrived at Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio with the intent to kill, but an onlooker named Brandon Tsay disarmed the shooter and took possession of his gun, saving several lives. 

The dance club where the shooting occurred was founded by Tsay’s grandparents, where he currently works part-time. Tsay’s heroism was honored at the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden.

Police identified the shooter as 72 year old Huu Can Tran, who was later found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The weapon wrestled from him during the confrontation with Tsay was a magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol with an attached extended magazine, which is illegal in California.

Tran was previously held on criminal charges, including illegal possession of a firearm, a rifle, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He also has a history of manufacturing gun silencers.

With over a hundred gun laws, California has more gun regulations in place than any state, but this does not stop the frequency of mass shootings. Though gun safety groups have been advocating for more laws and better enforcement, California’s strategy has its flaws, as the laws were unable to prevent the deaths of 19 people since the start of the new year. 

Monterey Park is a community known to attract Asian immigrants, as the area maintains a strong sense of cultural identity. Home to about 60,000 people, roughly two-thirds are of Asian descent, and the peace of the suburban area was shattered amid this tragic event. The shootings dealt another blow to a community that has been a recent target of high-profile violence, including the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings.

The Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park is one of the largest Lunar New Year events in Southern California. To have such a tragedy occur during a Lunar New Year celebration sent a wave of fear through Asian American communities across the country. Officials canceled Sunday’s events following the shooting on Saturday. Other Lunar New Year events were also canceled, including a celebration at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena and another at the Citadel Outlets.

As the most important and widely celebrated holiday of the year in many Asian countries, the Lunar New Year shooting was shocking. 

“To have a shooting during such a special time was a tragedy,” said senior Mooncakes leader Clara Wang. “As a member of the AAPI leadership group at Westminster, I remember we were also in the midst of planning our school Lunar New Year celebration, and to hear that happen was a hit on our spirit.”

Although there was no clear motive, the recent violence sparked fear in the Monterey Park community. 

“I think that anytime there is a shooting, regardless of the community, there is a public outcry of grief. This particular shooting had an impact, not only because the victims of the shooting were Asian American, but elderly, in particular,” said DEI Coordinator Eric Khong. “I think it was tough because of that, but also tough because of the nature of the shooting itself, being associated with a Lunar New Year celebration.” 

For many, the shooting took away from the cheerfulness the holiday usually offers.  

“It was a moment of joy that was stolen from the Asian American community,” said Khong.

Some believe the shooting was caused by the rise of anti-Asian hate in the past few years. Given the circumstance of the holiday, the shooting may be considered a hate crime against Asian Americans.

What constitutes a hate crime remains ambiguous. In this case, as the perpetrator of the massacre is Asian American himself, there is debate whether to label the shooting as a hate crime. However, the shooting still exists in the larger conversation about the frequency of mass shootings in America. 

“California has such a high population of Asian Americans, and it makes it difficult to figure out if it is only a hate crime if the perpetrator is of a different race,” said Khong. “How do we determine whether or not it was racially motivated? It’s hard to say. I think it’s a nuisance answer; it speaks to a larger mental health crisis and conversation.” 

Parts of the school community and student body, including the Asian American student affinity group Mooncakes, have tried to address and bring light to events like these. 

“I think Westminster, because of the nature of Atlanta, is in a bubble when it comes to uncomfortable topics,” said Khong. “Some students are interested in talking about [the shooting]. Mooncakes recently had a town hall meeting to talk about the rise in anti-Asian violence and Asian hate crimes in the last couple of years.”

Wang elaborates on initiatives and measures Westminster has taken to address the shooting. 

“I know there’s a GoFundMe for some of the victims. At our school’s Lunar New Year event, we had some QR codes that were directed to the GoFundMe page,” said Wang. “The Monterey Park shooting has been an event that’s been hitting home for a lot of us. I think a lot of it is trying to get the word out about it all, as not everyone reads the news all the time. Spreading awareness is important.”

Edited by Kelley Lu