As reports of another attack on the Asian American community flooded news outlets after a night of Lunar New Year celebrations, another piece of my heart that held any sort of optimism and hope for something better than before was torn out of my chest.
This time — maybe for good.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, on the evening of January 21st, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran opened fire on patrons celebrating the Lunar New Year at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California — killing 10 and wounding 10 others. As of this writing, reports have surfaced that the number of those killed has risen to 11. The victims are in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
Tran then allegedly proceeded to the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in the neighboring city of Alhambra to continue his massacre, but was disarmed by two patrons before he could harm any more victims and then fled the scene.
The next morning, in the nearby city of Torrance, surrounded by law enforcement, Mr. Tran reportedly took his own life with a self inflicted gunshot — adding to the tragic death toll.
This year, according to CNN, there have already been approximately 38 reported mass shootings in the United States. More mass shootings than there have been days in 2023 thus far.
As I sit in my prison cell at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center, I’m shook. My heart breaks for my community, and I’m deeply saddened by what appears to be yet another act of senseless violence.
I’m also deeply terrified. I’m afraid that our community has become too accustomed to tragedies like this. But I’m even more afraid that this cycle of violence will never end.
What kind of world do we live in where this is normal?
To be honest, at the risk of sounding terribly insensitive, my heart broke even more when I found out that the alleged shooter was an Asian elder — the same age and ethnicity as the victims.
As an Asian American, I was disappointed and embarrassed to the point where I had to look away from the television as several news stations replayed surveillance footage of a suspected gunman who could’ve been my father… my uncle… me.
Would this tragedy have been easier to comprehend if the shooter were White? Black? Hispanic? Anything but Asian?
I don’t know, but the thought makes me ashamed.
As politicians are racing to the podiums to exploit this tragedy as another failure of gun control laws in America and push their own agendas, I want us to take the time to really reflect on the lives lost and the impact on our society.
I want us to confront the shame that has forced us in the past to ignore real issues in our community that contribute to the perpetuation and normalization of tragedies like this.
Issues like toxic masculinity and domestic abuse, mental health, patriarchal norms, racism, sexism, homophobia, and so much more we’re too coward to confront.
Could this have been prevented? That’s an unfair question that’s impossible to answer.
But I believe it’s our duty to at least try.
There have been multiple theories speculating the possible motive behind this latest act of violence. Some have guessed mental health issues. Others have alleged possible domestic violence. Some, like me, are just dazed and confused.
While no motive has been confirmed, one thing’s clear — Mr. Tran needed help.
As we respectfully mourn the death of our community members, I encourage us to remember that, for better or worse, Mr. Tran was also a part of our community.
And at the end of the day, if we fail to humanize this elder and continue to turn a blind eye to things too painful to confront, this cycle of violence will never end.
I don’t have the answers of how we deal with this issue. Maybe there are no answers at all. Maybe my heart just can’t bear the thought of so many lives lost for nothing.
But despite it all, the only way for us to honor those we’ve lost is to continue to love. Hug your loved ones. Forgive and make amends. Tell people how much you love them.
Only that can give us the strength to heal…
Felix Sitthivong is a journalist, organizer, member of Empowerment Avenue, and advisor for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG). Through APICAG, Sitthivong has organized immigration, social justice and youth outreach forums and has designed Asian American studies courses, an intersectional feminism 101 class and an anti-domestic violence program. You can reach him via Securus (WA #354579) or write to him at Felix Sitthivong #354579, 191 Constantine Way, Aberdeen, WA 98520.