Warning: This article contains graphic content relating to mass shootings.
Student leaders from Asian American Pacific Islander organizations on campus reflected on the mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, its impact on the Asian American community and collective healing with the Daily Nexus.
Occurring in the U.S.’s first suburban Chinatown, the shooting took place on Jan. 21 following a Lunar New Year festival in the city to celebrate the annual holiday. With a group of majority elderly and Asian individuals gathered in the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a lone gunman fired 42 rounds, shooting more than 20 individuals and killing 11.
The tragedy marked California’s third mass shooting of 2023, and Monterey Park — a site that annually hosts one of the largest Lunar New Year events in Southern California — turned into a place of sorrow and fear for the Asian American community.
The UC Santa Barbara Asian Resource Center postponed its Lunar New Year celebration — organized in collaboration with various Asian cultural organizations — to Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) month in May in solidarity.
As the president of one of the major AAPI student organizations on campus, third-year communication and sociology double major and Filipinx cultural, social and political organization Kapatirang Pilipino (KP) President Robyn Violanda said she prioritized providing space for her friends, organization and community to grieve following the tragedy.
“There was a collective shock and mourning … They just happen so frequently, and you just never know how much it’ll affect people,” Violanda said. “Especially with this being an incident that’s so catered toward a certain community, a community that I’m a part of and care so much about, there’s a sense of just wanting to be there and provide support.”
Violanda said she and many other Asian American students at UCSB considered Monterey Park to be a safe haven for the community.
“This incident has hit so close to home, [as] I know a lot of people are from that area,” she said. “It’s a weird thing for us to be told to get used to feeling unsafe.”
UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn sent a message to the campus community to address the various acts of violence committed toward marginalized communities in California, including the shooting at Monterey Park.
Citing the Monterey Park shooting, a shooting in Half Moon Bay and the arrest and deathly assault of Tyre Nichols, Klawunn reflected on these tragedies and their impact on the Asian American and Black communities at UCSB.
“These events are heinous, tragic, and should galvanize us to create change so that no more lives are lost at the hands of gun violence, racism and state violence,” Klawunn said in a statement. “With commitment, our UCSB community has the leadership and capacity to do the work that would one day make this a reality.”
Violanda emphasized the urgent need to create a space for community healing at UCSB, where Asian students make up 17.3% of the undergraduate population, in light of this tragedy.
“Discussing this in the context of leading an Asian American organization — a big one at UCSB — I know a lot of us are trying to create and seek a space that [is] centered around community healing,” she said.
Third-year biology major and Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) Co-President Ashley Pham said she was shocked and heartbroken by the news of the shooting, especially with it occurring on a holiday she personally holds dear and in a predominately Asian area.
“It was so close to Lunar New Year, which is a very serious, very meaningful occasion for me and my family — I’ve been celebrating it my whole life,” Pham said. “Especially that it happened to a group of Asians in a predominately Asian area that we all feel safe in … I know how much it’s impacting us as a community.”
Pham expressed frustration over how often such shootings occur and hoped the sheer number of shootings in this year alone would serve as a wake-up call for action.
“I feel like this has been a wake-up call for gun violence … and the amount of times it’s been happening is disappointing,” she said. “It strikes fear all the time because we always have the same reaction to it, yet no change is happening.”
“It’s an alarm, but none of us are waking up,” Pham continued.
Similar to Violanda, Pham is currently prioritizing providing resources and creating a safe community for AAPI students at UCSB following the shooting, emphasizing that solidarity within the community is what is important for the UCSB student community, many of whom are far from home.
“We want to emphasize the fact that we’re here for all of our members,” Pham said. “If they need it, we will provide them resources because I know it’s hard to ask for help or ask for resources. So, I hope that our members can come to us for that.”
Third-year psychological and brain sciences and communication double major and Korean American Student Association Co-President Hannah Hwang shared Pham’s sentiment of how jarring the timing of the shooting was amidst Lunar New Year.
“[Lunar New Year] is a time of celebration and appreciation with friends and family, so hearing that this had happened right on Lunar New Year’s Eve was really shocking, and I was really upset to hear about it,” Hwang said.
In light of the shooting, Hwang hopes to begin upcoming meetings with moments of silence in solidarity with the victims of the tragedy.
“We [want to acknowledge that] we know that this happened and that we’re feeling for them, and we support the people [who] were affected by this,” she said.
Violanda advised the AAPI campus community to feel the disappointment, frustration and grief in light of the shooting and emphasized the various communities at UCSB to heal in a safe space.
“Allow yourself to cry and be angry, be frustrated and don’t be ashamed of it. Our very existence as a minority in the United States and in a predominantly white institution is a heavy burden, so it’s okay to feel frustrated when we see our communities being hurt and targeted,” Violanda said.
“Know that we are not alone in suffering … and there’s always people here around us who are willing to listen,” she said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the Feb. 2, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.