Lives lost in Monterey Park remembered at Phoenix Chinese Week event: 'We are one'

The Asian American Pacific Islander community in Phoenix is reacting to tragedy amidst the biggest cultural holiday of the year, the Lunar New Year.

The first Lunar New Year's festival in Phoenix was held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and organizers say it was an absolutely phenomenal turnout, but the tragedy in California was certainly on both the minds and hearts of so many.

At Steele Indian School Park, it was a celebration of culture at the "Culture and Cuisine Festival."

"Today is the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, Year of the Rabbit," said Eva Li, president of Phoenix Chinese Week.

While she’s celebrating a holiday typically marked with joy, her heart is also saddened.

"Our hearts really go out to the community of Monterey Park," Li said.

A 72-year-old man named Huu Can Tran is believed to have killed 10 people at a Lunar New Year's event in the California town and injured ten others. He died from an apparent self-inflicted wound.

"I actually am from that area – Monterey Park – where that shooting happened, so it actually hit close to home," Chelsea, an event goer said.

Chelsea and Alex, who also attended the event, say the news is both heartbreaking and unsettling.

"You never know if some evil person wants to take advantage of a happy event and hurt people, but thankfully I saw some police here too, so that makes us feel better," Alex said.

While the motive of the gunman remains unclear, the attack is disturbing for a community that has seen an uptick in violence and hate crimes since the start of the pandemic.

Susan Chan with the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center says that’s why she insisted on being at the event.

"We all have to respect each other. We have to have diversity, equality, and inclusion for every person in this society. That’s why it’s so important that people understand our culture – our Chinese culture, our Asian culture," Chan said. "You can not let fear control your life, and it’s important for us to do outreach, to let people know we are here. We are standing together. We are one."

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Law enforcement officials swarmed and entered a white van Sunday afternoon that officials suspect was driven by a suspected gunman who opened fire on a Southern California ballroom dance studio, killing 10 people and wounding 10 more.

Police surrounded the van with tactical vehicles and bomb squad trucks for hours before going in. A person's body appeared to be slumped over the wheel, but authorities did not immediately identify the person in the van. FOX 11 reports that the body found had gunshot wounds. It's unclear if they were self-inflicted.

The shooting sent a wave of fear through Asian American communities in the Los Angeles area and cast a shadow over Lunar New Year festivities around the country. Other cities sent extra officers to watch over the celebrations.

Luna said the shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park left five women and five men dead and wounded another 10 people. Then 20 to 30 minutes later, a man with a gun entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in nearby Alhambra.

Authorities believe the two events are connected. They offered no details about a possible motive.

The suspect entered the Alhambra club with a gun, and people wrested the weapon away from him before he fled, Luna said.

Hours earlier, Luna said authorities were looking for a white van after witnesses reported seeing the suspect flee from Alhambra in such a vehicle.