3 mass shootings in California force grieving Asian-Americans to ask painful questions

By Anh Do, Jeong Park, Debbie Truong, Summer Lin

and Cindy Chang

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – Their motives for the mass murder appeared to be different: workplace enmity, law enforcement officials said, or personal grudges, or a political conflict in a homeland across the ocean.

But they were all Asian men of retirement age, who for the past year have been accused of expressing their bitterness by spraying their fellow Asians with bullets, in the very places where Asian immigrants go to escape isolation.

Even as they mourn the victims, Asian Americans across the country are grappling with a new reality. Someone resembling his grandfather, who walked a similar immigration path, is suspected of committing a uniquely American act: opening fire on a group of innocent people, in a Taiwanese church last May, at a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park on Saturday and in the coastal farming community of Half Moon Bay on Monday.

For a community already reeling from a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic, Asian-to-Asian violence seems too much to bear, especially with the two most recent shootings that occurred around the Lunar New Year holiday.

Only three men are charged with committing these horrific acts, but the isolation and mental health struggles that may have triggered them are common threads for some older Asian immigrants, who may have experienced war at home and experienced dislocation. to settle in a foreign country.

Between friends and family on social media, sons and daughters agonize over whether they were doing enough for elders who have been through so much but often don’t have the vocabulary to talk about the issues, even in their native language.

“They do not speak English. Their children do not speak their mother tongue. The older generation cannot connect with the younger generation. That’s a picture of the typical working-class Asian-American family, especially East Asians,” said Sonny Le of Oakland, who has worked as a medical interpreter for senior citizens of Vietnam and Chinese Vietnamese for more than 20 years. “Stoic. Bottling it up.”

Peggy Huang’s parents attend the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, where a gunman opened fire on a lunchtime banquet in May, wounding five elderly congregants and killing a 52-year-old doctor.

David Wenwei Chou, 68, who has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder with increased hate crimes in the case, grew up in Taiwan but has recent roots in China.

He left notes in his car indicating he did not believe Taiwan should be independent from China, authorities said, who believe he “targeted the Taiwanese community specifically.”

Huang’s parents were not at church that day, but Huang, the former mayor of Yorba Linda, served as an unofficial spokesperson for the victims and survivors.

When Huang learned of the Monterey Park shooting, which killed 11 people and injured nine, he feared another possible hate crime as he exchanged text messages with family and friends.

It soon emerged from police sources that the shooter, identified by authorities as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, may have been motivated by a personal dispute.

With another older Asian man as a suspect, Huang’s thoughts turned to the difficulty of obtaining treatment for immigrants who may not conceive of their problems as mental health issues.

When the elderly lose their jobs or retire, the transition is difficult, especially for men who had a “life of hard work,” said Huang, 52.

“They have been working all their lives and they don’t really know what to do with their lives,” he said.

Chou, the accused Taiwanese church shooter, lived a life of isolation and resentment in Las Vegas. His seriously ill wife had left him; he couldn’t pay the rent, which was double his monthly income; and he struggled to find work as a 68-year-old casino security guard.