As residents of Los Angeles County’s predominantly Asian-American suburb of Monterey Park spent the weekend celebrating Lunar New Year, a mass shooting at an Asian dance studio Saturday night killed at least 10, with some patrons left in critical condition. The shooter then moved to another nearby Asian dance studio in the town of Alhambra, where patrons were able to confront and disarm him. Through the semi-automatic gun the shooter left behind at the Alhambra studio, he was identified by police as Huu Can Tran, a 72-year-old man and Chinese immigrant. Tran was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a white van on Sunday morning after fleeing the scene.
The unthinkable violence carried out at a place of celebration among an Asian community in Southern California, and on a holiday of joy and hope, recalls a familiar feeling of terror and vulnerability for Asian Americans in the U.S. Last year, one report identified almost 11,500 anti-Asian hate incidents since March 2020 and a 300% increase in these incidents between 2020 and 2021.
Yet, today, that the Monterey Park shooting suspect is an Asian man is being weaponized to dismiss the trauma and racial violence inflicted on Asian communities. Police say it’s still unclear what Tran’s motive was in carrying out the shooting; he was a frequent patron at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, met his ex-wife in the early 2000s while giving dance lessons at the studio, and reportedly had contentious relationships with other frequent patrons. But whatever Tran’s motive, we do know the shooting’s victims, and we know this latest, deadly attack has stoked even greater fear among Asian Americans that we might be harmed or killed when we gather in our communities, celebrate our traditions, or just go about our daily lives.
Contrary to varying insensitive comments on social media invoking Tran’s identity as Asian Americans grieve the national tragedy, that the suspect is Asian doesn’t minimize the racial terror caused by the Monterey Park shooting. If anything, the attack further builds upon the trauma that Asian communities in the U.S. have been reeling from over the course of the pandemic these last few years, thanks to increased, anti-Asian, and fundamentally white supremacist attacks blaming our communities for covid.
Even as police say they’re working to determine Tran’s motives, I’m ultimately not reassured. As some of the insensitive reactions to the shooting suggest, there are serious problems with how we talk about hate crimes and violent perpetrators’ motives in the aftermath of tragedy, often ignoring or dismissing the trauma endured by their victims in the process. In 2021, police in Atlanta, Georgia, denied that the white, male shooter’s attacks on Asian women-run spas constituted anti-Asian hate because he appeared to target Asian women; the distinct interplay of gender and race to victimize Asian women apparently hadn’t occurred to law enforcement. What ensued was a painful, dehumanizing public conversation that almost squarely wrote Asian-American women out of a story about us, and the dual, day-to-day oppressions we face under white supremacy and patriarchy.
Now, as we embark on reckoning with yet another mass shooting and another devastating anti-Asian hate incident, I hope Monterey Park and Asian communities are centered in our conversations. I hope we don’t see another tragedy weaponized to call for hate crime legislation that further funds police and prisons. And I hope that regardless of what we learn about the shooting suspect and his possible motives, we can validate the trauma and pain of Asian Americans at this time.