‘We should not have to live in fear’
Connecticut mourns lives lost in Calif. mass shootings, terrible impact on AAPI communities
By Deidre Montague Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — Kelly Ha said she made sure to hug her mother a little longer during her family’s Lunar New Year dinner this year.
As a child of Vietnamese refugees and the the co-founder of the #Iamnotavirus campaign, she said she thinks about how her family is still not safe, despite fleeing their home country for safety and a better life.
“The war is not over when bullets and bombs are still being felt in our communities in our own backyards,” she said.
She was referring to the 11 victims of Saturday’s mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, for whom she, elected officials, and community members gathered in the State’s Legislative Office Building to hold a vigil in their honor on Tuesday.
They addressed these acts of violence that occurred concurrently with the Lunar New Year celebrations, which are a time of joy for the Asian American community.
Associated Press reported that 72-year-old Huu Can Tran gunned down patrons on Jan. 21 in the evening at a ballroom dance hall in Monterey Park, where tens of thousands attended Lunar New Year festivities earlier that evening. Tran fired 42 rounds at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, killing 11 people and wounding nine.
The AP also reported that Tran then drove to another nearby dance hall where an employee wrestled a modified 9 mm submachine gun-style semi-automatic weapon away from him. He fatally shot himself Sunday as officers surrounded the van he was inside. A handgun was recovered from the van, which matched descriptions of the vehicle he used to get away from the dance studio.
Kelly Ha said that Lunar New Year is traditionally a time of festivities and celebration, which includes red envelopes being passed around, lion dances performed, and families sharing meals with one another.
“For some families, this is the only holiday that they are able to share together. This weekend. More than 20 families had this opportunity ripped away from them with 11 lives lost and nine are wounded,” she said.
“Lunar New Year is a time for coming together. We must come together to honor the lives past and support each other’s healing,” Ha said. “Compassion is the most important … and most necessary at this time for the Asian community — for each other and for ourselves. Today we will mourn, tomorrow we will continue this fight, so these lives lost did not mean nothing.”
The vigil also honored the seven people killed in two related shootings on Monday in a coastal community south of San Francisco.
It marked California’s third mass killing in eight days. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s office said Chunli Zhao, 67, is in custody as the suspect in the shooting. Authorities say four people were found dead and one critically wounded from gunshots mid-afternoon. Then three others were found dead at a business several miles away. The connection between the locations is unclear but the sheriff’s office says both are agricultural businesses. The shootings follow Saturday’s massacre that killed 11 people at a dance hall in Southern California.
Other community members and elected officials also spoke about the tragedies and those lost.
State Attorney General William Tong, addressing the mourners, saying that while he feels many emotions around these tragedies, he is also defiant.
“I want to say that I feel like all of you do. I’m angry. I’m sad about the tremendous loss. I’m also defiant. This is my country. I was born here in Hartford Hospital. I’m an American. I belong here like anybody else and I’m going to fight for it. I’m going to fight for the communities that are so strong and so vibrant like this one,” he said.
He also said that he wants to celebrate the lives of the people of Monterey Park, the AAPI communities across this country and those who suffered with anti-Asian violence in Atlanta, Texas, New Orleans, New York, Boston, Hartford, and eastern Connecticut.
“So it is really important that we all honor the people that we’ve lost in Monterey Park, think of their families and then we do everything we can for them, support them and if we can send resources to that community, we should…This is an incredibly important time for us, for our families, for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” Tong said, “Let us go forward into the year of the rabbit with strength and confidence [and] each other and let us overcome all of this tragedy, this hate and this violence and emerge stronger than ever.”
State Senator MD Rahman said that the shootings are a reminder to all to hold one another more tightly, especially family members and friends.
“We will continue to stand and fight for dignity, principle and for human rights. So we’ll continue to celebrate. We will continue to hold hands with each other. Brothers, sisters, family. We are not gonna let [anyone] take anything away from us under any condition. Let’s celebrate together. Let’s honor those who [we] lost tragically,” he said.
State Sen. Tony Hwang said that the purpose of the vigil was to not just to honor those who were lost in the tragedies, but also to honor all those who have suffered loss from preventable tragedies.
“I think it’s important for us to take a moment to unite, to grieve, to comfort each other … and ultimately to heal…The latest tragedy caused fear, anger, [and] uncertainty. We all feel it and this is an important moment for us to unite, to support each other, to comfort each other, to heal with each other. It is also important upon doing that, that we renew our commitment to prevent these kinds of senseless tragedies,” he said.
He also said that he believes the underlying cause for both shootings is mental health and solutions need to be found to prevent mass shootings like these.
“Mental health is an important point of the discussion that needs to be discussed. Whether it be language, cultural or societal. We need to understand that mental health is part of health and wellbeing. And we need to move away from the stigma.”
Hwang said that understanding what caused individuals to get to the point of committing these violent acts that matters most when it comes to solutions.
Mui Mui Hin-McCormick, CWCSEO chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders sub-commission, said that she holds back tears daily, as she thinks about her own parents not feeling safe to go out in their own community and about something tragic like these recent mass shootings happening to them.
“We should not have to live in fear. But, yet we do. I have a 13-year-old daughter. She heard about this and she was devastated, asking questions I can’t answer. But I am so grateful that she’s asking those questions and she’s bringing these conversations up.”
McCormick said that everyone needs to take a learning lesson from this, as it is devastating.
“We shouldn’t be numb to this. It’s also concerning when these conversations aren’t happening. I work in a behavioral health field. Yet, I had to be the one to educate those around me about this,” she said. “Why can’t somebody reach out to me and check in to see if I’m OK? There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of obligation that each of you have. I feel it on a daily basis.”
She said that this is due to many within the AAPI community and other communities of color having to be the ones to educate, create awareness, create opportunity, and make a seat at the table — as these groups are not invited or are told what happened after the meetings happen.
“What I ask of each of you is to not let that continue. Let us take a seat at the table. Let us create these opportunities. Let us find each other so that we can collaborate, partner and be one.”
She noted that it was amazing to see the diversity that was present at the vigil and hopes for those who weren’t able to attend, but can view it to begin to take action, leadership, and accountability.
“How many times do we have to hear about this before we’re able to take some action and make some movement? I hope that this year … is not marked by the tragedies that we’ve had. I hope each of us can really take some action steps to lead a better and safer future for all of our loved ones,” she said.
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