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All This Trauma Is Adding Up. How A New Generation Is Finding Ways To Persevere And Find Hope

A group gathers around a tree in a campus quad holding candles. The trees are uplit as it is evening and a brick column with a large E on it
A vigil was held at East Los Angeles College to remember victims of the mass shooting in Monterey Park.
(Jackie Orchard
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There have been more than three dozen mass shootings across the United States in January 2023.

In California alone, six killed in Goshen; seven killed in Half Moon Bay, and on Saturday night, 11 killed in Monterey Park.

On Wednesday, students at East Los Angeles College gathered for an evening vigil. Their campus is only three miles from the Monterey Park ballroom where a gunman killed 11 people, celebrating the Lunar New Year. All of the victims were Asian American.

Listen to what students said at the East Los Angeles College vigil
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“It makes you have a wake up call,” said Samantha Rodriguez, a 23-year-old ELAC student. She says every time a shooting happens, she is first heartbroken, then angry. “It makes you be more aware of your surroundings, more aware of your world, more aware of your environment on a daily basis, and makes sure you stay alert on what needs to be changed, and how we can go about that.”

Rodriguez is studying psychology and is the student government vice president. Rodriguez says one of the worst parts of a mass shooting is the powerlessness that it brings. She says she feels a strong urge to protect her classmates.

I am not done changing the world. And one day I hope that their children, their families, generations to follow will be protected because I helped with that.
— Samantha Rodriguez, 23

“I'm just really heartbroken and saddened because I grew up in Alhambra for 18 years before coming to East L.A. College,” she says. “Now being a part of East L.A. College, more than I could ever imagine, and it being my second home, I just want to protect the community even more.”

Rodriguez says her generation has grown up watching one mass shooting after another occur closer and closer to home–and students have had enough.

“I am not done changing the world. And one day I hope that their children, their families, generations to follow will be protected because I helped with that.”

Extra Layers Of Trauma

Rodriguez says she knows that kind of change is a long journey, but she’s aiming to make better every life she meets along the way.

“I wish I could shield everyone from this devastation,” Rodriguez said. “And hopefully, one day I'm able to do a lot more.”

And shootings are often an extra layer of trauma on top of ongoing distress.

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David K. Song is a Professor of Asian American Studies at East Los Angeles College, and he says his students haven’t told him of any family members involved in the recent shootings, but he has observed an overall change in students since the COVID-19 pandemic began: they are struggling emotionally.

“Since the pandemic’s begun, there has been a lot of issues around mental health,” he says. “And I think that's what's good is that we've become more aware of these issues as a society. And I think it's important to highlight that students already have a lot of stressors from just dealing with daily life, whether it's their own personal health, their work environment, or the health of their loved ones,” he said.

Which means other issues pile on, like issues “around racial discrimination, you know, Black Lives Matter, anti-Asian hate, these are all things that I feel like they have a potentially harmful effect on students,” he said.

Reminders Of Past Violence

That kind of thinking resonates with Steven Gallegos, president of ELAC’s student government.

Gallegos says that when a shooting occurs, he and his classmates aren’t just coping with that one shooting. Violent incidents bring back memories of other trauma they may have experienced in their lives. Each time a new mass shooting headline flashes in the news, Gallegos says, he relives one moment from his past. In his own words:

"It was my girlfriend, it was an ordinary night like any other. I could tell you exactly what she was wearing. Light blue Levi's, a Tigger sweatshirt, I know because it was mine. And she got a call from her mother to go pick up some laundry just like she did every other night and we lived literally about three blocks away from where her mother stayed, from her mother's house, and she said, you know, ‘I'll be back,’ and so she walked out the door.

I didn't hear the car turn on for a while and all of a sudden I did hear some noise so I went to the door and she was there inside the car and moving around and I didn't know quite what was going on and I looked to the driver side and I see someone standing there and I look at them… trying to make out what — and next thing I know there's a gunshot towards me. I fell to the ground. Then a gunshot into the car.

I don't know how long I was there but it felt like forever. Then I ran towards the car, tried opening the door and the door was locked, so I ended up trying to break the back glass and ended up breaking just the front ones and the sill’s already smashed… and I tried to get her out of the car but couldn't because she was… she had her seatbelt on. And I kept trying to pull her and pull her and get her out… and saying, ‘No,’ and I just see her slouched over… I should have said ‘goodbye,’ or ‘I'll see you later,’ or… I do remember hearing sirens and begging them… and they're trying to pull me away from her. I’m telling her to wake up and talk to me."

In his own words: Gallegos recounts that night

Gallegos says for a while, you just function — but he’s never fully healed.

“Unfortunately it's overshadowed my life ever since,” Gallegos said. “And it never goes away.”

Trauma Recovery Resources At East Los Angeles College
  • East Los Angeles College has grief counseling available for students and staff, and they can visit the student health center to make an appointment, call (323) 265-8651, or chat virtually through the ELAC website.

  • The Disaster Distress Helpline, at 1-800-985-5990 provides immediate counseling to anyone who is coping with the mental or emotional effects of a mass shooting.

Gallegos is studying psychology and addiction at ELAC. He believes in that better future his classmate, Samantha Rodriguez, describes.

“We're going to continue, we're going to persevere,” Gallegos says. “Not alone, but together, together as a community.”

He says this is a way he can help make the world better when it feels so violent and impossible, “to create programs that are actually sustainable and that will actually make a difference” in healing and helping others.

“We can't let the darkness overcome.”

Where To Get Help

What questions do you have about local community colleges?
Community colleges act as a gateway for first-generation students and adults seeking a second start. LAist reporter Jackie Orchard wants students — and those who support them — to have the information they need to thrive in the California Community College system.

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