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Why Monterey Park Community Holds A Special Place In LA's Asian Community And Far Beyond

An Asian woman wearing a white sweater has her eyes closed and hands uplifted in prayer. She appears to be in tears.
Members of the community hold a prayer vigil Sunday at Monterey Park City Hall for victims of a deadly shooting late Saturday that killed 10 and wounded 10 others.
(Eric Thayer
Getty Images)
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For millions across the Asian American and Asian diaspora, the Lunar New Year is supposed to be a time of joyous beginnings, good fortune and honoring loved ones both who have left this earth and those who are still with us.

On Saturday night, right after a large Lunar New Year festival in Monterey Park ended for the evening, those celebrations of life came to a sharp halt.

A Community In Trauma

Flowers and candles are left on the street near a barricade waring: Do Not Enter
A makeshift memorial near the scene of a deadly shooting in Monterey Park.
(Eric Thayer
Getty Images)
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The Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park is a place where many older Chinese immigrants find joy in learning how to cha-cha and rumba. On Saturday night, that came to an abrupt stop as a gunman walked inside shortly before 10:30 p.m. By the time he stopped shooting, he'd killed 10 people and injured 10 more.

A little more than 12 hours later, authorities said the man, identified as Huu Can Tran, 72, died by his own hand as police in Torrance closed in on his white cargo van.

He was 30 miles away from the ballroom.

Our LAist team has been on the ground covering the latest news from this mass shooting.

Authorities said Sunday it could have been worse. The gunman is believed to be the same man who — just a short time after the fatal attack — had a gun wrestled from him at a nearby dance studio in Alhambra.

There's a lot we still don't know about the gunman's motivation, how he was tracked down, and more. The investigation is still underway.

We do know, the location in Monterey Park has reverberated thought Asian and Asian American circles. Here's why:

A Hub For New Immigrants

This traumatic event occurred in a tight-knit, predominantly Asian community that has not seen this level of violence before.

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Our colleague Josie Huang reported from the community on Sunday. She told us:

“You know, [Monterey Park] is special place for a lot of people, a lot of Asian Americans, not only in the San Gabriel Valley, but across Los Angeles where people will, you know, travel through L.A. traffic just to come to the SGV, oftentimes to Monterey Park."

“Monterey Park is food. It's family, it's community. And it's just, it's just very heartbreaking to see this community shaken up by yet another act of gun violence.”

The First Suburban Chinatown

An Asian woman in a sash and tiara waves from the Far East National Bank float in a black and white image.
Miss Monterey Park waves to the crowd from above a parade float sponsored by Far East National Bank. This is the Chinese New Year parade in San Gabriel Valley, 1992.
(Steve Gold
L.A. Public Library archives)

Yong Chen, a history professor at UC Irvine told us Monterey Park grew before and after World War II due to an influx of Japanese farmers who returned from concentration camps where West Coast Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants were incarcerated.

Then, following the 1965 Immigration Act, Taiwanese immigrants started to arrive in Monterey Park.

“It was the first suburban Chinatown,” Chen said.

And that was no accident. Chen said that starting in the 1970s, Monterey Park was marketed as the “Asian or Asian American Beverly Hills in newspapers in Taiwan and Hong Kong. That turned out to be very successful at attracting a large number of new immigrants to Monterey Park."

Known As Little Taipei

For a long time, Monterey Park had the nickname Little Taipei, reflecting the largely Taiwanese population.

Chen said that's because: “Until the end of 1970s, no immigrants came from Mainland China. Most Chinese immigrants that arrived in the U.S. came from Taiwan."

“When they came over to Monterey Park, they established small businesses and opened restaurants," he explained, noting there's a reason the area became known for several Chinese cuisines.

"Many of those immigrants, either themselves or their parents, had gone to Taiwan in 1949 after the Nationalist Party was defeated by the communists," Chen said, "so the food culture they brought to the U.S. was not simply Taiwanese but Szechuan and Hunan food, and other regional Chinese cuisines.”

Daniel Ichinose is a research director at OC Action, an Orange County-based organization that promotes civic engagement among Asian American Pacific Islander and Latino communities. He lived not far from Monterey Park, in Alhambra, and had this to say:

Monterey Park "was really this, you know, particularly for folks of my generation, kind of this magical place where Asian Americans were a majority of the population."

He noted how that population growth led, over the years, to political influence. Monterey Park is where a lot of powerful Asian American politicians got their start, like Congresswoman Judy Chu. She represents the 28th District and was once mayor of Monterey Park and served on the city council.

"Monterey Park is resilient," Chu said Sunday after the shooting. "And what I know about the people here is that we will get through this together."

'A Welcoming And Tolerant Place'

The city has been a hub for new immigrants to the L.A. area for decades and that continues to be the case.

According to the most recent census estimates, currently about 60,000 people call Monterey Park home. Of those, 65% are Asian. A little more than half of the city's residence were born outside of the United States.

While Chen notes that historically, there has always been “anti-Asian sentiments and moments” he said Monterey Park has been a “welcoming and tolerant place.”

The impact of the shooting, he said, will be felt in the community for a long time.

For more insight, listen to the entire How to LA episode here.

The Latest On The Shooting

  • A mass shooting at a dance studio in Monterey Park late in the evening on Saturday, Jan. 21, left 10 people dead at the scene and 10 others wounded. An 11th victim died Monday.

  • What we know so far:

      • About those killed: The youngest person killed was 57 and four others were in their 70s. 
      • Still searching for a reason. “We still don't have a motive, but we want to know the motive behind this tragic event, and the FBI continues to collaborate with us in that portion of the investigation,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday.
      • Motive remains unknown: The gunman has been identified as a 72-year-old man who authorities said died by suicide as police approached his cargo van in Torrance late Sunday morning
    • As we report on that shooting, we are also resurfacing resources and previous reporting that can help people understand the context and get help, if needed.

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