TW: Discussion of the recent Monterey Park mass shooting on Lunar New Year.
Throughout all my years of living, I’ve been taught that my family, my ancestors, and my people, are always by my side. Ever since my mouth began forming the morphemes and phonemes of the Vietnamese language, my mother has made it known that home is family. Family is home. She taught me to call my brother Anh Hai, and my sister Chị Ba. She taught me to count up to ten and then recite it back- một, hai, ba, bốn, năm, sáu, bảy, tám, chín, mười. Even when I forgot tám, or called my sister Em Mai because I didn’t remember to label her as older, never did that change who we were. Never would it change who we are, together.
January 22, 2023, was the day of the Lunar New Year this eve- a holiday that many East and Southeast Asian cultures celebrate, marking the end of winter and coming spring. In Vietnamese culture, we know it as Tết Nguyên Đán, or Tết for short. Every year that I can remember, my family has celebrated it. We set cooked foods around our altar, fill our house with music that I can barely understand a word of amidst blasting instrumentals and fluent tongues, and pass around red envelopes with money. We hug and laugh and enjoy it all together.
This year, 2023, is the year of the rabbit, representing luck. How we laughed to be able to hold up our own little pet rabbit, Bibi, and hope he’d give us luck too. How confused he was to be receiving so much food today, his color-split muzzle chomping down all the food pellets he could from us. We wanted to go to a Buddhist temple an hour away too, to pray and celebrate. And then we learned of the unthinkable.
The mass shooting that happened in Monterey Park, California, early that morning, broke our celebratory moods. Eleven people now dead, kept from enjoying the coming of a new year. Nine more still, injured and in little condition to join celebrations. It caused such a horror throughout the Asian American community, that what was supposed to be a joyous day could so quickly turn into grieving. Grieving for a loss that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Our parents didn’t take us to the temple, worried for another potential tragedy. Even then, the event kept running around in my head, on repeat. Eleven people wouldn’t be able to give out red envelopes, wish happy new years, or watch fireworks ever again. Eleven people were lost from this vast community, my vast community, of love and family and honor. No one personal to me was part of it, yet I still felt the ache of knowing this celebration would not be the same. The year of the rabbit was supposed to be lucky, but petting my little Bibi and hoping for good fortunes could not make me believe it after this event.
It was even worse to know the culprit behind the shooting was Asian himself, most likely knowing how glorious Sunday was supposed to be. He was on the run throughout the whole day, and as much as it pained me, I kept myself checking the news to know. I had to know whether he would keep going, whether it would happen again, whether more ghosts would be born today. It was supposed to be a good day. All throughout the afternoon, I couldn’t stop running that thought over and over within my head. I had the opportunity to have this be a good day, when the community in Monterey Park no longer did. It didn’t feel fair. Nothing felt fair, of why it happened there, why it was tonight, how that man could possibly carry through with that act- an act against his own people, his own blood, all bleeding just as red as him.
When it was uncovered that the culprit killed himself, there was no sense of justice. There was barely even relief, that no one else’s celebrations would be ruined- for they had been already. All of the celebrations for Lunar New Year that day, and throught the next week, would be tainted by what we knew. The ghosts of the victims mourn it too us, in communal sadness. Even when we cannot do anything but pray for their spirits to pass, how impossible it is to think away from it so soon. How impossible it is to have our feasts without leaving out an extra plate, letting them eat for the journey to the afterlife. How I wonder if it means enough. How I hope it does, anyway.
I count in the back of my head, hoping each of the spirits eat well, rest well. Each one of them had a life, one they wanted to celebrate. All of us have things in life worth celebrating, no matter what community we are part of. And though I know the victims in nothing but death, they were part of my community. They are part of my community, part of my prayers, even if I do not hold them in front of an altar. I hold them in front of a laptop screen, hoping it means something to each of them.
And I hope they all know their community loves them, and prays for their peace.
By: T-Wolf (he/him/his, she/her/hers)