California shooting upends tranquil community: 'I don't feel safe'

A gunman killed 10 people at a ballroom dance hall during a Chinese Lunar New Year celebration near Los Angeles before fleeing the scene

Reuters
Published : 23 Jan 2023, 04:29 AM
Updated : 23 Jan 2023, 04:29 AM

Since she was a little girl, Li Xia's dream was to move from China and settle in America. On Saturday night, when she heard the gunfire that killed at least 10 people in her newfound home of Monterey Park, California, that dream was shattered.

"In my heart, I always felt the United States was the best country in the world," Xia, 50, said, just four months after leaving her home in Shenzhen Province to settle in the quiet enclave of Monterey Park close to Los Angeles.

"Now, I am so sad. I can't believe it. I don't want to stay here one more day. I don't feel safe. I want to move back to China," the retired math teacher said.

Monterey Park is part of a cluster of small cities that sit in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, all with a burgeoning Asian American community, mostly from China. The city of 60,000, where around 65% of residents are Asian, is consistently ranked as one of the best and most peaceful places to live in the United States.

On Sunday morning, after America's latest mass shooting, this time of revellers celebrating Lunar New Year in a Monterey Park ballroom, residents gathered in small groups in stunned disbelief and dismay.

The massacre ended what had been the city's first in-person celebration of the Lunar New Year in three years, since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The three-day event, one of California's biggest, is now cancelled.

Vendors dismantled stalls on Sunday, while workers took apart a fairground.

The city's motto is "Pride in the Past, Faith in the Future," but for many the violence and horror of Saturday night has shaken that faith.

"We are all so sad. We were so excited to celebrate the new year. Now we will just be praying for the victims," said Muohan Chi, 14. Police say five men and five women were killed, and 10 others injured in the attack.

Chi's father, Jianzhong Chi, 35, said: "We just want this to end."

The Monterey Park community is close knit, city leaders said. On Saturday night, Muohan Chi started receiving hundreds of messages about the massacre in a family and friends chat group on her phone. That included graphic pictures of victims sprawled on the ballroom floor, although Chi said she does not know who took them.

Chester Chong, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, stood close to the ballroom, surrounded by yellow police tape, armed officers and beneath the noise of police helicopters.

"It's such a beautiful and quiet city," Chong said. "People here all know each other, help each other. This is terrible."

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher