“This country is going crazy”: in California, a Chinatown in shock after a new massacre

They were celebrating the “year of the rabbit”, but their Chinese New Year suddenly turned horrific: after the death of 10 people in a massacre in Monterey Park, the inhabitants of this Asian suburb of Los Angeles were completely stunned on Sunday by the violence tearing apart their haven of peace.

In this city of 60,000 inhabitants, red lanterns and banners filled with ideograms suspended for New Year’s Eve still overlook the roadway. But around the dance hall where the tragedy took place, the yellow cordons of the police and the heavily armed police are now spoiling the party.

“Things like that don’t happen here,” whispers Wynn Liaw, a neighbor who came to this room popular with local seniors to try to understand what happened.

At the age of 57, 40 of whom have spent in the city, this retired Chinese veterinarian still finds it hard to believe that a massacre took place right there, behind the white and green awning in front of which she passes daily to do her races.

“It’s a very safe area, where I can walk at night and where I don’t have to worry about gun violence at all,” she told AFP, as the helicopters police twirl in the sky.

On Saturday evening, an Asian suspect entered the ballroom to shoot five men and five women, and injured at least ten, authorities said.

Police officers near the scene of the Monterey Park shooting, in California, on January 22, 2023 (AFP – Robyn BECK)

This killing, the deadliest in the United States since the Uvalde massacre, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed in a school in Texas, in May 2022, took the city completely by surprise.

About ten kilometers from downtown Los Angeles, Monterey Park is considered the “new Chinatown” of this Californian megalopolis by its inhabitants.

In the middle of pavilions with clean lawns, we read the newspaper in Mandarin, anti-Covid 19 mask carefully screwed on the nose, the signs of the shops are in Chinese, and the vast majority of the inhabitants crossed by AFP do not speak Chinese. ‘English.

“It’s a place where not normally much happens,” says Ken Nim, walking his dog.

– Speculations –

In the 20 years he’s lived here, this IT worker once had his car’s catalytic converter stolen. And that’s all.

The local laundromat’s arcade machine, equipped with the fighting game “Streetfighter II”, seemed to be the most brutal experience promised to the locals so far.

“It’s really sad, this country is going crazy,” continues Mr. Nim, incredulous. “We’ve seen mass killings in so many different cities and states, and now it’s happening to us.”

In the middle of the cordoned off streets, the inhabitants try to find meaning in this surge of violence. On the phones, photos circulate showing corpses lying on the ground, in a room lit by multicolored spotlights.

Initially, many of them feared a racist crime. But the Asian origin of the suspect, revealed in the morning by the sheriff, caused confusion and everyone is now reduced to speculation.

Merchants store their goods in a market for the Lunar New Year after the massacre in Monterey Park (California), January 22, 2023 (AFP - Robyn BECK)
Merchants store their goods in a market for the Lunar New Year after the massacre in Monterey Park (California), January 22, 2023 (AFP – Robyn BECK)

“I have a feeling this is a personal story,” ventures Jerry Liu, a 26-year-old truck driver, near the hundreds of white tents lined up for the market celebrating the Lunar New Year.

On Saturday during the day, thousands of people thronged the main artery, between the meat skewer stands and the carnival.

“There is a reason why he targeted the dance hall. Otherwise, he could have gone to the market earlier in the day and caused many more deaths”, insists the young man.

In front of the police cordon, Chester Chong advances him a possible story of jealousy, on the part of a man who would not have been invited to the evening where his wife participated.

“The problem is that we have so many firearms in this country,” sighs this president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, who claims to know the owner of the dance hall. “It’s so easy to pick up a gun and do something stupid.”

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