On Jan 24, four days after the deadliest mass shooting in LA county history and three days after the start of Lunar New Year celebrations, PCC students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Circadian Lounge to honor the 11 lives lost in the shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Hall.

 The event, organized and hosted by CAPE – the Coalition of Asian Pacific Employees, a collaborative group of current and former Asian and Pacific Islander PCC employees – aimed to provide people with a safe space in which to grieve.  

 “We said ‘We need to do something.’ Because of how we were feeling, but we also just imagined that other people needed the space, so we just said what can we do and when should we do it? We said we need to do it this week. We cannot wait,” said Dootsdeemalachanok Thongthiraj, CAPE Board President. “We basically had to plan this in 45 minutes.”

Dozens filtered in over the hour and a half event, filling the large round tables staggered throughout the room, then lining up along the wall when space ran out. Sandwiches and refreshments were provided, and each of the tables bore a paper plate full of Chinese candy as a centerpiece.

 “We need to have food; we need to have candy. Even though we’re mourning. We understand that people may be in pain, or in different parts of their grieving process but we still wanted to offer some spark of joy. The fact that it is still the Lunar New Year,”” said Dan Huynh, a research and planning analyst at PCC and a member of CAPE. “We want people to have their bellies full as they move through this really difficult time.”

 Organizers opened the event with a moment of silence to reflect on the victims and their families, then led attendees through a guided meditation to help ground them in the present moment. Thongthiraj then opened the floor to any who wanted to share their thoughts and feelings. Two boxes of tissue were circulated around the room as many gave way to tears.

 The Monterey Park shooting has followed on the heels of a three-year onslaught of Anti-Asian hate crimes, including the 2021 Atlanta Spa shooting. For many who shared, this most recent shooting wasn’t just painful, it was retraumatizing.  

“My first instinct was that – this is a hate crime. Again. This is happening again to us. For me, it was a lot of anger, a lot of sadness – fear, as well. You know, why should I have to be afraid to walk in my community?’” Said Thongthiraj, in an interview. “And then when I learned it probably wasn’t a hate crime – in terms of race – I really didn’t necessarily feel any better about it.”

 The shooting in Monterey Park was committed by a 72-year-old Chinese man, whose motives are still under investigation. Though the gunman did not target either of the two dance halls he visited on Saturday night because they were strongholds in Monterey Park and Alhambra’s API communities, the incident still left many feeling scared and uncertain in spaces that they once felt safe in.

 “We go to this temple in Long Beach where thousands of people come and my husband and I talked for a minute, because we were just like ‘I don’t feel safe.’ But really quickly I said, ‘We can’t let this control our lives.,” said Que Dang, a CAPE member who helped organize the event and PCC’s executive director of student equity and success.

 School psychologists Jason Vasquez and Alison Johnson were also on site to provide advice to any students or faculty who felt that they might need support from PCC’s Personal Counseling services in the coming days, weeks, or months.

 “I think it’s important that if you are having a reaction – whether it’s grief, or anger, or disbelief, whatever it is – that you allow yourself to have that reaction. Because events like this, they can be emotionally charged. Whether you are personally affected by it, your community is affected by it, or you’re just a human being [who heard about] a horrific tragedy,” said Vasquez when asked what advice he had for anyone who found themselves struggling during this time. “Also, make sure you’re in community. Whether it’s a small community or a big community, just be in contact with others.”

 Those who wish to connect with the community will have the opportunity next week. This coming Tuesday, CAPE is organizing another event for PCC students on campus. On Jan 31, the Lunar New Year celebration will be hosted on the quad from 12-1 p.m. Festivities will include a lion dance, and more. The celebration could serve as a place for people to gather in community with one another and celebrate even in the midst of great tragedy. 

 “I’m celebrating and grieving at the same time. Like, I’m holding both those realities,” said Dang.

11 paper lanterns will be hung in the Carob trees surrounding PCC’s Mirror Pools to commemorate those who died in Saturday’s shooting.

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