Local organization, AAPI SLO, organized a space to honor and grieve the victims of the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings from Feb. 2-10. Credit: Ashley Spinoglio / Mustang News

On Lunar New Year’s Eve, Matthieu Gol indulged in dinner and boba with family in his eastern Los Angeles hometown. Although eager to join the annual festivities at Monterey Park, the family decided to head home since it was getting late. 

Just a few hours later, as he was relaxing at home, texts poured in from friends asking if he was okay. The Cal Poly mechanical engineering sophomore checked the news to be met with shock: a mass shooting — just a few miles away. Still in disbelief, he yelled to his mom and sister, “There’s a shooting happening.” He scoured the news and social media for live updates until 3-4 in the morning. 

On the night of Jan. 21, what was supposed to be a night of celebrating and dancing turned into the opposite. 

A gunman opened fire in Monterey Park at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, killing 11 of the studio’s patrons and injuring many others. It became the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since Uvalde. The shooter went to a nearby dance studio, but he was disarmed. Hours later, the suspect was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police are still investigating and say the motive is still unknown. 

“There’s no way this is happening. Is this really happening? And we didn’t believe it,” Gol said. 

Now, there stands a makeshift memorial with flowers and photos in front of the studio. 

Star Ballroom Dance Studio is nestled behind a Chinese Grocery store — frequented by older members of the community. The shooting’s victims ranged from 57 to 76 years old. 

Located in the heart of San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, Monterey Park is commonly dubbed as “America’s first suburban Chinatown.” This eastern Los Angeles area, known as the 626, is a hub of Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese American culture. Visitors and locals alike flock there to shop at the infamous 99 Ranch chain store, find authentic dim sum or participate in cultural festivities — like the annual Lunar New Year festival in Monterey Park. 

Gol was born and raised in the 626 area. 

“I went to elementary, middle and high school — less than a mile from where the [shooting] was, so I’m as local as they get,” he said. 

Gol described his hometown as a warm and welcoming community.

“You feel safe,” Gol said.“You’re surrounded by people that can understand you. I speak Cantonese sometimes to the immigrants that come in.”

Gol said he’s “really at home” in the area and takes pride growing up somewhere that embodies Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) culture. 

“I’m happy I can call the 626 my home, because it shaped me the way I am today and it kept me rooted to my culture,” Gol said. “The experiences I’ve had I can share with a lot of other Asian Americans I grew up with.”

In terms of support and moving forward, Gol suggests to pray and donate to GoFundMe’s from the loved ones of the victims. 

“Just making our presence known,” he said. “If my community needs my other community’s help, we will be here to support.”

Computer science junior Brandon Eng is from Alhambra, just a few miles from Monterey Park. He was back at home over the weekend celebrating Lunar New Year with family. 

Following news of the shooting, Eng was at a “loss for words,” trying to wrap his head around a shooting in a place so near, physically and emotionally. 

“It’s really overwhelming,” Eng said. “It really just happened in our backyard.”

Eng later learned a family friend was supposed to attend the dance studio’s celebration. 

“[Our family friend] found out that the person that she was supposed to sit next to [was shot twice],” he said. 

A sense of “quiet” lingered in the area following the shooting, devoid of the usual “celebrations and everything,” Eng said. Everyone remains in this limbo period, dealing with what happened and contacting friends and family, he said. 

As he drove past the scene just a couple days later, Eng noticed blocks crammed with reporters, although the community began its return to normalcy — opening and clearing the streets. 

Nutrition senior Kyoko Hall posted on social media to spread awareness and provide resources, feeling the profound effect on the Asian American community and friends from Monterey Park. 

She said she felt “frightened” and “disheartened” with the news, especially as these events are seen as “normal now for us.”

Hall said she is “disturbed” to go on living everyday life, while these tragedies continue. 

“A lot of us right now, we have that privilege of just being able to live our everyday lives, which really shouldn’t be the case,” Hall said. 

Anti-Asian hate has been thrown into the conversation with this shooting, and Hall doesn’t deny that they’re related. 

“I think this is unequivocally related to Asian hate,” Hall said. “The fact that it was done by an Asian man, I don’t think you can really deny those systemic issues that happened in America … There’s underlying issues that are about race and white supremacy.”

The dozens of hate-related attacks on the AAPI community that escalated during the pandemic and continue today adds to the feeling in the aftermath of this shooting, she said.  

“There’s such a heavy feeling about it because Asian people are experiencing so much hate in the U.S. right now with COVID,” Hall said. 

One thing Hall has noticed in healing from this tragedy is a lack of “grace.”

“During COVID, everyone was really accepting and gave each other a lot of grace when we’re going through such hard times,” Hall said. “We forgot that graciousness that we used to offer each other.”

AAPI SLO, a community organization aimed at raising awareness and strengthening the local AAPI community, released a statement on their Instagram, a day after the shooting. 

“We begin this day bittersweet. It is the first of a new year, a joyous time shared with friends and family. However, some are not so lucky,” the statement read. 

The statement went on to mention gun violence and hate, a priority of the organization. 

“There is no place for this hate and gun violence in our society. We stand and grieve with the victims and all those affected by this tragic shooting,” the statement read. “Our AAPI/APIDA community is strong, but there needs to be change. We are tired of this.” 

AAPI SLO encouraged their friends and allies to “continually educate themselves on our community’s history and how that manifests to our experiences in the present.” The statement ended with a hope for its followers to cherish and appreciate their loved ones in this time of grief. 

The organization will also create a space at Mitchell Park to honor and grieve the victims of the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings that occurred days apart and affect AAPI communities, according to their Instagram

The space will feature an altar on the side of the park’s gazebo, a box and index cards to express condolences, thoughts and feelings anonymously and will accept flowers, candles and other forms of respect. The memorial space will be held Feb. 2-10. 

Cal Poly’s Dean of Students, Joy Pedersen, released a statement on her Instagram as well, expressing sadness and shock over the shooting and offering resources for those affected, such as counseling services available 24/7 for students.

“If you are feeling affected by this tragedy, please contact the Office of the Dean of Students for resources and support by calling 805-756-0327 or emailing deanofstudents@calpoly.edu,” the statement read. “Please know that we care about you.”