With candles illuminating their solemn faces in the cold wind, about 20 local community leaders and legislators stood in silence Friday night on the steps of Queens Borough Hall for a candlelight vigil honoring the victims of the Monterey Park shooting and the Half Moon Bay shooting.
It was a night for attendees to denounce gun violence and advocate for support of gun regulation, but organizers said it was also a reminder to grieving Asian Americans across the country to ask painful questions about the long-neglected mental health issues in the community, especially for first-generation immigrants.
The Half Moon Bay mass shooting in California on Jan. 23 was initially believed to be a case of workplace violence, while the motive of 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, the suspect in the Monterey Park shooting on Jan. 21, remains unknown. The two back-to-back mass shootings claimed the lives of 18 people, mostly Asian Americans.
“The mass shooting reflected all those issues that we didn’t really take seriously,” said one of the organizers, Andy Chen, co-founder of Queens County Young Democrats (QCYD) AAPI Caucus. He added that New York City should provide more funding to community-based organizations that have connections with community members and that are trusted to provide the needed resources to the community.
The vigil hoped to bring awareness to “issues that have been going on for decades,” Chen said, like the community’s need to address gun violence, mental health services and education. He said he believed many people with mental health issues, especially those with language barriers, are left out or rejected by current mental health services or programs.
Councilwoman Julie Won added that many first-generation immigrants need therapy because they have trauma, especially those who ran away from war or poverty in their countries.
“Societally, traditionally, culturally, I think a lot of Asian Americans, especially first generations, they shy away from mental health services,” she said. “We need to start to talk about that openly. I think we can always do more for seniors and mental health services for all people, not just Asian Americans, but for all people.”
Since last May, at least three mass shootings have happened in California, and in those shootings the suspects were all Asian male immigrants of retirement age.
Felicia Singh, director of Policy and Government Relations with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) also noted that, in New York, two out of three AAPI seniors are limited English proficient (LEP), and approximately 49% of all immigrants are LEP.
Attendees also called for more mental health services for the AAPI community, which is likely to have underreported mental health issues due to associated stigma and shame, compared to other racial or ethnic groups.
“There is a lack of understanding, including data and research, of AAPI’s lived experiences, needs, strengths and healing practices, and knowledge around mental health,” said Singh, who called on the City to address and invest in the “diverse health needs of the AAPI community.”
While the vigil for shooting victims of the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay massacres raised questions about mental health, attendees also spoke up about gun violence and gun access. Michael Carlier, president of the QCYD, said even though states like New York and California have strict gun regulations, guns can still be easily accessed “from other states where it’s easier to get a gun,” adding “We need to step up our priorities at the federal level.”
The local community leaders and legislators in New York pushed all levels of government, especially the federal government, to pass stricter gun safety laws.
At the vigil, Congresswoman Grace Meng lashed out at the Republicans who refused to consider gun restrictions. Meng said when she was in Washington D.C. last week, she saw some Republican colleagues wearing AR-15 (pins) on their lapels amid all the sorrow that the country is going through.
“This is how they chose to remember the victims of gun violence this past week,” said Meng, adding that she would fight for gun safety legislation to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.
Clifford Temprosa, chair of QCYD AAPI Caucus, pointed out the vigil was not only to remember the lives lost to gun violence but also to call for progressive leadership. He said lawmakers could take more proactive actions, including investing more in critical resources such as mental health, housing and jobs, to prevent such shootings in the future.
“How many times do we have to say ‘another one’?” Temprosa asked. “Another mass shooting, another tragedy taking the lives of the innocent, another act of violence that could have been prevented?”
If you know someone who needs access to multilingual mental health resources for AAPI community members, you can reach out to the following organizations. New links will be added and the following pages will be constantly updated.
Chinese American Sunshine House
A nonprofit organization established in 2011 that provides a culturally-sensitive environment for the Chinese community by empowering those battling with mental illness through their personal recovery and educating the community about mental health.
Address: 837 58th Street, 3FL, Brooklyn, NY 11220; 6304 5th Avenue, 1FL, Brooklyn, NY 11220
Phone: (917) 969-7018
A nonprofit settlement house was established in 1898 to improve the quality of life for NYC. Located in Chinatown/Lower East Side Two Bridges neighborhoods, it fosters the well-being of vulnerable populations including the elderly, children, the ill and handicapped, new immigrants and refugees and the unemployed. Hamilton-Madison House delivers critical, timely and culturally appropriate services including behavioral health services, senior services and care for caregivers.
Address: 253 South Street, 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10002
Phone: (212) 349-3724
Korean Community Services of NY
KCS’s mission is to be a bridge for Korean immigrants and the wider Asian community to fully integrate into society and overcome any economic, health and linguistic barriers so that they become independent and thriving members of the community. It accomplishes this mission by providing culturally competent programs in the areas of Aging, Education, Immigration, Workforce Development, Public Health and Mental Health.
Address: 203-05 32nd Ave, Bayside, NY 11361
Phone: (718) 939-6137
The New York Coalition for Asian Mental Health
NYCAAMH strives to improve the quality of mental health care services in Asian American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area. Its mission is to address the unmet mental health care needs and service disparities of the Asian American population through advocacy, community service, professional development and collaboration with government and local service providers.
NYC Well is your connection to free, confidential mental health support. Speak to a counselor via phone, text, or chat and get access to mental health and substance misuse services, in more than 200 languages, 24/7/365.