First published in the Feb. 4 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
By Natalie Miranda
Though longevity, peace and prosperity are aspirations usually attributed to the Year of the Rabbit, the approaching new moon’s optimistic spirit was shaken by the mass shooting in Monterey Park, where 11 lives were cut short on the eve of the Lunar New Year — along with their hopeful ambitions.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, thoughts about canceling Lunar New Year events were top of mind for many organizations, including the Filipino-American Business Association of Glendale — which chose to forge ahead with a celebration devoted to showing the resiliency of the AAPI community on Jan. 27.
To stand in solidarity with those affected by the shooting, FABAG President Jo Solomonson said it was crucial for the association to bypass the fear surrounding the timing of the massacre by doing the opposite of hiding: congregating and connecting with the sentiment of a holiday that’s meant to be a source of joy and togetherness.
“It has made us more aware of who we are as a people — how we need to engage with the entire community and truly give our attention to people who are suffering inside,” Solomonson said. “We need to reach out to others and understand their humanity, because we are one beat from the same heart.”
With tea light candles aglow at Wokcano in Burbank, Father Rodel Balagtas of Incarnation Catholic Church led the group in prayer and a moment of silence dedicated to honor the victims who died at the gun of 72-year-old Huu Can Tran at Monterey Park’s Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Jan. 21.
“Life is supposed to be celebrated, so despite what we’ve experienced with this tragedy, it’s important for us to appreciate one another and truly realize how precious our lives are,” Solomonson said. “We are very grateful that this Lunar New Year celebration came together.”
Moving forward, Solomonson charges all to be kind, show compassion and look out for one another regardless of religion, race, creed and political affiliation.
Edith Fuentes, FABAG board member and former president, shares the same outlook. She, too, wants to see unity opposed to division in response to the recent violence.
“We believe in bringing the community together, and we’re hoping that this shooting will not deter the Asian American and Pacific Islander community from going out and living their lives,” Fuentes said. “This incident that happened will not stop us from gathering, celebrating and enjoying each other and the diversity within our communities. We cannot be stopped.”
Among the guests who broke bread were Glendale Mayor Ardy Kassakhian, state Sen. Anthony Portantino and Philippine Consul General Edgar Badajos.
Kassakhian, while speaking to attendees, expressed his disdain for the growing gun violence in America and the lack of proper gun reform and mental health resources, in company with other areas of concern that urgently need to be addressed — and changed through legislation — to save lives and prevent future tragedies.
“I, along with you, had so much hope for the Lunar New Year until that hope was shattered by an act of incredible brutality and insanity in both Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay,” Kassakhian said. “Lives were lost that didn’t have to be.”
Though government officials are quick to offer “thoughts and prayers,” Kassakhian said they should be just as swift in taking blame for inaction — including himself.
“On behalf of everyone, from Congress on down to local offices, I apologize to you, as your public servant, that I am not doing enough,” Kassakhian said. “And I ask you to help me and give me the freedom to continue the fight to pass laws — to make our schools safe, make our city safe — so that no one has to live in fear … regardless of whether you come from — the Philippines, Armenia, Mexico, Lebanon or elsewhere.”
Portantino said that although mass shootings often highlight the worst in humanity, he believes people who spread good outweigh those who cause harm.
“More people love each other than hate each other, but it’s those who hate that inflict pain on those who love, and so we just have to love our neighbor, embrace different cultures and stand with them,” Portantino said.
“The Filipino American community in Glendale is very vibrant and wonderful, so to celebrate the Lunar New Year and be in solidarity with them is important to do,” he added. “They do so much to make the community better, so we have to embrace them whenever we have the opportunity.”