Vigil marks lives lost in Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay, Oakland mass shootings

OAKLAND — When the names were read aloud, it seemed like every ear leaned forward to hear the sound of a responding bell.

“We will read the names,” Oakland City Church Community Rev. Carl Pascual said, as fellow faith community leaders Peter Chang and Harry Bridge held bells to ring.

“The names we read, you may not recognize them. A face may not come to you. Yet we acknowledge that each one of these are children of our creator with a spirit. And if it’s grace to you, as we read the names, and as you hear the chime ring out, you can lift that person’s spirit up in your spirit, blessing them, and asking for peace to come upon their families.”

In a crowd of several hundred people Wednesday at Chinatown’s Wilma Chan Park, the names and bells filled the empty courtyard and surrounding streets, marking the grievous losses in the wake of mass shootings Sunday at a Monterey Park dance hall and Monday at a Half Moon Bay farm and an East Oakland gas station.

A chorus of speakers from Oakland AAPI Unite, an array of more than two dozen organizations serving multiple communities, joined with city council members and residents to push back against those losses’ silence by expressing righteous witness and renewing resolve to serve needs.

“We’re here to mourn and remember the victims that had their lives taken,” Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce president and PIVOT executive director Dr. Jennifer Tran said, acknowledging the location formerly known as Madison Park as “a place that’s really special for many residents across our city and across our region.”

Tran said she felt struck to the core that “during a time of celebration, a time that we are preparing our minds and our hearts and our homes for hope, prosperity and new beginnings, we awaken up to such tragic news.”

But she said people needed to push back against apathy and indifference: “We have to fight back the instinct that this is the new norm. […] In this moment where everyone is devastated and heartbroken, we need to heal, we need to share resources on how we can improve the situation.”

Speakers who followed shared their grief, passion, anger and resolve with crowd members who laid flowers, lit incense and shared tears and prayers before a long row of pictures and names.

Oakland City Council president Nikki Fortunato Bas, whose district includes Wilma Chan Park, said the shock and pain of recent days’ deaths and injuries made it all the more important for communities to come together.

“I want us to know that it’s okay to feel all those feelings that you have, and to know that there are friends, neighbors, loved ones, organizations that are here for you,” Fortunato Bas said, promising to use her power to “provide the basic needs that people desperately need to have so that we can stem some of the violence and crises that we’re experiencing.”

Former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said she teared up shortly after arriving at the vigil, recalling her time as an Oakland school board member elected alongside Wilma Chan just after the Jan. 17, 1989 Stockton schoolyard shooting.

But she said she took heart in seeing what she described as “the widest variety of organizations I’ve seen in a long time, everything from conservative business groups to national advocacy groups to young activist groups.”

Quan said concerned people should work to pass an assault-weapon ban again, and support Asian communities by coming to community events like the upcoming New Year’s parade in the city’s Chinatown.

“It’s been hard hit by first, the pandemic, and then by people’s fear of violence, even though they have organized safety patrols. Chinatown is probably one of the safest places to shop now in Oakland.”

San Francisco resident and recent UC Berkeley graduate Hannah Chea said the multiple shootings had hit her hard but “definitely, it hits me a lot more being here in person. I think that’s a big reason why I came out, to see the community come out and support rather than just, you know, scrolling and reading. I really wanted a physical place to to see the community come together.”

Chea, a former Bakersfield resident with family members living across Southern California, said she had worked to deal with being away from family. “The friends I came with today, we had a whole dumpling-making party. We’re trying to find community, even here. It just made me realize how far away I was from my family. I really wish I was also there for them during this time.”

Chea recalled how earning her minor in Asian-American studies two years ago, during a visible increase in attacks against Asian Americans, spurred her to delve deeper into unique forces that shaped not only her family’s Chinese Cambodian immigrant history, but those of other Asian American groups.

Leva Zand, founder and director of Oakland nonprofit ARTogether, said she found the shootings confounding.

“As an immigrant person who came to the U.S. fleeing war, the trauma of gun violence in this country is […] I just don’t get it. I don’t know how come we accept this reality, just living with it.”

Zand said ARTogether works to use art to bring people, particularly immigrants and refugees, together, and hoped that people unable to attend the vigil would treat victims as more than just names.

“It’s not like ’11 people died there, seven people died here.’ It’s people with their own stories, with their family and loved ones. Remember their names. If you’re the kind of person who prays, have them in your prayers. And also at the same time, really, let’s do something about this.”

Calling Asian-American hate “as American as apple pie,” Homies Empowerment leader Cesar Cruz decried systemic forces from willful ignorance of Asian American history to what he described as financial incentives from media, law enforcement and businesses against accountability, and urged vigil attendees to honor the dead by organizing to meet needs across community interests.

“On this altar is an 18-year-old from East Oakland from our neighborhood. We should not be burying 18-year-olds. These are grandmothers and our grandfathers, and our farm workers who take care of us, and we slaughter them, and we have another gathering like this,” Cruz said.

Rev. Jeremy McCants, an organizer with East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), echoed Cruz’s insistence on the importance of action and service in the face of societal violence, when asked to think of people not in attendance.

“Just stay engaged. Stay involved as best you can. We know that for most, some don’t know how to show up, sometimes they don’t know things like this are going on or if they feel like they show up they feel like they’ll be the minority, they won’t be seen or their presence won’t be taken seriously, right?”

Rev. Pascual called the vigil “a time for silence, reflection, tears and lament. But tomorrow brings a new opportunity for action, right? We need both.

“It’s our calling to preserve, protect and show compassion to all life and to even pray for those who perpetrated this crime, for those who see violence as the only answer to their suffering. They are in need of mercy, too. So we pray for their souls, just as much as we pray for the souls of the victims and the families of the victims.”

Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.

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Author: George Kelly

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