When Elnora Phu woke up Sunday morning, Jan. 22, her phone was buzzing with texts and missed calls from friends who were out of town, asking if she was safe and whether she was okay.
When Phu opened up her Instagram account, her social media feed was flooded with posts and headlines talking about a mass shooting in Monterey Park that happened the night before, a city which was just a ten-minute drive from where she lived in Rosemead, CA, in the San Gabriel Valley.
“I couldn’t believe that I saw ‘Monterey Park’ and ‘mass shooting’ in the headlines,” Phu said. “I couldn’t process it.”
The night before, which was the first day of a two-day celebration ringing in the Lunar New Year, a major holiday in the Asian community, Phu had dinner with her cousins before going to bed around midnight.
Her family had plans to visit a few temples later on Sunday, but Phu chose to stay home, saying she didn’t feel safe enough to go out into her community, especially when, at the time, the shooter suspect was still at large.
“When I think about Monterey Park, I think about the community,” Phu said. “I feel so safe walking around there at night.”
The San Gabriel Valley native said, for once, she felt anxiety about going out into her own community and closely followed the news as SWAT cornered a white cargo van in Torrance, where the later confirmed shooter suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The mass shooting in Monterey Park, the deadliest in LA County history, had left 11 victims dead, nine wounded and entire communities reeling from the tragic event.
Phu is a senior grad student at Long Beach State University, about to graduate this spring with her master’s degree and complete her social work program. Her goal is to become a licensed clinical social worker and work with people of color.
“As a social worker/therapist, I am expected to hold space for my clients, but I realized that I haven’t had the time to hold space for myself,” she said. “These past couple of days have been emotionally draining and while I’m in class or internship, it’s been hard to focus when all I can think about are the victims and their families.”
Phu is the secretary for the AAPI Social Work Student Network at CSULB, a committee which acts as a support group for students from the AAPI community. The organization holds meetings where members can talk about their internships, classes or any current events which have affected them.
In regard of creating a special meeting for those personally affected by the Monterey Park shooting, Phu said this was something they still needed to discuss.
“As cabinet members, we haven’t had a chance to talk about that,” she said, adding they’ve been asked to contribute to a collective statement that was being organized by their department.
Faculty and staff from various Asian American and Pacific Islander communities at CSULB, where Asian students make up around 20% of the student body, wrote a collective statement in regard of Saturday night’s devastating event.
“We are heartbroken at yet another traumatic gun violence in the U.S. that took, injured, and traumatized precious lives,” the statement read. “While many know Monterey Park as the first city in the continental U.S. with an Asian-majority population, it is also a home and place of both belonging and resistance to a multiracial, multiethnic, and multigenerational community.”
Phu attended two vigils that were held in honor of the victims of the Monterey Park shooting– one on Monday night at Monterey Park City Hall, about a half a mile away from the site of the incident, and another on Tuesday night, at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where the shooting took place.
“While I was at the vigil tonight, I feared for my safety and have been more aware of my surroundings,” Phu said.
Kevin Leung, from Siu Lum Pai Kung Fu Association Monterey Park, is a colleague of Phu’s who is also a Kung Fu instructor at Star Ballroom Dance Studio. Leung teaches self-defense classes in partnership with a non-profit program, Compassion in SGV, which Phu also volunteers for.
Compassion in SGV was started during the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes around the time of the pandemic. This organization, Phu said, offers chaperone services as well as self-defense training classes, all in effort to better support the AAPI community.
“I’m hopeful, but I’m kind of fed up with the system,” Phu said, in regard of the Asian community having to overcome yet another attack, despite whether or not it was racially motivated. “I know a lot of people use the word ‘resilience’ but sometimes it’s like, how much more can we take?”
For those personally affected by the Monterey Park shooting, or simply needing a safe space to talk, students may call CAPS at (562) 985-4001. Outside organizations offering support services for friends/family of the Monterey Park victims and community members include AAPI Equity Alliance, Chinatown Community for Equitable Development in Los Angeles, Khmer Girls in Action in Long Beach, and the Filipino Migrant Center in Long Beach.