48 hours in America
The cycle of gun violence never ends, but how do you process it when the shooter is "one of us"?
It’s been a confusing and sad few days here in the U.S. I’ve scrapped and restarted this week’s newsletter countless times because it feels like there is nothing left to say that hasn’t already been said about gun violence in America. I wasn’t intending to write about last Sunday’s massacre in Monterey Park because, really, what authority do I have to write about a tragedy like this? I’m not a journalist, a sociologist, a community member of Monterey Park, or even really an Asian American activist, and I certainly don’t want to add any more noise. But then a second shooting happened less than 48 hours later. Another mass shooting, another elderly Asian man wielding the gun.
I’m writing about these events today because like many of you, I am just someone who is trying to understand what is going on. I apologize if this post is all over the place—this is really off the cuff processing—but I’m writing it here in case it helps anyone else process what’s unfolded the last few days.
Whenever there’s breaking news of a mass shooting, many of us collectively hold our breaths until the race of the perpetrator has been revealed. The aftermath of these shootings reverberate far and wide and we brace ourselves because there is often scapegoating and racist backlashes. We’re already a nation on edge and gun violence in this country is politicized. Like most Americans, I was shocked and saddened to wake up to the news of the latest shooting in California. To find out that the shooter was Asian makes the tragedy all the more complex.
Even though Asian Americans in this country are ethnically very diverse, many of us share a sense of collective identity, shared struggles and experiences that form a safety net. This is the definition of community. This sense of belonging is especially important for immigrant minorities and in particular, the older generations of Asian Americans in this country. The back to back shootings carried out by older Asian men have thrust into the spotlight the issues that we as a community may not want to talk about.
We may not want to talk about mental illness and the stigma it holds or the fact that many in the AAPI community do not seek help or have access to the care they need.
We may not want to talk about patriarchal violence that is so pervasive towards women in our culture.
We may not want to talk about intergenerational trauma that has brought so many of our families here. Events like war, internment, colonization. For many older Asian American immigrants, violence has been normalized and they never really healed from that trauma.
All of these issues hit close to home. It is the lens in which I look through in order to understand the history and actions of my own family.
So to understand the “why” is to process, address, and discuss these issues out in the open, even if it make us uncomfortable and goes against how so many of us were raised. How did this happen? And how did it happen again so soon before we could even process the first tragedy? The shooters didn’t fit the “typical” profile of mass shooters in America. Why was a mass shooting spree the only way these men believed they had to deal with their grievances? In Asia, many countries have the lowest gun homicide rates in the world and gun violence is not baked into society there. But here in America, it is.
Gun culture is American culture.
It’s naive to think that we, as a community, would be insulated from it. Although 77% of Asian Americans want stricter gun laws,gun ownership among Asians rose by 43% over the last few years. You could draw a direct correlation of this alarming stat to the sharp spike in anti-Asian violence that has risen during the pandemic. Our elders, in particular, have been especially vulnerable. Guns also recently became the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States, and while lower than other racial groups, the steepest increase in suicide by guns are from Asian American youth. These trends are worrisome; no good can come out of these numbers. Did we think that the uptick in gun ownership among Asians wouldn't manifest itself in some way? Did we think we were immune to gun violence in America because Asians rarely fit the profile of a mass shooter?
As a country, we have been continuing this cycle as each mass shooting event triggers the trauma for those who have been afflicted by gun violence in their lives. I read that there were children who witnessed the shootings at Half Moon Bay. We are raising generations of children in this daily norm of gun violence in America. This shouldn’t be normal, but we are now a country of violence. No other developed nation lives this way.
On Instagram last week, I shared a piece that my high school kid had featured in the New York Times, one of 24 entries that address what it’s like to be a teenager today. I encourage you to read the entries because it’s an often heartbreaking insight into the minds and lives of teens, and not just here in the U.S. It was a global call and not surprisingly, there are shared themes of mental health and isolation.
Claudine’s piece was inspired by a text thread that she and I had last Spring when she was in lockdown at her school from a threat for two and half hours for the 2nd time that semester. Later, I asked her questions about what it was like, having never had these shooter drills in school when I was a kid. She decided to draw it for me. The last line of her artist statement, however, is the thing that strikes me most about the reality of life today. She writes, “It’s incredibly strange how we must live through these threats and be expected to move on and come to school the next day.”
I feel like that captures how we’ve been conditioned to cope with the violence in our country, every single day. We move on and live our lives. Without any kind of policy change—and let’s be clear, the people in power do not want change—we are left to eulogize the dead and move on until the cycle rears its head again.
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If you would like to donate to the families of the victims of Monterey Park, this is the official GoFundMe page organized by 20 fundraising teams. Here is one for the victims of Half Moon Bay.
This past month there has been something like 20 shootings here in Sweden, most but not all, in the Stockholm area. Not mass shootings but drug gang related. The most horrible thing is that most of the shooters are children - teenagers 15 - 16 years.
At New Years my 4 year old grandson told me - out of the blue - that children can’t go to prison for anything they do how illegal it is!!! So he could do anything he wanted.... told him that even when it’s true that we in Sweden don’t lock children up, we do take action - you will be removed from home and your mother. The last having him rethinking.
But it is so scary that even a 4-year old can even think like this. And all the 15 years old boys who partly believe it’s true that they won’t go to prison or have any other repercussion. Of course some of them are threatened into doing this. But still they should feel secure enough in society to tell a grownup before acting. But I think your daughters comment is right- too often we expect them to just carry on like nothing happened. Nobody lost a son, a brother, a friend.
We have a plan at school what each class has to do if there’s an active shooter lockdown. It is hardly anything considering all our doors are mostly glass. So I’ve come up with a plan b. T sucks that I have to even have a plan a, let alone a plan b. I play out exactly what needs to be orchestrated if it ever came down to it. I review this plan at least twice a year if not more just to make sure I have some modicum of “muscle memory”.