Monterey Park

Growing up, as a Taiwanese American in a predominantly white Northern LA County suburb in the 1980s & 90s, outside of my family, Monterey Park WAS my connection to Asian American identity and the Asian diaspora in America.

My single mother was not a fan of freeway driving so we only went to Monterey Park a few times a year, but these times were important, formative memories in my childhood.

Monterey Park was where we would get Asian groceries (at Hong Kong Supermarket). It was where my maternal grandmother could see a doctor who understood her language and could explain her treatment to her. It was where we would come to visit my paternal grandmother, many years after my father himself was out of regular contact. It was where I felt my mother found a piece of herself, a piece of her homeland, a glimpse into the life she had before she chose a new life here in the US.

Monterey Park always represented a part of myself that I felt adjacent to. It was perhaps the one place where my mother felt more at home in this country than I did. I felt out of place, like I should have fit in, but I just wanted to get out. Like so much about my Asian American identity growing up, it was something I didn’t know how to embrace because I didn’t know how to embrace myself.

When we moved back to Southern California ten years ago, Monterey Park still became a (similar and different) sort of hub for us. I was coming towards my Asian American identity, after years of running away from it, but I still was unsure about what my place was in the Asian American community in Southern California. There was a lot to still sort through.

Monterey Park was where I would visit my aunt and later my uncle in the hospital before they passed, where we would come for dim sum and eat together. During the pandemic, we went on regular “foodie adventures” to get out of the house and pick up take-out in the greater Los Angeles area. Several times these adventures took us to Tokyo Fried Chicken, and as we drove through the streets of Monterey Park, down Atlantic and Garvey, I would remember driving through these streets when I was a child. I pointed out places that were still there, and those that had disappeared, a bit of my history for my children. I realized that coming back to this community, that I was never REALLY a part of, but that had been a part of me, was healing. It showed growth and hope and a path towards the embrace of all of who I am, all of who we are.

This morning, I woke up ready to celebrate the (Lunar) New Year, the Year of the Rabbit, a year of peace and prosperity. I had prepared red envelopes for my children and my sister. We have plans to make dumplings with my husband’s family. This is a year where I feel growth on the horizon.

I woke up.

Then, I saw a text from a concerned friend.

I checked Twitter.

I saw Monterey Park trending.

I knew before I knew in the way one always knows.

The details change, but the collective grief is the same, familiar feeling, in waves.

I always wonder how close this time, how many degrees of separation, how unsafe I will feel today, tomorrow, next week, next month, in this body, in this country, in this society.

I never have answers in the moment, and they have become less important as I remind myself to just be because all of these answers will be what they are, and I can only be with them if I allow myself the space to fully grieve.

To hold space for those lost, who were just out to celebrate the new year, to dance, to be in community, on one of the most important days of the year.

To hold space for the families of those lost, who will never be able to celebrate new year in the same way. Who will never be able to hold those they lost.

It is so much.

It is too much.

I know that joy is a form of resistance. I know that only in community can we find healing.

But this morning, there is only stillness, reverence, sadness, heaviness, anger, exhaustion, borne of love and proximity, and too much senseless loss and targeted violence.

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