Saying No to Violence: Tzu Chi Hosts Candlelight Vigil on the Anniversary of the Monterey Park Shooting

National Headquarters  |  January 30, 2024
Candlelight Vigil lantern
“Let all people remember this love with the lanterns.” Debra Boudreaux. Photo/Shuli Lo

Written by Ruiling Chen and Shuli Lo
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

On January 21, 2023, Chinese New Year’s Eve, a 72-year-old Vietnamese-Chinese man named Tran broke into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, and shot indiscriminately into the crowd, killing 11 and injuring 16. The next day the gunman was surrounded by police, and with nowhere to run, he shot himself. 

The incident was one of the worst mass shootings in California’s modern history, indeed among the worst since the 1984 San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre. It occurred in a relatively low-crime neighborhood with a predominantly Asian American population, causing great shock to American society.

Eleven lives were lost in the blink of an eye amid all the lights and festivities of the Lunar New Year. The sun rose the next day as usual, but it could no longer shine on the victims. At the same time, the loss of life has left a deep gaping hole in the hearts of their families, close friends, and the entire community,  and has left behind a grief that cannot be soothed.

At 6:00 pm, January 21, 2024,  community members and religious leaders held a candlelight vigil in front of the Monterey Park City Hall. The mourners gathered to heal the wounds of last year’s bloodshed. Earlier in the evening, a roundtable meeting was held with elected officials from the federal and local levels, in hopes that the community would be able to move out of the gloom, and never be touched by such violence again.

The Candlelight Vigil

As the evening approached, the lights of candles created a river of stars. In front of Monterey Park City Hall, families of the victims, survivors, representatives of religious organizations, and community members gathered together to remember the eleven victims and send their deepest blessings and condolences.

Commemorating the victims on the anniversary. Photo/Shuli Lo
master chanted sutras and prayed for the deceased
Master Hui Ting of Guangming Temple and Tzu Chi volunteers chant sutras and pray for the deceased. Photo/Shuli Lo

Tzu Chi volunteers, led by Master Huiting of Guangming Temple, chanted sutras and prayed that the deceased rest in peace and the living be soothed. Master Huiting said, “I hope that through this activity, people could learn that, if there are between human beings, the issues can be solved through religion, rather than using this kind of extreme method. The wish of Buddha and Bodhisattva …… is that everyone can live in peace and stability, and this is our main goal this time. We also hope that we can relieve the suffering of the victims. Of course, the most important thing is to hope that the survivors can be strong. On the other hand, I hope this karmic event, which is just a superficial phenomenon, could show everyone the impermanence of the world.” 

As soft music started, a cello’s deep melody pierced through the dark and shadowy night. The deceased all had a passion for life and loved to dance, indeed they had interpreted their life chapters in the beat of the dance. Now, the words “United We Dance” hung in front of the stage. The melody drifted over those gathered as if the dancers who passed away were gently dancing to the rhythm of the music, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder. The audience was touched by this scene and held candles in their hands, whose glow illuminated each sad face.

Candlelight Vigil live music
The candlelight vigil includes music to comfort the souls of the deceased. Photo/Shuli Lo
Candlelight Vigil visitors
The audience is touched by the scene. Photo/Shuli Lo

During the event, many went to the statue of Buddha in front of the Tzu Chi booth to make wishes and pray for blessings. When offering incense to the Buddha, their heartfelt prayers and visions rose along with the smoke, “With the smoke wrapping around the stupa, the mind is inclining to peace and tranquility.”

People offering incense to the Buddha
People offered incense to the Buddha. Photo/Shuli Lo
People make wishes and pray
People make wishes and say prayers. Photo/Shuli Lo

There were countless lanterns on the ground at the memorial site. As the night wore on, the light from the lanterns on the ground grew brighter and brighter. The lanterns were painted by community members to express their grief and their hope for a peaceful life. Noemi Hernandez Kim, who has always been concerned about social issues and what’s happening in the community, saw a colleague holding lanterns last week and volunteered to take five of them and paint them to express her feelings for the victims. She also searched for a symbol that represents “resilience” to the Chinese and decided to paint lotus flowers on the lanterns. She said, “I decided to use lotus flowers because they represent resilience. I’ve seen the resilience of the community and the support for each other since the shooting last year. I used the words ‘love,’ ‘community,’ and ‘resilience,’ because they represent the whole community.”

neighbors draw pictures for lanterns to express their feelings for the victims
People in the community volunteer to paint lanterns to express their feelings for the victims. Photo/Shuli Lo
Love and memories never fade. Photo/Shuli Lo

The Roundtable Meeting: Say No to Violence

According to data from the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. has risen steadily since 1966; between 1966 and 1975, there were 12 mass shootings, but between 2013 and 2022, there were 170 mass shootings. A mass shooting is an incident of targeted violence carried out by one or more shooters at one or more public or populated locations. Multiple victims, both injuries and fatalities, are the result of  the attack, and both the victims and locations are chosen either at random or for their symbolic value.

The frequency of mass shootings has increased over the years. Image/Courtesy of Rockefeller Institute of Government website
The frequency of mass shootings has increased over the years. Image/Courtesy of Rockefeller Institute of Government website
Debra Boudreaux giving speech at the roundtable meeting
Debra Boudreaux attends and delivers a speech at the roundtable meeting commemorating the first anniversary of the Monterey Park shooting. Photo/Shuli Lo

The occurrence of the mass shooting in Monterey Park and the rising frequency of mass shootings over the years has not only caused people to mourn the loss of lives but has also galvanized the community in advocating tighter gun control laws and increased mental health support measures for the general public. Officials and community leaders convened a roundtable meeting to commemorate the first anniversary of the Monterey Park shooting and to discuss how to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. 

Officials including U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu, California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, and Monterey Park Mayor Jose Sanchez attended the meeting.

Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Headquarters, also attended by invitation. She emphasized the importance of religion in mobilizing people for good and building a better community. She said, “Our Congresswoman, Ms. Judy Chu, has always wanted to help Asian Americans be recognized in the community and ensure the care the Asian American community has for the community at large can be seen. The ‘single thought,’ said Master Cheng Yen, the peace of the community as a whole, and the physical and mental care of the body and mind, is not just about restricting the use of guns, rather, it’s about bringing love and care forward through basic education. Yes, religious organizations should reach out to communities because they are the most affirmed and trusted organizations, and it’s up to the religious organizations to help everyone, to bring this one correct message.”

After the shooting, many people were worried and reluctant to come out. How can we accompany these people? Tzu Chi promotes the chanting of sutras, as well as social education courses, including tea ceremonies and flower arranging every Wednesday at Monterey Park Mutual Aid Center. More importantly, these families can come out and interact with the community on their own initiative.

The Roundtable Meeting.
The roundtable meeting. Photo/Shuli Lo
Jose Sanchez giving speech
Monterey Park Mayor Jose Sanchez speaks at the candlelight vigil. Photo/ Shuli Lo

Monterey Park Mayor Jose Sanchez also spoke at the Candlelight Vigil: “Their heartbreak is their calling. We know that the fight to end gun violence cannot be accomplished by one person. It takes a community commitment to advocate for change. And fight for lives by doing so. We will work together, not just to heal our wounds, the wounds we already have, but to sow the seeds of peace.”

candle in hands
The flame of love and peace, held in the palm of one's hand, warms the heart. Photo/ Shuli Lo
Prayer lantern
The Torch of Wisdom is always alight. Photo/Shuli Lo

The flame of love and peace, held in the palm of one’s hand, warms the heart. The Monterey Park Shooting Anniversary ceremony is not only a commemoration of the victims but also a commitment to the future! Please join us in saying no to violence. When compassion is shown for all, love will be boundless!

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