Emil Guillermo: Half Moon Bay, Monterey Park, and the AAPI assimilation into America's gun narrative

Image for Emil Guillermo: Half Moon Bay, Monterey Park, and the AAPI assimilation into America's gun narrative
via CNN

I’m no oracle, but in yesterday’s column, I wrote about the urgent need to do something about AAPI gun violence. And that if we didn’t, we would see the likes of Monterey Park shooter Huu Can Tran again, as our community assimilates into the American gun narrative.

I just didn’t figure it would happen so quickly. But this is America, where in January alone mass shootings are at 40—and counting.

By Monday afternoon, California had its second mass shooting involving Asian Americans in just under 48 hours. It happened in the Northern California coastal community of Half Moon Bay.

Suspected murderer Chunli Zhao appears to have driven to a Sheriff’s substation to turn himself in, when he was called out of his car and wrestled to the ground.

Zhao is being held on suspicion of killing seven people around 2 pm Pacific time on Monday in two ag workplaces–nurseries–30 miles south of San Francisco.

At one location, four victims were found dead of gunshot wounds, with a fifth taken to Stanford hospital with life threatening injuries, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said at a news conference.

At a second nursery, Corpus said Zhao is suspected of killing another three victims found dead from gunshot wounds.

Overall, it leaves us with some staggering math.

Seven dead, one wounded in Half Moon Bay. Add to the 11 dead and 9 wounded in Monterey Park to the south, and that makes 18 people dead, 10 wounded in two mass shootings involving Asian American males in California since Saturday night.

Zhao, 67, now joins the late Monterey Park suspect Tran, 72, onto an ignominious list created to accommodate an emerging Asian male stereotype, a different kind of OG–older gunman, suspected mass murderer.

Image by AALDEF

Officials said Zhao is believed to have acted alone, using a semi-automatic weapon deputies found in his car. Corpus only identified the victims as farmworkers, a mix of Asians and Hispanics, who were Zhao’s coworkers.

Corpus described the work sites as rural with people living at the location as well. And then she described how children were present during the shootings. “It was in the afternoon, when kids were out of school, and for children to witness this is unspeakable,” she said.

It’s a part of the AAPI community you don’t often hear about: the Chinese and Hispanic migrant ag workers in the Bay Area who live on the farms.

It’s far from the suburban landscape of Monterey Park in Los Angeles County. But you don’t really hear much about them either.

This is part of our functional invisibility. Often, we deal in our own worlds apart from the mainstream. We deal with it, until it’s no longer functional. It wasn’t for Zhao and Tran. Something in their worlds wasn’t right. They turned to a gun for answers.

And now the world finally is forced to see us. We’re grieving, mourning, and in shock.

The complete list of the deceased In Monterey Park are: Mymy Nhan, 65; Lilan Li, 63; Xiujuan Yu, 57; Alvero Marcos Valentino, 68; Muoi Ung, 67; Hong Jian, 62; Yu Kao, 72; Chia Yau, 76; Wen Yu, 64; Ming Ma, 72; and Diana Tom, 70.

The Half Moon Bay victims’ identities were released on Wednesday: Zhi Shen Liu, 73 of San Francisco; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, Moss Beach; Jose Romero Perez; Ai Xiang Zhang, 74, San Francisco; Qi Zhong Cheng, 66, Half Moon Bay; Ye Tao Bing, 43; and Jing Zhi Lu, 64, Half Moon Bay. The surviving victim is Pedro Romero Perez, according to the criminal complaint against Zhao.

On Wednesday afternoon, Zhao was charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, according to the San Mateo District Attorney. Zhao entered no plea and was denied bail, perhaps due to his uncertain immigration status. He was born in China.

From here, we know the script.

More vigils will be held. Politicians will speak. People will notice us. Not much is likely to change policy-wise.

Here’s a good thing. In Southern California, a hero has even emerged: Brandon Tsay, the brave 26-year-old who disarmed Tran singlehandedly at the second dance hall in Alhambra. Without that act of heroism, many more would have been wounded or killed.

And his case moves through the justice system, Zhao and Half Moon Bay will get the attention.

But let’s see just how much of this case, or the Monterey Park case, we will remember a year from now.

Because as time passes, life goes on. There will be more shootings. And with the rate the AAPI community has purchased guns during the pandemic, the likelihood of seeing more AAPI shooters is high.

And as gun ownership proliferates, our assimilation into America’s gun narrative will deepen.

We will no longer have just the white supremacists and the anti-Asian haters to fear.

We’ve been discovered! Happy new year?

But it will pass. Until the next time, and the next time. And the next time. Because we’ll have more AAPI shooters before any viable policy changes.

And as the shooters become more common, our assimilation into America’s gun narrative will be complete.

We’ll have more AAPIs like Zhao and Tran to deal with–and not just older men, but younger men and women, too–people who seek to deal with their private matters in a public way through gun culture and violence.

Tran’s saga ended with a self-inflicted wound. Zhao didn’t get that far. But maybe one lesson for us is to focus a bit more on the welfare and mental health of our people and not just on the control of the gun.

As Tran showed us, the gun was just the means to an ultimate cry for help.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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