Monterey Park, California, the site of Saturday’s mass shooting that left 11 dead, has historically served as a beacon for California’s Chinese community.
In the 1970s, Chinese real estate developer Fred Hsieh envisioned Monterey Park as the “Chinese Beverly Hills,” purchasing and selling land in the area to house the rapid influx of immigrants flowing in from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“He told us the reason why he was buying up so much property in town was that Monterey Park was going to become the next Chinatown,” Harold Fiebelkorn, a former member of the city’s Planning Commission, told the Los Angeles Times. “He said it would become a mecca for Chinese.”
Hseih’s actions sparked significant demographic changes that willed his vision into reality.
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Large supermarkets stocked with fresh produce and cultural delicacies and Chinese restaurants serving up authentic dishes began planting their roots, providing working-class immigrants with steady incomes and a taste of home.
“Immigrants and also Asian Americans – they are quite attracted to that area, both with the American cultural diversity and also with their own unique culture,” University of California Los Angeles Professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies Min Zhou said in an interview with NPR.
She also added that many who live outside of the community travel to Monterey Park to embrace the city’s cultural offerings, which includes tea houses, herbal stores and, of course, the Star Ballroom and Dance Studio.
The ballroom is a popular gathering place for community members, over 90 percent of whom are Asian American, looking to enjoy a night of dancing against the musical backdrop of Chinese tunes.
Betina Hsieh, an associate professor at Cal State Long Beach’s College of Education, explained to the Associated Press that the space holds special significance for the city’s elderly Asian population, who turned to the studio as a cultural sanctuary.
“There is a big separation or tension between immigrant parents and people like me who are second generation,” she said. “Our families bought into this idea of helping us kids assimilate. But, they remained in their ethnic enclaves and mingled among themselves, which means they have limited spaces to gather as they age.”
While the community is currently grieving over the tragic losses from Saturday evening’s mass shooting, Monterey Park’s legacy has been, and always will be, one of diversity, inclusivity and resilience.