Small white square notecards hung along strings of yarn in Cal State LA’s University-Student Union Plaza Tuesday evening, carrying handwritten messages of grief, sorrow, hope and love for the victims of the Monterey Park shooting and their loved ones.  

“You are not alone. You are loved. You deserved to enjoy Lunar New Year without this tragedy. My amor and strength to those affected.” 

“For the loved ones who lost their loved ones … it may never be enough to share condolences, but we share our grief and celebrate their memories.”  

“Praying for peace and comfort for the families of those who were lost and injured. Thinking of all communities that have been devastated by gun violence and praying for change.”  

“Peace and love to the families affected by this tragedy. May you feel the warmth from our campus community.” 

The memorial message wall was part of a candlelight vigil held on Jan. 24 to provide a space for the Cal State LA community to honor the victims of the shooting, to stand in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and to process the tragic events of the week. 

During a night of celebration on the eve of Lunar New Year on Jan. 21, a gunman killed 11 people at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. Just two days later, seven more people were killed in a pair of shootings in Half Moon Bay, a beach-side community in Northern California. 

The shooting in Monterey Park hit close to home for Cal State LA, which is located less than four miles from the dance studio. Relatives of members of the university community were among those killed in the shooting. And many alumni, students, faculty and staff grew up in, live in and spend time in Monterey Park, a vibrant hub for the AAPI community in Los Angeles County. 

“The start of a new year should be a time of celebration and reflection, of joy and hope. Yet, on this Lunar New Year, we find ourselves again mourning with grieving families and again asking, why,” Cal State LA President William A. Covino said in a message to the university community the day after the shooting. “We send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims, to the AAPI community, and to any of you who may have suffered the loss of a loved one. The tremendous pain caused by mass shootings is made even worse when there is a personal connection.” 

In the days following the shooting, Cal State LA organized programming and resources for students, faculty, and staff to express their emotions and thoughts related to the tragedy, including grief counseling, a community circle, and Tuesday’s candlelight vigil. 

The events were offered by Cal State LA Community Collective Care, a collaboration between the Cross Cultural Centers, the Center for Student Involvement, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Counseling and Psychological Services, Associated Students, Inc., the University-Student Union and others on campus. 

“Our hearts go out to the victims of this week’s shootings and their friends and families,” said Jose A. Gomez, Cal State LA’s provost and executive vice president. “I am proud of our Golden Eagle family for coming together to support one another in the wake of these tragedies. Cal State LA is ready to work with our community partners to help our neighbors in Monterey Park heal.” 

During the vigil, 11 candles representing the lives lost were displayed on the edge of a stage at the center of University-Student Union Plaza. In front of the stage, students, faculty and staff were invited to speak into a microphone at a lectern and share their thoughts and feelings in the wake of the shootings. 

Raymond Lu, a staff student engagement coordinator in Cal State LA’s Center for Student Involvement, shared cherished memories of growing up in Monterey Park. He recalled mornings spent with his mom buying groceries and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards at neighborhood shopping centers, going to Sunday dim sum, and buying the biggest fried squid on a stick at the annual Lunar New Year festival on Garvey Avenue with his family. 

“Those fond memories won’t be tainted by the selfishness of a man who took the lives of so many from our community,” Lu said at the vigil. “My deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of the victims. We as a community will continue to grow and persevere in these times of tragedy. We will continue to support each other in these times of solidarity. We will continue to celebrate in these times of festivity. And we will continue to make memories within this community.” 

Juily Phun, a faculty member in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies, was among those who lost loved ones in the shooting in Monterey Park. Phun shared a statement on behalf of her family in memory of her aunt, which was read at the vigil by Anh Le, coordinator of the Asian Pacific Islander Student Resource Center in Cal State LA’s Cross Cultural Centers. 

In her statement, Phun shared memories of her aunt, who loved to eat, dance and gamble, and what Monterey Park meant to her aunt, who was a Chinese and Vietnamese refugee from Vietnam. 

“Our family story has echoes all over our San Gabriel Valley community—of war, migration, loss, love, hardship, hard work, pain, and joy,” Phun said in her family’s statement. “The stories we all share make her not only my aunty, she is also yours. The uncles that were also brutally murdered, were not only my uncles, they are also yours.” 

In the statement, Phun’s family asked those listening to write to lawmakers to ask for accountability and resources for the AAPI community, a sentiment echoed by speakers throughout the vigil who called for solidarity, support, and action following the shootings. 

“We hope that we move forward in the coming weeks and months as a community with love and kindness as antidotes to the violence we have experienced,” Phun said in the statement. “We hope they continue to listen to our Monterey Park, our San Gabriel Valley community as we advocate a way forward that amplifies our voices and our needs.” 

“We hope that beyond this moment of grief, we use this as a catalyst for change. We hope that this makes us stronger as a family and community. We hope that beyond this moment, we continue to dance and find spaces for joy. We hope.” 

As the air grew colder and dusk neared, students, faculty, and staff approached the stage, some in pairs and others alone, placing their small candles onstage alongside the 11 representing the lives lost at Star Ballroom Dance Studio on January 21. Each individual candle gave off a small speck of light, but together they emanated a warm gold glow.

Photo: Students, faculty, and staff wrote handwritten messages as part of a memorial wall for the victims and loved ones of the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings. (Credit: Jillian Beck/Cal State LA)