Sunday, June 16, 2024

Choir performance canceled by Monterey Park shooting, children play while moms fret

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As the children ran around the Playa Vista park on Sunday morning, their satiny red qipaos, or traditional Chinese dresses, signaled that this was no ordinary day.

They are members of a chorus that was scheduled to sing at the Monterey Park Lunar New Year Festival.

But because of the mass shooting at a Monterey Park ballroom dance studio the night before, which killed 10 people and injured 10 others, the nearby festival was canceled.

Instead, they came to this park, playing as their mothers commiserated about how to discuss such a horrific event with them — especially one that occurred in the Asian community.

The children all go to the same Mandarin immersion school, and their mothers are investing in the hard work of making them bilingual and bicultural.

Linda Zapel’s approach was to be upfront and honest with her two daughters.

“We want them to be able to ask questions. We explained that the event is canceled. They don’t know where this person is yet, so they want to be safe. And my job is always to keep you guys safe,” said Zapel, 42, a Culver City resident who is Chinese American and grew up in the San Gabriel Valley.

The night before, Zapel had gone to a new year’s dinner in Monterey Park with relatives. Then the shooting occurred.

On Sunday, she said, she “just wanted to be with my Asian moms.”

She was pleased when fellow mother Elise Hu texted her, suggesting the park outing and lunch at Whole Foods.

Hu, a journalist and former bureau chief for National Public Radio in Seoul, had blocked off four hours of the day for her younger daughter’s festival performance.

“This is our sort of backup plan,” Hu said. “Backup plan … to see each other and hang out, because they’re in their qipao, because they were going to sing.”

Her approach differs depending on the child’s age — her daughters are 5, 6 and 9.

“What we decided as grownups in our family was, let them know the truth, which was that something bad had happened and that the police needed to shut down the streets and cancel the festival for today,” Hu said.

To the 5-year-old, she omitted some of the more “gruesome” details to avoid making the little girl anxious. But many children, including her daughter, have older siblings and are bound to find out more.

“They’re so impressionable,” Hu said. “They’ll speak to each other, so it’s not like you can really obscure it too much.”

According to Hu, the girls were “pretty bummed out” because they had worked hard to rehearse their songs in Mandarin.

“Was there going to be dragon stuff?” her daughter asked.

“Yeah, there was going to be the lion dance,” Hu said.

“Awww!” the children responded.

Cassie Campbell reached out to college friends for advice on how to talk to her kids about the shooting.

That morning, her 9-year-old daughter told her that “people were murdered.”

“It’s kind of sad that she even knows to use that language,” said Campbell, of Mar Vista, who is third-generation Filipina-Chinese.

“It’s so normal. It shouldn’t be normal — it should be scary,” she said. “It’s not to them, because it’s so normal, and it happens all the time.”

According to law enforcement, the shooter, who later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was of Asian descent. Regardless of his motivation, the violence brought back memories for Campbell of hate crimes against Asian Americans.

“It makes you kind of question just the little things, like, ‘What about what I put on my kids?’” she said, watching her 5-year-old daughter decked out in the traditional Chinese dress in new year’s red.

The kids plan to take the stage next week at another Lunar New Year celebration and again next month at Disneyland.

But Sunday’s performance would have taken place on the actual Lunar New Year and was the first time the Monterey Park festival was scheduled since the pandemic began.

“Here we are in the diaspora, trying to continue our traditions and have them pass down to our children,” Hu said. “And for this to happen is really hard.”

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