Saturday’s mass shooting at a Lunar New Year dance in Monterey Park, Calif., struck close to home for Representative Judy Chu.
The Democrat has lived in the city for 37 years, serving on the city council there followed by a three-term stint as mayor in the early 2000s. She currently serves California’s 28th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the city and much of northeast Los Angeles County.
To Chu, the city of 60,000 people is both diverse and welcoming. Two in three residents of Monterey Park are Asian American, with about half being of Chinese descent. When speaking of the city, she immediately mentions the food and high quality of life that residents enjoy.
But now, her hometown is making headlines after the devastating Lunar New Year mass shooting that killed 10 people and injured another 10 at a ballroom.
The incident took place just a block from the city’s famous Lunar New Year celebration, which Chu attended. Thousands of people gathered to celebrate the community’s first celebration since the pandemic.
Chu spoke to TIME Sunday evening, before police revealed that the gunman had died after being cornered by officers.
What does a tragedy like this mean to you and your community?
It was shocking and stunning to learn that ten people were killed and ten injured, especially when only hours earlier we had the opening ceremony of the Lunar New Year festival only one block away. There were thousands of people walking around that were so enthusiastic and energetic.
It is a very significant time period and it seemed to be a signal that we could return to normal, especially after three years of being cooped up due to COVID-19.
Should the community feel safe to continue to celebrate Lunar New Year? What does Lunar New Year mean to you and the community?
What I want to say to the people is that they should continue to send their kids to the schools, go to the businesses and go to the celebrations of Lunar New Year. I know that local law enforcement is even more on guard and dedicated to ensuring everybody’s safety. It’s really important for us to come together as a community and to continue life. I believe that Monterey Park is resilient. After 37 years of living here and being its mayor and city council member, I believe that we can get through this together.
Lunar New Year has such meaning for me because it was the focal point for my family. My mother especially would take this time to make these special meals that would occur especially on the eve of Lunar New Year like her Chinese tamales.
This was a time when there would be so many events in the community that everybody looked forward to.
You’ve been very public about your stance against gun violence. What actions do you think need to be taken to prevent tragedies like this from happening again?
I have been very active in fighting for gun safety since the early days when there were the terrible, unimaginable massacres we saw at Sandy Hook and at the Pulse nightclub. I have been pushing for common sense legislation that would stop the proliferation of guns in the wrong hands. The most common sense one has to do with stopping the loopholes in the universal background checks. Universal background checks are very effective in making sure that guns don’t get into the wrong hands. But there are loopholes, gigantic loopholes, where they can buy them without those background checks if they do it online, or in a personal sale or at a gun show.
Another loophole called the Charleston loophole—the young man that was able to get a gun and shoot nine people while they were praying in the church in Charleston, S.C. He was able to get the gun despite having mental problems because the rules are that once three days pass, if they don’t hear anything, then purchasers automatically get it. So it would extend the time for the background interview.
There are also other proposals to limit the amount of ammunition that you can get. And, of course, I think that we should ban assault weapons, or at the very least, raise the minimum age for a person to be able to buy an assault weapon.
Tell me about Monterey Park. What do you want this city to be known for?
Monterey Park is a city that is tight knit, where people know each other very well. I want Monterey Park to be remembered for its incredible diversity. It is a city that is majority Asian and we have made sure that everybody feels welcome in the city.
We have great schools. We have businesses that are thriving, and especially our Chinese restaurants.