UAA and EDIC hold candlelight vigil for back-to-back mass shootings

Celebrations of the Lunar New Year have been colored with grief from two mass shootings within the same week. Both tragedies primarily harmed members of California’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community. On Jan. 21, a gunman killed 11 people at a dance studio in Monterey Park, where many were celebrating the Lunar New Year weekend. On Jan. 23, another gunman opened fire across two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, killing seven people.

Ramapo’s United Asian Association (UAA) and Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance (EDIC) held a candlelight vigil in the Alumni Lounge on Jan. 26. The room was decorated with tangerines and attendees received red ribbons. The fruit and color are traditional parts of Lunar New Year celebrations, serving as representations of good luck and fortune. There were 18 tangerines total, remembering each victim.

President Cindy Jebb read the poem “Things We Carry on the Sea” by Wang Ping, which was inspired by the experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants and refugees throughout history. Lines such as “We’re orphans of the wars forced upon us” resonated throughout the room.

“Please know we bear the weight of yesterday, today and tomorrow together,” Jebb said. The vigil was a way to share that weight and show strength. “We have a community here that I’m grateful to belong to in good times and bad.”

Associate Director of Academic Advisement John Yao furthered the theme of fostering a community to be proud of. He identified the roots of the mass shootings and what can be done to combat future tragedies. He claimed the violence that occurred over Lunar New Year weekend was only possible due to the “epidemics” of toxic masculinity and gun violence.

Yao defined toxic masculinity as a narrow and repressive construct of gender that prioritized status and aggression while blocking out emotions, and he cited it as a motivator for the two gunmen. He summarized gun violence statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the fact that the CDC has declared firearm violence to be a “serious public health problem.”

Yao claimed ending these epidemics will require substantial regulations. “Please come together not only here, but at the ballot box.”

Co-president of UAA Dawn Sy directly addressed the events. “Many people are watching their communities be attacked,” she said. They have witnessed “people who looked like them lose their lives in an act of unjust violence.”

Sy invited students to volunteer to take turns reading the victims’ names and lighting electronic candles. Mymy Nhan, LiLan Li, Xiujuan Yu, Muoi Dai Ung, Hongying Jian, Yu-Lun Kao, Chia Ling Yau, Valentino Marcos Alvero, Wen-Tau Yu, Ming Wei Ma, Diana Man Ling Tom, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, Zhi Shen Liu, Qi Zhong Cheng, Ai Xiang Zhang, Jing Zhi Lu, Ye Tao Bing and Jose Romero Perez were each remembered with a moment of silence.

Once the demonstration finished, Associate Director of EDIC Rachel Sawyer-Walker acknowledged the raw emotions many felt.

“Mere words cannot convey the feelings of sorrow or heal our wounded hearts”

– Rachel Sawyer-Walker, Associate Director of EDIC

Sawyer-Walker encouraged anyone in need to contact Counseling Services for additional support. “Please know that you are not alone in your grief.”

Sawyer-Walker said she felt honored by the overwhelming attendance despite how the event was planned in a short time frame. She expressed her gratitude to the Ramapo students and staff, including Yao, who collaborated to make it possible.

Sy closed the event by directing attendees to a list of GoFundMe pages for those affected. Pendants for Lunar New Year were available in exchange for donations. “Thank you everyone for coming, and remember to treasure another day with your family and loved ones,” Sy said.

Photo by Danielle Bongiovanni