Lunar New Year celebrations kicked off over the weekend in Chicago, but Sunday’s events were overshadowed by news of a gunman who killed 10 people and wounded 10 others Saturday night at a Lunar New Year celebration in the Los Angeles area.
For many, this year was supposed to be a return to normal after restrictions and lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2021 celebration and a limited event last year.
At St. Teresa’s Chinese Catholic Church in Chinatown, the sound of 8,000 firecrackers marked the start of Sunday’s celebration.
Families sat side by side as the pews were filled to capacity with about 300 people. Parishioners and students from St. Teresa’s Chinese Catholic School performed traditional dances that honor their Chinese culture. The service showcases Catholic and Chinese traditions and focuses on the importance of family, blessings and prosperity.
Reverend Francis Lee began the service on a somber note.
He asked the parish to pray for the people killed and wounded in Monterey Park, a city on the east side of Los Angeles, and also for the shooter. “We want peace,” Li said. “We want people to feel safe. We have faith and we place our hope in Jesus.”
Five women and five men were killed and 10 others injured in the Saturday night shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, according to the Associated Press. Shortly after, a man with a gun entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in the nearby Alhambra. Authorities believe the two incidents are connected.
The suspect in both cases is described as an Asian male. He entered the Alhambra Club with a gun and people wrestled the weapon from him before he fled, police said.
The shooting sent a wave of fear through Asian American communities in the Los Angeles area and cast a shadow over Lunar New Year celebrations across the country.
The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month. It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. In Highland Park, seven people were killed and dozens injured in a shooting at the Fourth of July parade last summer.
Eddie Tan, a father of three children, ages 5, 3 and 9 months, said he didn’t hear about the shooting until he was on his way to church Sunday morning. He said the news is on his mind, but he feels safe at the church.
Tan, who said the celebrations were “really great”, did not attend the celebration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he used to go to church but now lives in Schaumburg.
Tan said she wanted to go to the service to introduce her children to Chinese culture.
“We love seeing the community help each other in these times,” he said.
Michelle Mark and her daughter Mia, 13, have been going to the festivities for years. Mia, a student at St. Therese, said the packed church made the celebration more intimate. “It’s great to see the community come together as a community.”
Mark said she heard about the shootings Sunday morning on her way to church, but it didn’t affect her decision to come to the celebration. “You can’t live in fear,” she said.
Lunar New Year celebrations will continue in Chicago for the next 15 days. The Lunar New Year Parade will be held in Chinatown on January 29.
The Associated Press contributed.