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Sadness amid festivities as Las Vegans react to the California shooting

Updated January 23, 2023 - 11:43 am

The mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, was on the minds of the leaders of Las Vegas’ Asian American Pacific Islander community as the Lunar New Year was celebrated in Chinatown on Sunday.

Thousands of people were expected to converge on the parking lot of Chinatown Plaza on Spring Mountain Road throughout the day Sunday for the celebrations, which are seen as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, celebration of the year in Las Vegas’ Asian community.

While the mood was festive, it was also underscored with sadness for the victims of the shooting in Monterey Park, a city in which the majority of residents are Asian. The shooting, which killed 10, happened in a ballroom dance studio where Lunar New Year was being celebrated.

“It’s such a sad moment, especially during a very important event that we celebrate every year,” said Catherine Francisco, president of the Nevada Asian American Pacific Islander Chamber of Commerce.

“Today’s the first day of Lunar New Year celebrations, and I’m sure it’s on everyone’s minds as it is on mine,” Francisco said. “But we continue to support the families and our hearts (go) out to all of them, but yes, the mood is pretty good today.”

Sonny Vinuya, one of the chamber’s founders, added: “I’m eager to hear what the motivation was and what led him to do this act.”

But the plaza was teeming with people who meandered amid the restaurants of the plaza, and the food trucks in the parking lot. Dancers performed a dragon dance. Crypto, a French bulldog with his own Instagram page, was wearing his own dragon costume. The Year of the Rabbit, which symbolizes prosperity, was ushered in.

But with the aftermath of the nation’s latest mass shooting in a place where the new year was being celebrated, the latest violence wasn’t far from the minds of those celebrating in Las Vegas on Sunday.

“A lot of the people that are out here right now, as you can see, there’s such a big crowd, because they’re not going to be deterred (by) a bad act like that, but they are of course very, very sad and also a little bit scared,” Vinuya said. “There’s some people who have texted me wanting to make sure we have security here today.”

There were Metro police vehicles lining some of the entry points to the plaza, as well as police officers and volunteers walking around. James Kei, a volunteer with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Community Oriented Policing Protect Asian Community program, said the mood was still good at Sunday’s event.

“I feel very safe here. It’s very good,” he said of the atmosphere Sunday. “Everybody is happy.”

“We are very close-knit, we support each other,” added William C. Wong, Director of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, saying that the various organizations and communities within the larger Asian American Pacific Islander community come together in good times and bad to support each other. “Even though we are in different organizations. This is how Vegas is. We just love this community.”

A previous version of this story misstated which chamber of commerce Vinuya helped found.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BrettClarkson_ on Twitter.

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