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Harvard students, staff, and faculty gathered on the steps of University Hall Thursday evening for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims — who were predominantly Asian and Asian American — of three shootings in California in the last week.
Attacks in Oakland and Half Moon Bay occurred on Jan. 23, while a shooting in Monterey Park occurred on Jan. 21, the eve of the Lunar New Year. In all, the shootings left 20 people dead and 14 injured.
Chinese immigrant farmer Chunli Zhao has been charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the Half Moon Bay shooting. Huu Can Tran, an immigrant from China who California police suspected of killing 11 people in Monterey Park, was found dead after the shooting. Police are still investigating the Oakland shooting.
Jada Pisani Lee ’26 said hearing about the attack in Monterey Park was a “punch to the gut,” especially as she prepared for the Lunar New Year festivities with her family.
Pisani Lee, who is from San Mateo, California, said hearing about the subsequent shooting in neighboring Half Moon Bay was “a second punch I got right after the first one.”
Graduate School of Education student and vigil organizer Catherine G. Huang said that the loss “hits our Asian American and Pacific Islander community particularly hard.”
“The shootings happened the weekend of Lunar New Year and targeted members and elders from our AAPI community in California,” Huang said in a speech. “On a day and during a time when we should be celebrating with our communities, we are instead forced to learn how to mourn, process, and grieve the loss of life and safety.”
The vigil was intended as a space for people to “come together” and “recognize that this grief is real,” Huang said in an interview following the event.
“We have the right to take the time for ourselves. We have the right to grieve. We have the right to care for our mental health, especially when Harvard keeps moving and the world kind of keeps moving, too,” Huang said. “I just wanted to offer that space for those who might be seeking it.”
Huang said that she felt a “sense of frustration” over the “lack of a statement from Harvard even recognizing that this incident even happened.”
A University spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.
Margarita Rosa, a 2021 Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow and a resident scholar at Adams House, emphasized the importance of solidarity with students of color.
“I thought it was very important to show support for the people affected, and it’s not only the Asian American community,” Rosa said in an interview after the vigil. “I think it’s all people of the faith, who really care about other humans and are grieving the most recent loss of members of our community.”
The vigil was followed by a space for support and solidarity hosted by the Harvard Foundation, where attendees and organizers reflected on the shootings and their grief.
Harvard Kennedy School student Jonathan Loc, who grew up just one mile from Monterey Park, said he attended the vigil because he “wanted to pay respects in some way.”
“I knew that probably other people like me are from that area or identify in some way with the community and are looking for support, and I’m looking for support,” Loc said. “It just helps to be together and to support each other.”
Loc also said that “it feels especially difficult this time” because the Monterey Park shooter was himself Asian.
“I think it’s important to rely on one another, to seek help from one another, and also to destigmatize seeking mental health care or even just counseling in general,” he said.
—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Makanaka Nyandoro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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