By Becky Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
What should’ve been a night of celebration in a dance hall in Monterey Park, California turned into a night of mourning on the eve of the Lunar New Year. A 72-year-old man had killed 11 people with whom he possibly held and danced. Two days later, another shooting at Half Moon Bay, California claimed seven lives at two mushroom farms. The shooter, a 66-year-old Asian male, had worked with his victims.
Not the way to start the Year of the Rabbit. Considering the big Lunar New Year celebration this weekend in the Chinatown-International District (CID), Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said he and the entire Seattle Police Department (SPD) “are doing everything we can to combat and prevent gun-related violence – at celebrations and everywhere throughout our city, every day.”
Diaz added, “The SPD has also been working with our community partners within the CID to address the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. We’ve increased our visible presence within the CID to better respond to crime and show our support. As we welcome the Lunar New Year, I and other SPD officers look forward to attending many events to celebrate Seattle’s vibrant and valued CID community.”
The California shooters defied the age and race of a stereotypical mass shooter, which according to a nonpartisan nonprofit, The Violence Project, tends to be much younger and white. We may never know the motive of Huu Can Tran, the deceased Monterey shooter. The other, Zhao Chunli, in an interview with TV reporter Janelle Wang, expressed regret and believed he has a mental illness. Mental illness is color blind. It matters not your age.
Joyce P. Chu and Stanley Sue, of Palo Alto University, California, stated in their article, titled Asian American Mental Health: What We Know and What We Don’t Know, published in June 2011, that Asian Americans are less likely to seek professional help for mental health problems than other racial groups. Instead, they prefer to seek support from a network of friends and family, or work it out on their own. When that system doesn’t exist, the particle of darkness stays inside and grows into a combustible size.
Saving face. No one wants to appear weak, especially weak in the mind. Dr. Sally Chung, a clinical psychologist based in Bellevue, agreed and said most Asian Americans view depression as feelings one can overcome.
“They’re highly suspicious of one needing treatment for anxiety or sadness and are unaware that it can get to a level of severity that requires intervention.”
Finding the right therapist is difficult enough, but one who can understand your culture and your language can be daunting.
Asian American psychologists with a doctoral background make up only 5% of all psychologists in the U.S. Within that pool, only 1% are male therapists. Not all 5% are practitioners. Some are teachers, researchers, or work in institutions such as hospitals or prisons. And not all of them are multilingual. Feelings and emotion can be lost in translation.
In the older Asian population who isn’t used to expressing their feelings, anxiety can turn into physical symptoms. The real issue can go undiagnosed. Dr. Chung said, “A lot of Asians will feel their symptoms physically. Their stomach or head would hurt for no reason.” Instead of seeking mental help, because of the stigma attached to it, they would turn to a general practitioner.
The loneliness of living in a foreign land, not being fluent in the language, or not finding “gold” in the Gold Mountain can bring disappointment to immigrant life. On top of the difficulties in navigating unfamiliar situations, the pandemic and anti-Asian rhetoric in recent years have exacerbated the problem for all Asian Americans.
Feeling vulnerable and insecure, more Asian Americans responded by shedding the façade of a quiet, docile successful professional and turned to gun ownership. In the last few years, gun dealers in the U.S. noticed an uptick in purchases in this traditionally low ownership community. Police say the shooter at Half Moon Bay purchased his gun two years ago.
Guns and mental illness do not mix. Is mental health only for those who can afford it? Dr. Chung singled out Asian Counseling and Referral Service as one organization that provides behavioral health and wellness to those who need it regardless of income or racial background. On its website, acrs.org, “hope and opportunity in over 40 languages” are available.
Becky can be reached at email@example.com.