An unpleasant reminder of home

An unpleasant reminder of home January 22, 2023


The San Gabriels, with Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


The terrible mass shooting that occurred last night in Monterey Park, California, hit literally close to home.  The Star Ballroom is located at 122 West Garvey Avenue, between Garfield Avenue and Alhambra Avenue.  Garvey was effectively the southern border of my everyday, familiar world when I was a child, and Garfield was my world’s western border.  The family business was located just off of Garvey, a bit to the east of Monterey Park. The first movie that I ever attended without my parents was at the Garfield Theater.  I remember it clearly because, owing to a misunderstanding, my friend and I thought that we had permission only to watch the first half of a double feature.  (Does anybody else even remember double features?)  My Dad, though, expected to pick us up after the second film, so, after waiting for him to come, we walked home after the first movie.  It was a long walk for boys our age, and (in its way) a memorable adventure.  But the point is that it was, just barely, within the range where we knew how to walk home.

What seems at this point to have been a failed attack by the same person who murdered the ten people in Monterey Park occurred in Alhambra. I don’t yet know whether it happened before or after the Monterey Park massacre.  Alhambra was even more central to my world.  I grew up next door, in San Gabriel, but San Gabriel High School was part of the Alhambra School District and was actually located within Alhambra’s city limits – owing, I was once told, to incompetence and sloth on the part of San Gabriel municipal officials.  We did most of our shopping in Alhambra.  It’s where my parents took me to see the Christmas lights and decorations hanging over the main street.  (That’s how I knew that the Christmas season had actually arrived; we would bundle up because evening temperatures could drop all the way to the low fifties.)  I still own a metal model of a Viking boat that I saw at Christmas time in an Alhambra shop and just absolutely had to have.   My parents said No, but then there it was under the tree. Alhambra is where I got my braces and where our doctor had his office.  After he left home, my late brother eventually settled down about half a block north of Alhambra, in San Marino.

Watching the news reports out of Monterey Park, I saw the familiar San Gabriel Mountains in the background — the mountains that I looked at virtually every day of my life for my first seventeen years and then very often even thereafter.  The area still feels like home.  The news today was a little more difficult for me, accordingly, than it would otherwise have been.  My heart goes out to the people who were killed or injured in the attack, and to the members of their families.


Within the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


Monterey Park has been described in news reports as a mostly Asian community.  I think that’s right.  When I was growing up, though, it was trending heavily Hispanic.  I don’t know what happened, but the trend seems to have shifted dramatically not long after I graduated from high school.  Suddenly, a huge influx of Asians began to arrive in the area — many of them, by my impression, first generation immigrants.  Extended families.  And not just in Monterey Park.  A couple of years after my mission, my parents sold the house in which I grew up and built a new one, a larger and nicer one, in the Friendly Hills area of Whittier.  I would still drive by the old house from time to time when visiting southern California, usually on the way to or from my brother’s house.  One day, though, I drove by and was shocked to find it altogether gone.  Even my brother was shocked when I told him; he hadn’t known.  All that was left was a vacant lot and a portable toilet.  (It gave new meaning, for me, to the old saying that “You can’t go home again.”)  The next time I drove past 124 East Wells Street, though, a new house stood on the lot, two stories tall and covering the maximum area of the property allowable under the law.  I was told, by somebody or other, that it was occupied by a multigenerational Chinese family.

Nowadays, not only Monterey Park but Alhambra and El Monte and San Gabriel are heavily Asian, as is Hacienda Heights, not far from where my parents had moved to, just over the hill in Whittier.  Commercial signage is very frequently in Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese.  (Not Japanese.  One of my closest friends when I was very young was Japanese, the son of Nisei parents who had been interned during the Second World War.  I became fairly close not only to his parents but to his grandparents, who spoke little English.  They had been gardeners and run a greenhouse and small garden supply business; they lost it all during their internment and had to rebuild from essentially nothing.  My parents made it a matter of principle to buy all of our plants and garden supplies from them.  But this new immigration was, so far as I can tell, quite unrelated to the earlier Japanese in the area.)  I notice that Representative Judy Chu is the member of Congress both for Monterey Park (which she formerly served as mayor) and for San Gabriel.

Recent visits to my old stomping grounds have been interesting in a way that I would not have anticipated when I was growing up.  For one thing, I’m told that some of the very best Chinese food available in the United States is to be found in the San Gabriel Valley, and I believe it.  (Congresswoman Chu specifically mentioned Monterey Park’s excellent Chinese food during one of her interviews today.)  And the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere — I believe that it still holds that honor — is the Hsi Lai Temple, located just over the hill from my parents’ Whittier home, in Hacienda Heights.  I was thrilled when it was erected, and I even wrote a column about it many years ago, quite creatively titled  “Largest Buddhist Temple in the Western Hemisphere”


P.S.  I’ve just read on the CNN website that Huu Can Tran, 72, the apparent killer, would commonly do the five-minute drive from his home in San Gabriel to the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, where he eventually opened fire last night and killed at least ten people.  Wow.



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