Editor’s note: This is not a think piece or analysis of the situation as it unfolds. We are a small, deeply passionate team of Taiwanese American volunteers and we are grappling with the shock and grief of this tragedy, too. This is not something we were prepared to cover or feature.
We only hope that those directed towards our website for support/further resources can find here an organized way to access the Gofundme set up by the church congregation to support victims of the shooting, as well as additional coverage of the event.
Taiwanese Americans and our friends, we see the layers of this cruelty. You are the bravest, most courageous community. We love you so much.
Victims Fund for SoCal Taiwanese Church Shooting
From Ho Chie Tsai, founder and director of TaiwaneseAmerican.org:
This May 15th shooting in Laguna Woods, CA hits particularly close to home given that the targeted victims were Amah’s and Agong’s–elders within the Taiwanese American community–whom I’m absolutely sure my parents, friends, and networks would know.
Although I’ve never been to that church, I understand the profile of this type of Taiwanese community and Christian gathering fairly well. Also, the victims are my parents’ generation, and the young man who was killed is essentially my peer–a fellow physician, and I’m guessing a 2nd generation Taiwanese American. The bits of news that are starting to come out will definitely begin to paint a picture–one that might be confusing to a general public unfamiliar with Taiwanese American identity, history, and politics. It may even be confusing to many younger people from our community. I suspect it will become even more confusing as details about the shooter come out.
For those who are looking for more background, the following may be helpful as a starting point (not necessarily as facts for this particular event):
- Although this has been reported as a “church” shooting, many in our community know that there is a strong association with the Presbyterian Church and those who identify uniquely with the Taiwanese ethnic identity. This has its roots during the 38 year martial law era of Taiwan when the Church helped to protect political activists and dissidents as they were being suppressed, punished, or imprisoned by the then ruling KMT party.
- Even if one wasn’t religious, the Taiwanese Presbyterian churches in the US were often the locations where the broader Taiwanese American community still congregated as a social venue… and the earliest communities that specifically identified as “Taiwanese” (late 60’s to early 90’s) oftentimes shared the same political beliefs and a desire to support a democratic independent Taiwan. It would not be unusual to have a food-based cultural event combined with speakers on politics, history, or culture. (Given that the guest speaker was a visiting retired pastor, most likely this was a focused church congregation event)
- Most of the community members who were present were aged 65+ years old. I have no doubt that most, if not all, were likely long-time American citizens, many who immigrated to the US in the 70’s as grad students, scientists, or physicians. Most would be fluent not only in English, but also the Taiwanese language and of course the Mandarin language that was forced upon them during their formative schooling years in Taiwan. Some would also be fluent in Japanese, having lived during the final years of Japanese colonialism on Taiwan. Most were likely strongly proud of their unique Taiwanese and American identities. The Taiwanese “Taigi/Taigu” language would have been the spoken language of choice and comfort among this particular generation.
- This area of California has become a popular retirement destination for the aging original Taiwanese immigrants from all parts of the country. There will be some in attendance who can claim their original roots in other parts of the US, and may have moved to Orange County in the past decade or two.
- When more information about the shooter is revealed and his alleged politically-motivated intentions come out, there may also be some finer nuances regarding identity politics which encompasses the wide spectrum of those who are part of the Taiwanese American community today. After all, as a vibrant democracy with a wide range of political views, yet an undetermined international status, you will find various identities and political viewpoints. And, on top of that, there is the overarching opposition to the existence of the Taiwanese identity towed by the CCP.
- It will be interesting for us to find out what this news-identified “Chinese” shooter’s background actually is. Even among Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans, we know this can be an ethnic, national, or political identity set in the context of American citizenship.
* * *
My heart goes out to the families affected. I’m sure in due time, I will start to hear names of friends whose relatives or networks were victimized.
The one thing I do know is that this is the resilient generation that survived and spoke up during the martial law era suppression of their freedoms, dignity, and identity. In America, this was the generation that was not afraid to attend protests in support of Taiwan and its hopes for international recognition. This was the generation that knew they could be spied upon, blacklisted, detained/imprisoned when visiting their homeland pre-1987, or even killed for their political beliefs. There is no doubt in my mind, regardless of age, that in this horrific moment, they would rise up and fight any threat to their existence–they are stronger than you know.
This is the community I love and respect.
The shooting at Irvine Presbyterian Church in California reminds us that political violence against Taiwanese people is real. But it also shows how courageous and selfless Taiwanese will stand to protect each other, even in the face of death.
— Kolas Yotaka (@Kolas_Yotaka) May 17, 2022
The collective heartbreak is personal and political, historical and ongoing. The loss can only be communicated by the way I’ve seen my ama pound her chest with her first and wail in pain. Taiwanese American stories have too often been shrouded by a calculated maze of geopolitical ambiguity and violent conflation of Taiwanese and Chinese identity.
We come from elders who endured decades of silencing of the trauma that shaped their lives, resisted linguistic erasure and immigrated to a new land where they passed their resilient hope to their descendants. We carry their forged hopes, voices, pain, resistance and stories with us.
We refuse to be erased.
Who is Taiwanese? : A Taiwanese American Christian’s Response to the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church Shooting | Sue Ann Shiah for The News Lens
I cannot change the past. I cannot undo the fact that the reason why my family ended up on Taiwan was for reasons connected to the agenda of a military dictator who terrorized the ancestors and families of many of my close friends — and even some of my extended family. I cannot change the conditions that lead to me being here, in this place that my family and I now call home. I do not think that it benefits anyone — me or those victims of this systemic violence — to stew in guilt or shame, to try and self-flagellate myself. We do not have a choice about how and to whom we are born and raised. But we do have a choice in how we decide to live. While I may not have been born in Taiwan or raised as a “Taiwanese” person, I recognize that my personal story and that of my family is deeply and inexplicably intertwined with Taiwan, that it is the place my family lives now, and it is the place we will continue to be. I have chosen to cast my lot in with them, here on this beautiful island.
When Taiwan was under martial law, Presbyterian church leaders helped hide pro-democracy advocates who were challenging the authoritarian state under the then-ruling Kuomintang.
“When Taiwanese began to flee to the United States, Taiwanese Presbyterian churches became these community centers for the independence cause in the United States,” Nachman said. “These Presbyterian churches became the base of operations for many pro-independence movements.”
Taiwan stunned after deadly shooting at Taiwanese-American church | Erin Hale for Aljazeera
Chou’s choice of target – a Presbyterian congregation – is also telling due to the denomination’s longstanding ties to Taiwan’s pro-democracy and independence movements.
“While it is the largest denomination in Taiwan, it still represents a small closely-knit community that punches above its weight in cultural and social influence both in Taiwan and among the US Taiwanese community,” said SueAnn Shiah, a Taiwanese-American community organiser pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church.
How to respond to the shooting at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church? | A Broad and Ample Road
In a testament to the complexities of Taiwanese identity, the facts that have come to light about Chou have only ignited more debate. According to one line of argument, we should call him Chinese because that’s how he identifies, how he thinks. And his thinking reflects a colonial, Chinese-supremacist ideology that has sought to eradicate Taiwan’s languages and culture. To call him Taiwanese is to erase the efforts of Taiwanese nationalists to claim and uphold an identity that has been violently suppressed; to call him Chinese is to help foreground an ongoing decolonial struggle.
What is unusual about the incident is to what extent a hate crime committed by second-generation waishengren against members of a presumably benshengren congregation would be unheard of in Taiwan today. Such an incident seems more characteristic of the past, in which sub-ethnic tensions in Taiwan were stronger. In today’s Taiwan, lines between benshengren and waishengren are blurring, with third-generation waishengren mostly identifying with Taiwan rather than China, and intermarriages between waishengren and benshengren having been culturally accepted for decades.
Pan-Blue and pan-Green communities often coexist in the US, but do not interact. It proves rare for such communities to directly come into conflict; even when the presidential candidates of both the pan-Blue and pan-Green camps in Taiwan usually visit the US before elections to conduct meetings with US government officials and to raise funds from the Taiwanese American community, one rarely sees counter-protests between each political camp, for example.
At the same time, diasporic communities sometimes preserve the politics of decades past, from when they left their home country. This may have been the case with Chou.
Beijing’s rhetoric in spotlight as Taiwan condemns California shooting | Sum Lok-kei for The Guardian
News of the shooting was widely circulated in Taiwan on Tuesday, with local media highlighting Chou’s ties with the pro-unification group. Pro-democracy politicians blamed Beijing’s rhetoric around reunification for “radicalising” Chou into committing the violent act.
“These extremist groups or individuals could infiltrate and damage Taiwanese communities under the influence of others,” legislator Freddy Lim wrote.
The Kuomintang, which is more pro-China than the ruling Democratic Progressive party, issued a statement condemning the violence, but did not touch on Chou’s political stance.
Dr Wen Liu, assistant research professor at Academia Sinica, a Taiwanese government research facility, blamed the incident on Beijing’s rhetoric in recent years.
“Beijing’s pro-unification campaign has been sending out dehumanising languages such as ‘annihilating the people and saving the island’ and dismissing the Taiwanese independence movement as a violent separatist crime,” Liu said.
China claims the self-ruled democratic Taiwan as its own territory and has since Tsai’s election in 2016 blamed her for “pro-independence moves”. In recent years, Beijing’s reunification rhetoric had become increasingly militant, as Taiwan sought to align itself with western powers and rejoin the United Nations system.
Gunman Targets Taiwanese Faith With Long Pro-Democracy Link | Associated Press, US News
“I have very visceral memories of potlucks where aunties would cook traditional dishes and play matchmaker for the young adults,” said Chen, editor of Bay Area-based TaiwaneseAmerican.org, the website and nonprofit serving the Taiwanese American community.
“Uncles who were retired engineers would help kids with calculus and SAT prep. Church was also a place where everyone figured out life in a foreign country together – from jury duty and homeownership to their kids’ college applications.”
But, she also views the church as “a political space.”
“Especially in the (Taiwanese) Presbyterian Church, there is a theological commitment to activism, to fight against injustice,” she said. “Churches became sanctuaries for pro-democracy groups.”
Taiwanese American Community Reacts to Church Shooting | Taiwan News
The Taiwanese American community is reeling with shock after a mass shooting at a Taiwanese church in California. The shooting has triggered a wave of condemnation in Taiwan and is raising questions about politics and identity both here and in Taiwanese communities abroad. Reporter Rik Glauert spoke to Leona Chen, editor-in-chief of Taiwanese American.org, based in California. He began by asking her how the Taiwanese American community has reacted to the shooting.
In the California case, “I think this arose from a collision of a lot of tensions about Taiwanese identity and Chinese identity and Taiwan-China tensions, but it took form in this specific way because of the gun violence that is in our country,” said Leona Chen, editor in chief of TaiwaneseAmerican.org, a website and nonprofit group serving the Taiwanese American community.
“I would urge that this not be used to further anti-Chinese sentiment or inflammatory rhetoric or further scapegoating of Asian Americans,” she said. “We also don’t want this to take away from other instances of gun violence recently.”