Regarding the Laguna Woods Church shooting, I initially did not want to write on the topic for fear of instigating more controversy and division, especially when understanding and healing are needed. However, now that we have had several days to reflect on the tragedy, I offer my own opinion and experience living in the US, being quite different from those provided by the media.
From my experience abroad, the larger overseas Chinese community have always been somewhat careful to discuss cross-Strait relations and related issues. Most want to avoid the sensitive issue of national identity for fear of controversy. Many came to the US to work, pursue a better life, and escape the political bickering of their home countries. It makes perfect sense that these immigrants would want to avoid so-called home politics as they already have enough to deal with: immigration paperwork, housing, school, work, making friends, basically anything you can think of when moving to another country. However, rising geopolitical tensions, the associated propaganda, and the media have exacerbated these tensions, making them inescapable.
In my 40+ years of living in Taiwan, the US, and now Canada, many overseas Chinese I have met come set in their opinions on cross-Strait issues. Nearly all mainland Chinese I know initially feel that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China due to decades of state propaganda. In stark contrast, the great majority of Taiwanese feel the exact opposite: No one has the right to tell us to give up our hard-won democracy for an autocratic regime. I will not go into details about national identities and perceptions in this article. There already exists ample research on this topic. A few articles are listed below as a starting point in reaching your own conclusion:
Taiwan Independence vs. Unification with the Mainland
Unifying the Ancestral Land: The CCP’s “Taiwan” Frames
From Persuasion to Coercion: Beijing’s Approach to Taiwan and Taiwan’s Response
Nevertheless, despite people being set in their ways due to decades of education, propaganda (one and the same?), and life experience, most overseas Chinese can reach a delicate understanding and become friends. Usually, upon meeting and building trust, which takes time and willingness from both sides, we are able to step over the invisible boundaries set by years of conditioning from the media and the state. The preexisting mistrust, fear, and hate quickly dissipate once conversations break over similar experiences immigrating. We talk about good restaurants, where to shop for groceries, a good place of worship, or where to find an affordable mechanic (hint: there are none). The similarities in language and culture are undeniable. Though we have different values as all individuals do, we are not a nameless mass to be feared or loathed. We are human beings who care and love.
Nearly every overseas Chinese I have met can agree on the principle that we are all peace-loving human beings wanting the same things in life: a better environment, more employment opportunities, the chance to improve our lives, love, peace, stability, and freedom, especially freedom. It is why many of us are in the USA in the first place. Even if we were to voice our opinions against the atrocious public health care system (or the lack of one), racial injustices, or even corrupt government officials and policies, we would be protected by the law. We have the freedom of speech and the collective power to make a difference, though not always without consequences.
Once trust is built between the overseas Chinese I have met, they become willing to listen. Nearly everyone agrees that violence and war do not benefit people anywhere, no matter their position on cross-Strait issues. The advocacy of violence and wars is the means for the few stoking nationalism to secure power. Such is the case everywhere, be it China, Russia, or even the US. There are always those using hate to manipulate the public to acquire wealth, fame, and power.
Recent heightened geopolitical tensions have indeed made people less willing to listen or even associate with those with a differing national identity or political affiliation. We come with the baggage of prejudice and mistrust…and we hate. It is far easier to do so than to step out of our comfort zone, listen, and build trust. We see this not only in cross-Strait relations but in all US issues, where divisive political rhetoric has split communities, friends, and families.
The hatred is greatly saddening because, as human beings, caring for one another should be a top priority. Naïve as this may sound, there are those committed to caring: volunteers at community soup kitchens, good samaritans sharing their homes with fire victims, nurses providing medical services for the homeless, and social workers who work tirelessly to address inequities and injustices. These people serve not one race, not one nationality, but humanity as a whole. Yes, we have our differences, and we can not accept everyone’s values, but that does not mean we have to resolve differences by taking innocent lives.
I do not pretend to have an answer to the Laguna Woods tragedy, where a disturbed shooter presumably justified violence with political ideology. There are, of course, other associated issues such as US gun laws and mental health care. To think that we can stop all such tragedies with a single solution is naïve at best.
As can be seen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, violence and its ultimate manifestation–war, have wrecked the lives of millions. All those lives lost and homes destroyed, thousands of families broken, a country shattered. All these tragedies stem from the unchecked ambitions of a few, whereas billions of us, common people, people who care for one another, desire only to live in peace. Why then? Why do we let these few tell us to take the life of another? What gives them the right to advocate mass violence against groups of people?
We give them that right. “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything," Einstein once said. Our apathy and unwillingness to challenge those who advocate violence are to blame.
If we do not stand up to the few advocating violence to sate their lust for wealth, power, or place in history, then incidents of mass violence will continue unabated. We must hold these very few, be they political leaders, corporate titans, or media influencers seeking self-gain, accountable! We must not let others manipulate us into forsaking our humanity and become pawns in their quest for power.
Change begins with oneself. We can be more willing to listen, care for others regardless of race, gender, or beliefs, and let our humanity shine through. We can refuse to participate in hate speech, refuse to dehumanize others, and refuse to perpetrate violence! Through our non-participation in violence and caring for one another, we gradually strip these manipulators of their power. Make their ambitions and manipulations transparent for all to see and refuse to play their games.
Choose care, rather than hate. Choose peace, rather than violence. Let our humanity shine through.