LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A week after a deadly shooting at a Taiwanese church in southern California, the Taiwanese community here in Las Vegas is still processing the trauma and the fact that the suspected shooter was someone they welcomed in their circles, despite political differences.
“God will be with you," said Esther Pan. "To the Taiwanese people, wherever you are in the world, you are one of us. God will bless you.”
Speaking in her native language, Pan, a member of the valley’s Taiwanese Presbyterian Church channels her Christian faith. Her Taiwanese is a language that she feels proud to speak.
“I’ve come back home. I’m at a home,” she said.
As president of the Las Vegas Taiwanese Association, Pan and other members come from a group that lived in Taiwan when it was under martial law from 1949 to 1987. They were banned from speaking the language in public with the authoritarian government at the time forcibly endorsing a Chinese identity.
“That’s when we truly realized we were Taiwanese because we felt that in ourselves,” she said.
Taiwan eventually democratized after 1987 with two political camps: one that favors reunification with China, while the other favors keeping it at arm’s length.
What saddened the community was a person they welcomed in their circles, David Chou of Las Vegas was arrested for shooting a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in southern California in what police are calling politically motivated, and a possible hate crime. Five people were hurt and one man, Dr. John Cheng, was killed trying to stop the shooting.
Pan and others said did not want their faces on camera for fear of retribution. She says Chou was friendly with members, but did openly state that he held pro-unification views and that he felt “Chinese.” China still claims Taiwan as its own territory. Pan says those discussions never devolved into arguments though.
“When he came, we didn’t treat him as an outsider, or a foreigner, or Chinese. When he came, he was our guest," she said.
Judy Tu, another valley Taiwanese American says there was no justification for the shooting.
“I think it’s stupid and foolish. We’re both born in Taiwan, and we’re raised by Taiwan,” she said.
Tu says the shooting, unfortunately, highlights the issue of American gun violence.
“That’s always been a problem. A U.S. problem. The freedom to hold a gun. In Taiwan, we don’t have guns. We have knives, but we don’t use knives to fight this problem,” she said.
Pan says the members were shaken and have considered security measures. They’re moving forward by focusing on honoring Dr. Cheng and his family.
“His sacrifice won’t be in vain, and we have to stick together and adopt his spirit,” she said.
In light of the complicated politics and trauma, experts in the Taiwan-China relationship are urging people to not have this particular incident be used to create anti-Chinese sentiment or other inflammatory rhetoric.