‘Tough Conversations’ – Using Art to Talk About Hate in Monterey Park

The teacher asks participants to close their eyes and breathe deeply to arrive at a place of connection with themselves and their surroundings. Another teacher invites participants to draw those emotions that might otherwise be difficult to express.

These are just some of the experiences that dozens of young teens and older adults shared as part of the Healing HeARTS Community Art Festival in Monterey Park.

“The problem is that we’re living in a very divided world,” says Marielle Reataza, executive director of National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAfASA), which organized the May 4 festival at the Langley Senior Citizen Center.

“Both in politics, immigration, racism and even at the global level. There are also intergenerational differences, all of which can make it hard for communities to sit down and talk about how we find a way out of these problems together,” she adds. 

Monterey Park, located in the western San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County, was the site of a mass shooting in January of last year at a popular dance hall that claimed 11 lives and injured nine others. Most of the victims as well as the perpetrator were Asian American.

Reataza points out that the theme of this year’s event is “Difficult Conversations,” noting that she’s heard from a majority of residents that they simply don’t know how to broach these subjects in conversation and that many prefer to avoid them altogether.

She adds that in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community there is a great deal of respect given to elders. Combined with cultural and language barriers, that can often make it hard to communicate when it comes to thorny issues like hate, racism and mental health.

“Many of our older adults who are immigrants didn’t know what a hate crime is, or that they had certain rights,” says Reataza, an immigrant herself of Chinese background from the Philippines.

Reataza also says that on top of all these complexities is the reality of social media which can make it even more difficult to put discussions like this on the table, instead fomenting conflicting ideas taken from popular platforms that can deepen existing divisions among community members.