Xiujuan Yu had never been to Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park before Saturday night, but she accepted an invitation from two friends to celebrate Lunar New Year there.
Yu, 57, immigrated from China’s Guangdong province in the 2010s to start a new life with his family in the United States. She and her husband settled in Temple City, but spent much of their time in nearby Monterey Park.
“A lot of immigrants from China go to this area because there is a central hub and there is already a community built here,” Yu’s niece, Kathleen Fong, 22, told The Times in an interview. “There is a strong sense of togetherness here.”
Monterey Park, known as America’s first suburban Chinatown, became a “safe haven” for the family, Fong said.
That all changed on Saturday night.
Yu attended the ballroom’s Lunar New Year event with two of his friends and arrived shortly before the shooting began, according to Fong. One of Yu’s friends went to the bathroom. When he returned, the friend discovered that Yu and Lilan Li, 63, had been shot. Yu was sprawled on the ground and Li was slumped in a chair.
Fong said Yu’s husband read about the shooting online and started desperately calling Yu, but she didn’t answer. She contacted Fong’s parents to ask for their help in finding her. The three of them drove to different hospitals looking for Yu. Eventually, they ended up at the Langley Center, which was converted by the city into a crisis response center, looking for information about her loved one.
The family discovered on Monday that Yu had died in the study and never made it to the hospital.
“I don’t know if he even spent an hour there, maybe less than an hour,” Fong said. “It really is a wrong place, wrong time feeling. It still doesn’t feel real sometimes.”
They have since set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Yu’s funeral expenses.
Yu and her husband had left their lives in China behind and began working labor-intensive odd jobs to try to support their family, according to Fong. Yu had worked as a nanny for several families, and her husband worked for a window manufacturing company. They were also involved in restaurant work in the past.
“They were able to help their twin daughters get into college, which is an incredible feat in itself,” Fong said, adding that Yu’s twin daughters are around 19 years old and attend Cal State Long Beach and Cal State. The Angels. Yu’s son, who is the eldest, is about 30 years old.
Yu also loved to cook and some of her favorite recipes include soy sauce duck, soy sauce chicken and sticky rice. Yu often left food at her relatives’ homes without being asked. Because she Yu knew that her father liked to read the newspaper and sometimes had trouble walking, she did her best to buy the newspaper for her and leave it so that she would not have to leave the house.
“She was really diligent and hard-working,” Fong said. “She was the type that put others before herself.”
Yu was the eldest of three sisters and Fong’s mother, who is the youngest, has been struggling a lot with her sister’s death. Fong said that she has seen her mother cry more in the past few days than she has in her entire life. When footage of the shooting began circulating online, Fong’s mother recognized a bag in an image and confirmed with Yu’s daughters that it was hers. They realized that the woman lying on the ground was her lover.
“She broke down in tears the way I felt is indescribable,” Fong said. “I just felt the pure pain coming from the other side. It’s hard listening to your mom go through that.”
Fong said that the last time he saw his aunt was a couple of weeks ago at a New Year’s Eve dinner, and if he had known that it would be the last time he would see his aunt alive, he would have talked to Yu more.
“I can’t imagine the impact it has on my family, at least on my mother’s side, that the first child in the family is gone,” she said. “The first child is always quite important. That was the time when my grandparents became parents for the first time.”