Chronicler of San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants undeterred by mass shooting

By Nihar Patel

Patrons dine at a San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurant. Photo by Shutterstock.

Over the weekend, while people gathered outside in the San Gabriel Valley for the official Lunar New Year celebration, they also gathered inside the area’s many Chinese restaurants. Retired LA lawyer David R. Chan — a familiar face to many in the community — has continued to do so too in the days since Monterey Park was rocked by the mass shooting that killed 11 people. 

“It's … brought the community together,” believes Chan of the shooting. “We're not going to be intimidated … we're going to continue to celebrate our culture, and celebrate the New Year’s traditions.”

Chan is an unlikely voice in the ecosystem of food blogging. Over the past few decades, he’s made it his life’s mission to eat at as many Chinese restaurants as he can. He’s up to over 7000 now, which includes many in cities like Monterey Park, Alhambra, and Rosemead. And the Lunar New Year — which Chan says is as important to Chinese people as all the American holidays combined — is a time to wish for good fortune and good health. There are even dishes specifically eaten this time of year simply because of their names.

“There's this one Chinese vegetable called fat choy,” explains Chan. “It’s at everybody's table because the Cantonese greeting for Chinese New Year's … ‘gung hay fat choy’ ... means something about prosperity or good fortune. ... The vegetable fat choy sounds like something highly auspicious.”

In addition to frequenting and documenting his Chinese restaurant visits, Chan has been a keen observer of how the San Gabriel Valley has changed over the decades. The end of racist housing policies in the 50s and 60s, plus less restrictive US immigration policies, helped transform the area. What was once a hotbed of KKK activity, started being advertised as the “Chinese Beverly Hills” to would-be immigrants. 

“That was the beginning of an influx of a large number of Chinese coming to the United States from Hong Kong and Taiwan,” says Chan. “And that's basically why we have a Chinatown out there.”

The Monterey Park victims and shooter were among the more than 500,000 Asian Americans now living in the San Gabriel Valley. For that reason, Chan believes the shooting will linger for a long time in the collective memory of the community.

“People start thinking, ‘Well, maybe we are more vulnerable here than we thought.’”