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Latino-Asian solidarity one year after Half Moon Bay shootings

Wearing headphones for Mandarin interpretation, Ying Ze Wang (王英则) and her husband Jin Sheng Liu (刘金生), survivors of last year's mushroom farm shootings in Half Moon Bay, Calif., attended the Corazón del Campesino memorial event on Jan. 23. Photo by Jia H. Jung


JANUARY 26, 2024


Ying Ze Wang (王英则) and her husband Jin Sheng Liu (刘金生), leaned against one another on Tuesday underneath a party tent set up in the garden of the Ayudando Latinos a Soñar (ALAS) cultural and social services organization in Half Moon Bay, California.

Wearing thick jackets as armor against the wet, cold evening, they watched a mariachi band open up the Corazón del Campesino Memorial Evening honoring five Chinese and two Latino migrant workers shot to death exactly one year prior. The suspect, Chinese national Chunli Zhao, has yet to be arraigned after a delay in the court proceedings Tuesday.  

Then 66, Zhao was living at Mountain Mushroom Farm (now California Terra Garden) and working as a forklift driver. He had been in the U.S. for 11 years, had a green card, and legally possessed his semi-automatic handgun.


On the afternoon of Jan. 23, 2023, possibly triggered by a disagreement with former boss Huizhong Li over who would pay $100 in equipment repairs, prosecutors say he gunned down four fellow workers and injured one at California Terra Garden before proceeding to Concord Farms, where Wang and Liu both lived.


The couple heard gunshots and then saw their three bloodied friends on the ground. Liu had worked as a farmer for six years alongside the victims and tried to help them. 

“It was terrifying. I was thinking that they were alive. Some of the coworkers called 9-1-1- but they were dead,“ Wang said to AsAmNews at the memorial a year later.

She recalled that one of the victims’ families came by but could not enter the farm. Workers were stuck at the site and waited for hours with the bodies until the farm closed and the gates opened.


Afterward, Wang and Liu became one of 18 families displaced from their farm dwellings. They have not returned to work because of post traumatic stress. The humid conditions at the farm had stiffened Wang’s joints; she used a walker to get to her seat.


After a separate commemoration last Sunday, Liu, still on medication for trauma, couldn’t sleep because of flashbacks. Wang had also started feeling anxious and depressed as the one-year anniversary began to near. 


“I wanted to come here to show my remembrance,” she said, explaining why she and her spouse showed up anyway to the memorial.


Sao Leng U, Director of Social Services at the Self-Help for the Elderly, provided Mandarin-to-English interpretation for Wang as she spoke to the respectfully swarming press before the event began. 


The San Francisco-based nonprofit, powered by bilingual social workers, advocates, and volunteers, played a crucial role in working with ALAS, emergency assistance groups, local leaders, and other relief entities to deliver basic needs, temporary housing, government funds, cash donations, and mental health care to the Chinese survivors.


She said that the ALAS workers were compassionate, tireless people who had already been supporting both Chinese and Latino farmworkers. When disaster struck, they went out of the way to find Asian community workers who could ensure that Chinese survivors and loved ones of the victims received the same care as everyone else. 



According to the 2020 census, Half Moon Bay, a small coastal city in the San Mateo County of California, is 73% White, nearly 25% Latino, a little over 5% Asian, and less than 1% Black. But a common refrain among city officials and the Asian community alike after the mushroom farm shootings was that nobody knew about the Chinese population out in the fields until some of them were killed by another Chinese worker. 


U, taken by surprise by the deadliest attack ever to take place in San Mateo County, has remained in close contact with Wang and Liu, along with a younger couple and single person who still work on the farms and fear being identified.


She has also been helping the shooter’s wife cope with the aftermath of the shootings. Before law enforcement found Zhao lying in his car next to his weapon and took him into custody, where he remains without bail, she received a text message saying that he would see her in the next life. 


In what District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe told CNN was a coincidence, Zhao’s hearing took place on the same day, on the one-year anniversary of the shootings. After indictment by a grand jury on Friday, Zhao was arraigned on seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, with the special circumstance allegation of multiple murder. 

A continuation requested by Zhao’s public defense attorney Jonathan McDougall will take place in February, when the defendant will be able to enter a plea. If convicted, Zhao could spend life in prison or be sentenced to death, though California governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on capital punishment starting in March 2019.


It was a long day for the Half Moon Bay, which also hosted a discussion called the Half Moon Bay Cross-Sectors Leaders Roundtable: Remembering and Advocating One Year Later at noon at the ALAS Sueño Center on Main Street. 


Survivors, farmworkers, dignitaries, officials, residents, reporters, and loved ones filled the white wooden folding chairs, stood around the perimeter of the vibrantly orange-painted room, and crouched on the floor to listen to the speakers.


The event began with the reading of a statement from President Joe Biden and recorded greetings from acting labor secretary Julie Su. Representatives from The White House’s AANHPI initiatives, California governor Gavin Newsom’s offices, and the United Farm Workers appeared in person.


Julián Castro, the Obama-era Housing and Urban Development Secretary and former Democratic candidate of the 2020 presidential elections, attended as new CEO of the Latino Community Foundation. 


He sat beside U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) of California’s 16th Congressional District. Eshoo promised that she had secured “serious funds” for the Half Moon Bay Farm Worker Resource Center and other projects important to the city and its people, pending the President’s signature.


She said, “You know, no local government has the money for everything. We just don’t. It requires a partnership. But let me say something to you. None of these dollars and future dollars would be coming into this community if it was fighting with each other.“




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