President Joe Biden on Thursday held the White House's first-ever Lunar New Year reception only days after a mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, during a Lunar New Year celebration.
"It's wonderful to see so many friends on this special holiday, even as we gather with such heavy hearts," the president said opening his remarks.
"Our prayers are with the people of Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, and after yet another spree of gun violence in America," Biden said, referring to both the Lunar New Year killings and a second mass shooting at two farms in California on Monday.
On Saturday, a gunman opened fire at a dance studio in Monterey Park, which is a predominantly Asian community, killing 11 people. Two days later in Half Moon Bay, seven people were killed. The victims were of Asian and Hispanic descent.
Biden said at Thursday's reception that he was encouraged by Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and a former mayor of Monterey Park, to continue his plans to hold the celebration despite the tragic shootings.
"She said 'we have to move forward,'" Biden recalled. "Her message was, 'Don't give into fear and sorrow. Don't do that. Stand in solidarity -- in the spirit of toughness that this holiday is all about.'"
Lunar New Year, which began on Sunday, is widely celebrated in China and other Asian countries. Participants honor their ancestors, play games and serve traditional food.
At the White House, the president also applauded the actions of Brandon Tsay, the 26-year-old who disarmed the Monterey shooter after he entered his family's dance studio.
"Brandon said he thought he's gonna die, but then he thought about the people inside," Biden said, referring to a phone call he had with Tsay. "Think about this now. Just think about this in reality. And in that moment, he follows instinct. And he follows his courage."
Biden also touted the diversity in his administration, noting that more than 13% of his administration is of Asian and Pacific Islander background, saying that is why he was "doing so well."
Elaine Tso, CEO of Asian Services in Action, spoke at the reception and shared her anguish at the recent mass shootings during her remarks at the reception.
"As you know, Lunar New Year is the most celebrated holiday by Asians across the world, and this year's festivities have felt different," she said. "I'm still processing the recent mass shootings. So I will simply say that more needs to be done to address gun violence in America."
During the White House's celebration, the president recognized some of the guests in the audience, including Olympic figure skater Nathan Chen and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
Acknowledging the uptick in violence against the Asian and Pacific Islander community amid the COVID-19 pandemic and against women in the community, in particular, Biden said: "For the progress, this community has experienced profound hate, pain and violence and loss with the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes."
"You know, gut wrenching attacks on elderly immigrant women. As I've said many times before, hate can have no safe-haven or harbor in America. No person deserves to be treated with hate. ... We all deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect," he said.