Meet the Asian American community’s new favorite folk hero

When Brandon Cey saw the shooter, he knew he had to act.

The 26-year-old Asian American was helping his family dance in the Alhambra ballroom when Huu Kang Tran, who had just killed 11 people in another ballroom in Monterey Park, entered the lobby with a gun.

“A lot of memories and emotions came to me,” Tsai said of the night of January 23, 2023. He thought about the people who regularly dance in the ballroom and how they were so kind and supportive of him and his family. . “It gave me a sense of strength to move forward.”

Tsai then fought Tran for several minutes, eventually disarming him and preventing another Lunar New Year massacre. After the video of Tsai’s fight with the militant became public, he became a national hero overnight.

Nearly two months later, Tsai, a computer coder who loves to play League of Legends and occasionally helps out at the family ballroom checkout, is no longer the Asian shy boy from Southern California. He has been honored at several prominent events, including a standing ovation during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

To help support community healing and recovery, the Asia-Pacific Community Foundation also established the Brandon Tsai Hero Foundation in his honor.

Brandon Tsai appears at an anti-violence event at the Kabuki Hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown on March 16, 2023. | Han Li/Standard

Warm welcome in San Francisco

Thursday night in San Francisco, Tsai received a warm welcome and standing ovation as he delivered an inspirational speech and shared his personal story with the crowd.

Organized by the nonprofit Asian American Stand, the event commemorated the two-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shooting, where six of the eight killed were Asian women.

As the son of Taiwanese immigrants, Tsai lost his mother to cancer in 2017, which changed him greatly.

“I thought about how this woman dedicated 18 years of her life to me,” he said. “I thought to myself that I need to extend my life to others more than myself. It made me expand my compassion.”

Tsai was barely 21 at the time. He told the Los Angeles Times that he arranged for his mother’s funeral in Taiwan and brought the ashes to California. His sister Brenda Tsey also said that he is the most selfless in the family.

At the event, Justin Goh, the father of Michelle Goh, a woman who was pushed onto a subway track and murdered in New York a year ago, also delivered a touching speech about his loss.

Brandon Tsey shakes hands with President Joe Biden after he spoke about efforts to reduce gun violence on March 14, 2023. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Mental health protection

Through his newfound fame, platform, and connections to gun violence prevention, Tsai spoke about mental health and treatment-related stigma in the Asian community.

“Many incidents of gun violence are committed by people with untreated mental illnesses,” he said. “We can start by promoting mental health and combating psychological stigma.”

He added that “emotional vulnerability followed by emotional control should be encouraged, creating a safe and supportive environment” so that people can feel comfortable sharing their emotions. Tsai also suggested that it is important to seek support from a therapist or counselor, and to practice mindfulness techniques or join support groups when dealing with harmful thoughts.

He noted that his own friends had confessed to him that they were depressed, rejected, or even suicidal because they didn’t want to seek help, and insisted that society should invest more in mental health to increase access.

But this young man, who dropped out of school at a young age to take care of his ailing mother, finds that his sudden fame has helped him become stronger mentally as well.

“During my speeches and events, I have met many people who share their stories and life lessons,” he said. “I’m glad I can give them a sense of solidarity and support.”

Han Lee can be reached in [email protected]

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