Xiujuan Yu found meaning in her Christian faith, in the soy sauce chicken and other Chinese dishes she made for loved ones, and in her three children, who were building a future in her adopted country.
At a memorial service on Thursday after Yu and 10 others were killed by a gunman at a dance studio in Monterey Park, mourners sang “Amazing Grace” and “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” and recited prayers, all in Mandarin.
Wreaths of yellow and white flowers — Chinese symbols of grief — filled the chapel at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.
Mourners paid their respects by stopping in front of the coffin and bowing three times to a portrait of Yu, who was 57.
Yu’s life in the U.S. was not easy. After moving to the Los Angeles area from Guangdong Province in 2010, she worked as a nanny while raising her own children, family members said.
She and her husband eventually saved enough to pay college tuition for their twin daughters, now 19.
And then, just as she had launched her youngest children into adulthood, she lost her life in an act of senseless violence.
She had never been to Star Ballroom Dance Studio before. She was just tagging along with two friends on the night of Jan. 21 to a Lunar New Year party that welcomed ballroom dancing regulars as well as others from the community.
One of Yu’s friends, LiLan Li, was also fatally shot by the gunman, Huu Can Tran, a 72-year-old immigrant from Vietnam who later killed himself.
Tran’s motive remains unclear, and law enforcement officials have said they know of no connection between him and his victims, who ranged in age from 57 to 76.
For Yu’s son, Liheng Liang, the thought of never enjoying his mother’s soy sauce chicken again is hard to bear.
“In the future, we will never eat the taste of our mother’s cooking again,” he said in Mandarin at Thursday’s memorial, his voice breaking. “We can only find it in our memories and eat in our dreams.”
Liang, 33, praised his mother’s “spirit of hard work and selflessness.”
Yu’s daughter Weishan Liang said that “it felt as if our family had experienced the most tragic pain in the world.”
“When our young mother was taken from us, it was as if both the heavens and earth wept,” she said. “The white clouds in the sky have now broken, and the wind has grown cold. How can I go on without a mother?”
On behalf of her family, Weishan Liang thanked the White House for lowering flags to half-mast, Vice President Kamala Harris for her personal condolences and community members for their compassion and generosity.
“Thank you to all of you, for your condolences and relief funds that have helped us in this urgent time,” she added. “We feel that there is still love in the world, and your deeds are unforgettable.”
Yu lived in Temple City with her husband of 23 years, WenJu Liang. She was the eldest of three sisters. In her free time, she enjoyed doing tai chi at a nearby park with friends.
At a graveside memorial after the chapel service, mourners turned their backs when the casket was lowered — a nod to the Chinese belief that seeing a coffin entering the ground will trap your soul inside.