It’s difficult to comprehend how a pandemic that started almost 7,000 miles away from U.S. soil could lead to anti-Asian sentiment in America. And yet, it did. Chinatowns across the nation were the first to see a slowdown created by a virus that had just started making its way through the U.S. The Asian restaurant community was next, followed by the brutal attacks on Asian-Americans in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and many other large and small cities.
Unfortunately, despite the slowdown of the pandemic and the gradual reopening of businesses, restaurants, and communities, hate crimes and racially targeted violence against people of Asian descent continue.
In February, a Chinese man was stabbed in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and four attacks on Asian-American women in New York City were reported in just one day. In March, eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in mass shootings at three Atlanta spas. In the Bronx, four teenage girls beat up a 52-year-old Asian woman on a bus, and a man brutally kicked a 65-year-old Filipino woman walking down the street near Times Square, as bystanders did nothing.
According to a recent study, the first quarter of 2021 saw anti-Asian hate crimes up by 164% compared to the same time last year. Many more attacks and verbal altercations go unreported. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks violence and verbal harassment against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders reported the number of incidents went from almost 3,800 to 6,603 in March of this year alone.
The Effects on Chinatown and Asian-Owned Restaurants
Sam Wu, a restaurant operator in San Francisco’s Chinatown for over a century, reported the virus’s effects to the BBC news. He noted that, when the virus first emerged, the Italian restaurants in North Beach were still bustling while Chinatown was empty.
Los Angeles’s Chinatown also experienced a sudden standstill due to the rise in hate crimes and COVID-19 fears. As a result, at least 20% of the restaurants in the downtown neighborhood have closed permanently.
While all restaurants felt the devasting effects of COVID-19, operators of Asian heritage incurred more than financial loss. CNBC reported on Shirley Chung and Jimmy Lee, owners of the popular Ms Chi Café in Culver City, California. In addition to a 50% decline in revenue within the first few months of 2020, the couple also saw escalating vandalism and hate graffiti. Chinese restaurants around the nation reported similar stories of quickly declining guest counts and increasing vandalism.
Asian-Owned Restaurants and Communities Fighting Back
Fortunately, just when humanity looks its bleakest, we’re reminded that, among the hate, lie communities and individuals that represent the best among us.
When Jacob Azevedo offered to walk with anyone who felt unsafe in Oakland’s Chinatown area through a post on Instagram, almost 300 people responded within days. The response came not from people seeking extra security but from those wanting to help. Compassion in Oakland was born.
Chinatown Block Watch began in New York in February 2020. Today, 40 volunteers continue to patrol the grounds twice a week and offer community-based services. They are currently looking for additional volunteers.
Send Chinatown Love grew to more than 200 volunteers who provide financial relief to independent businesses and restaurants and promote walking food crawls in New York City’s Chinatown. Welcome to Chinatown is a grassroots initiative that has raised almost $650,000.
Rooster & Rice, a fast-casual Thai brand with 6 of their 10 locations in San Francisco, designated their restaurants as safe havens where anyone in the community that felt threatened could go for safety. The owners also donated $2 from every meal to AAPI and partnered with Hate Is A Virus.
#EnoughIsEnough, a campaign launched by Eric Tze of restaurant 886 that now comprises over a dozen Asian-American business owners in New York City, raised $76,000 in two weeks. The grassroots initiative started in response to the surge of nationwide hate crimes against the Asian American community. The funds went to Chinatown associations, other organizations such as Send Chinatown Love, and Heart of Dinner, a nonprofit that delivers food to Asian seniors in need.
Chicago chef Beverly Kim, owner of Parachute restaurant, spearheaded an anti-racism campaign known as #DoughSomething. Today, some 85 restaurants across the nation cook up dough-based dishes and donate the proceeds to the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) group.
These and many more restaurants, businesses, and groups have responded to the hate crimes by taking action.
In April 2021, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. The House of Representatives is expected to take up the legislation in May, and President Biden has announced he will sign it into law once it reaches his desk. The amendment is designed to provide additional resources toward addressing and stopping the recent surge of racially motivated hate crimes.