To San Antonio restaurateur Mike Nguyen, the threat was clear. Alongside the racist graffiti covering the windows of his ramen shop – “Kung flu,” “Commie,” “Ramen noodle flu” – were these words, spray-painted in red: “Hope u die.”
Shock and hurt turned to rage, then fear. After Nguyen reported the vandalism to local law enforcement and the FBI,police agreed to step up drive-by patrols. But he and his employees would be left largely on their own.
Since the March 14 incident, the threats to Nguyen’s life and business have escalated. Last week, someone wrote “hope it burns down” on the Instagram account for his restaurant, Noodle Tree. An anonymous man phoned the restaurant, reciting Nguyen’s home address with a warning: “We’re coming for you.”
“The threats are getting more violent, more extreme,” said Nguyen, 33.
Asian American entrepreneurs across the country are combating a sharp rise in racist threats and attacks on their businesses that many feel authorities are not taking seriously, even after last week’s shooting rampage targeting three Asian spas in Atlanta left eight people dead.
Amid heightened fears, business owners have begun hiring their own security, buying guns and cutting their hours of operation as well as advertising, among other costly safety measures that limit their profits – and profile – at a time when businesses are already struggling, according to Asian American chambers of commerce and other business organizations.
Asian-owned restaurants, salons and shops rapidly lost business at the start of the pandemic because of racial stigma, fueled by President Donald Trump’s repeated references to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung flu.” Now, community leaders warn that the racism targeting these businesses could hamper the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus-induced recession.
“What happened in Atlanta is a very extreme example of the threat to human life, and folks have got to understand that as we try to emerge from covid-19 and try to conduct business, there are other threats to contend with,” said Lamar Heystek, president of the San Francisco-based Asian Inc., a nonprofit that works with the U.S. Department of Commerce to develop economic opportunity for Asian Americans and other minorities. “It doesn’t take an economist to see how that could really dampen business activity and an economic recovery in which Asian American Pacific Islander-owned businesses take part.”
Asian Americans owned more than 10% of all U.S. businesses in 2018. These firms earned $863 billion in receipts and employed 5.1 million people , Census Bureau data shows.
“How is that contribution muted by hate, discrimination and violence?” Heystek said. “We need to appreciate the systemic effect of these incidents that range from graffiti all the way up to death.”