Even before COVID-19 fully took hold in the U.S., diners were avoiding Chinese restaurants. Somehow the idea spread that because the virus originated in China, it was present in Chinese food that was prepared in America? I don’t know. It didn’t help that even as late as the fall, when we all understood that the virus couldn’t be contracted through takeout food, people were still referring to it as the “China virus.” I guess it’s proof that if you hate somebody enough, you’ll believe anything.
For the past year, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (from multiple countries, not just China) have been reporting higher than normal levels of harassment and violence. Stop AAPI Hate, a group that keeps track of these things, received reports of 3,795 incidents between March 19, 2020 (the day quarantine started) and February 28, 2021. The highest percentage of reports came from Chinese people, followed by Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos.
Yesterday, in the wake of the killing of six Asian women in Atlanta earlier this week, the Wong family, owners of Oriental Wok, a Chinese restaurant with two locations in the Cincinnati area, posted on Facebook an accounting of the harassment they’ve been experiencing for the past year.
“We feel the weight of this recent violence and stand in solidarity with our Asian community condemning this behavior,” they wrote. “Our homes and cars have been egged, we are pummeled with daily calls telling us to ‘Go back to China’ along with other crude & violent threats. We walk our staff to their cars to ensure safety every night. The police were on the premises even today, due to numerous threats.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer spoke to police officers in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, where one of the restaurants is located, who said they were investigating the threats against the Wongs and their employees.
Writing it here is probably not going to change anything, but let’s make it clear: viruses are natural phenomena. This one originated in China. This was not the fault of the people who live in China. This was not the fault of Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders. It is not a reason to harass or attack anybody or make the employees of a Chinese restaurant that has been serving its community for more than 40 years afraid to cross a parking lot at night. The virus is airborne, not spread through food. You cannot contract it through a takeout order. You cannot contract it through Chinese food. Or Korean food. Or Korean-Chinese food. Or Vietnamese food. Or Filipino food. Or sushi.
If you’d like to support the Asian American community this week, here’s a list of resources. And you can support Asian American restaurants in the most basic way: by ordering food from them. I promise, you’ll enjoy it.