Asian American restaurants didn’t cause COVID-19—so show them your support

Illustration for article titled Asian American restaurants didn’t cause COVID-19—so show them your support
Photo: Xinhua News Agency (Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.

DISCUSSION

brickhardmeat
Brick HardMeat

My wife is a nurse. She was exposed at the tail end of February and we went into two weeks of quarantine. By the time our quarantine ended, the rest of the world was shutting down. My wife went back to work at her hospital’s ICU. There were not enough masks, or gloves, or cleaning supplies. People were using N95s, designed for single use, for weeks. They would soak them in hand sanitizer and keep them in zip lock bags.

March and April were the worst months of our lives. Every time she left me and our baby daughter for a shift, I would tell her “Be careful”. Be careful you don’t catch a mysterious illness we don’t understand and bring it home. Be careful you don’t die. Be careful you don’t accidently kill me or our child.

I felt so powerless. I’m not one to get hung up on traditional gender roles, but I felt like such a failure, hiding at home, while my wife was on the frontlines. So I decided, since we were fighting for our fucking lives and the government was doing jack fucking shit despite this being a fucking all-hands-on-deck situation, that I needed to roll up my sleeves. I spent my evenings, and frankly, most of my work days, tracking down PPE. Calling tattoo shops and nail saloons for spare surgical masks and gloves. Driving all over western Washington ferrying supplies back and forth to 3D printing hobbyists cobbling together face shields. Paying thousands of dollars out of my own pocket to ship masks from China via friends and friends of friends and coworker connections.

And going to my local community and asking - who has masks and N95s? Who has gloves? Who has anything to spare? In this environment where we think the world may be fucking ending, who is willing to share what little they have? And you know who did? You know who came out fucking huge? Asian immigrants and first generation Asian Americans. That’s who. More than any other demographic, these are the people who came out to give a stranger whatever masks and PPE they had floating around in the back of their closet. A lot of it is cultural in that they were already predisposed to have personal PPE, since that was a thing in Asia before covid. But I think a lot of it was also because they are good people.

I’m coming away from 2020 disgusted with how self-centered and fanatic many of my fellow Americans are, how willing to let millions die rather than be inconvenienced or risk hearing “I told you so”. But I will never forget that generosity from the community that has been most unfairly demonized by their own government, and continues to face the violent repercussions from that bigoted political ploy.