In December, someone threw a brick that smashed the front window of Utopia Restaurant & Lounge, a Vietnamese restaurant in Portland, Ore. A month later, the same thing happened.
"I'm scared somebody is going to come and do it again," says Thu Nguyen, 57, whose wife owns the restaurant, which he co-manages. Pre-pandemic, the restaurant had no problems with vandalism since opening in 2006. Born in Da Nang, Vietnam, Nguyen believes the recent attacks are part of the growing violence and racism Asian Americans have faced since the start of the pandemic.
Nguyen's was one of at least 13 businesses in Portland's Jade District, a predominantly Asian commercial hub, to have windows smashed the last week of January, reports The Oregonian. Nine of those businesses are Asian-owned, the paper reports.
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Hate crime and racism against Asians have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent Harris poll, 75 percent of Asian Americans are fearful of increased hate and discrimination toward them. Connie Chung Joe, CEO of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, says that there have been at least 2,800 hate incidents targeting Asians nationwide in the past year, and that those numbers may be deceptively low because of language and cultural barriers to reporting incidents.
For more on hate crimes and racism Asian Americans have faced since the start of the pandemic, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.
Many advocates have blamed, in part, former president Donald Trump — who referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus" and "Kung Flu" — for fueling the racism.
"Words really do matter and can be used to incite violence. We're seeing that locally on the ground here," says Duncan Hwang, 39-year-old associate director at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon in Portland. "People feel like it's okay to target Chinese Americans because of a pandemic."
(The rise in violence and discrimination against Asian Americans was featured on last night's episode of PEOPLE (The TV Show!). The segment is below.)
"There's not a whole lot more to say than: Racism is bad and it's causing violence in our community," Hwang says. "Someone drove up and down our neighborhood and threw bricks through businesses windows — and almost all of them are Asian-American owned. I don't know if it's political or racially based — it just so happened that most of the businesses hit were Asian-American owned."
One of those businesses was Nguyen's.
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Security camera footage from Dec. 21 showed a white van pull into the restaurant's parking lot at about 1 a.m. Someone got out of the van, threw a brick through the window, walked back to the van and drove away.
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"Nobody knows why he threw the rock into the window of my restaurant," says Nguyen.
The same thing happened again on January 29. "The same window," he says. And, in the security camera footage, it looks like the same van.
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"I reported it," he says, but no arrests have been made.
He worries about the future and the safety of his family restaurant.
"I'm worried with everything – with the violence for Asians for no reason. I really don't know what to think," he says.
To learn more and to report crimes, go to: Asian Americans Advancing Justice (advancingjustice-aajc.org) Stop the AAPI Hate (stopaapihate.org) National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (aapiern.org), Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA (advancingjustice-la.org) and Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org).
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