During February, four Asian-American-owned restaurants in Columbia were burglarized: Bonchon, East Moon Asian Bistro, Kung Fu Tea, and Urban Hot Pot. Restaurants have been slowly reopening, and with the rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, their businesses have been specifically targeted.
Since Montgomery County is very racially diverse, students as a whole have had a collective thought that racism and xenophobia aren’t as active in this area. When the news of the burglaries came out, it was a shock to students.
Lana Lee, a senior, was at Kung Fu Tea a week before the burglaries. She says, “This past year has been a time where we’re advocating for unity and equality, so to see such hatred in a town where I highlight its diversity is very upsetting and is creating an environment where I no longer feel very safe.”
Police aren’t claiming these break-ins to be race induced, even though these restaurants had money stolen from them around the beginning of the Lunar New Year.
George Marte, the African-American manager at Bonchon, doesn’t believe that this incident was a coincidence. “It would be one thing if multiple stores were vandalized at random,” he says. “But for Asian-Cuisine or Asian-owned stores to be the only ones vandalized and stolen from, in addition to being on the first night of the Lunar New Year, we believe it was a hate crime as the evidence doesn’t really have room for coincidence.”
This has sparked fear in Asian-American students whose families own businesses in the area.
Quynhan Nguyen, a sophomore, has a mother who owns a small printing business. “I became really worried for my mom,” she says. “All I could think about was if she and her business would be the next victim.”
Chris Lam, a senior, has a grandfather who owns a Vietmanese restaurant in the Downtown Silver Spring area. He says, “My reaction was ‘wow that’s so close to me’. That could have been my restaurant. It got me so mad.”
Though Covid-19 has increased the amount of rasicm and discrimination shown towards Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, it has also brought to light these very issues that were already happening to this community, especially in the Blake area.
“I’ve faced many encounters with verbal harassment due to my race in school; whether it’s microaggressions or blatant racial slurs being spoken to my face,” Lee says. “From kids pulling their eyes back and insisting I’m Chinese, even though I’m Korean, in elementary school, or people stating the only reason I get straight A’s is because I’m Asian and discrediting the work I put in to achieve those grades. These types of racist acts have been extremely normalized for decades.”
“When I was much younger, I would play into the stereotypes from some of my ‘friends’ at the time. Calling myself ling-ling, joking that I would eat dogs, etc.” Nguyen admits. “I just hope that Asian-American kids today know better… and know their worth”
These are some of the examples of words and actions that have been normalized in today’s society. Now, society must advocate against Asian-American hate. As Mr. Marte says, “We must stand together. We cannot give way for this to continue. Stand together and call it out as it happens. There is strength in numbers and together we won’t be knocked down.”
You can also show camaraderie by supporting these Asian-American Owned Businesses.
Bonchon, East Moon Asian Bistro, Kung Fu Tea, and Urban Hot Pot can be found in Columbia, MD near the Columbia Mall.
Nguyen’s mother’s business: CT Printing & Graphics on New Hampshire Ave
Lam’s grandfather’s business: Lotus Cafe near Downtown Silver Spring