Why now is not the time to stop talking about anti-Asian hate

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Penelope Wong, chef-owner of the Yuan Wonton food truck. Photo courtesy of Yuan Wonton

Eat and drink

Yuan Wonton’s Penelope Wong talks about the importance of continuing the conversation about hate rhetoric and violence directed against people of Asian descent.


As an Asian American woman who was raised by Thai and Chinese immigrants, the increase in attacks on my Pacific Islander Asian American Community (AAPI) in 2021 is a nightmare that has become a reality. The anxiety and fear they triggered became so overwhelming that they even started to impact our service at the Yuan Wonton food truck, a business I started in 2019 after a 20-year career. as executive chef in a private country club. It hit a certain climatic breaking point last spring when I was actually scared to go out to serve food because I feared the dumpling truck would be a giant target for an attack.

From a liquor store displaying a sign reading “Thanks China” with a reference to a white supremacist slogan on the Front Range, the assault on a 28-year-old gay man in Atlanta and the beating of ‘a 68-year-old man in San Francisco, attacks on members of the Asian-American community have occurred in cities across the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Between March 2020 and March 2021, more than 6,000 incidents of violence, harassment, discrimination and other hate speech against people of Asian descent were reported, according to Stop AAPI Hate. Even more astounding, in March 2021 alone, almost 3,000 related incidents were reported, representing over 40% of all episodes reported in that month. As of September 30, 2021, more than 10,000 hate incidents against members of the AAPI community have been reported.

Penelope Wong’s cult food truck, Yuan Wonton, serves dishes inspired by her Thai and Chinese roots. Photo courtesy of Penelope Wong

The topic of Asian hate crimes did not receive much media coverage until March 2021, when eight people were murdered in a series of spa shootings in Atlanta, including six Asian women. This event – and the many other events – made me rethink the ridicule, mockery and bullying that continued for most of my life and into adulthood – and even early on. of my career as a chef. Throughout the pandemic, as crimes against the Asian community grew more and more violent, it became difficult for me to go out for simple errands. I found myself wearing a hat, sunglasses, and my mask throughout a grocery trip to hide my identity as an Asian American. Knowing that hate was enough to make people physically hurt those like me was terrifying. I was afraid for my family and for my daughter. I started to become more aware and even more protective of elderly foreigners when shopping in international food markets.

To my surprise, I found the silver lining to it all. With bravery, apprehension and total will to do so, I chose to use my platform as a leader to support my AAPI community. Blessed with a large number of subscribers on our social media accounts, I shared the horrific headlines via Instagram and Facebook, knowing that I was helping to spread awareness gave me a sense of comfort. Almost immediately, others began to reach out. So many Asian Americans – strangers to me – were ready to open up and share stories about racism that they experienced as both children and adults, which connected us. Throughout the many conversations, connections were made to the common ground of fear. It became cathartic to contact people for weekly check-ups to ask them how they were doing and dealing with their fears. For the first time in my life, a real bond of community has developed between me and other Asian Americans.

Growing up as an Asian American in the Denver area, like so many of my generation, I sought out friends and social circles that were more Americanized than diverse to feel like I belonged. In short, and unfortunately, I wanted to feel more American. I didn’t want to be identified as Asian. My childhood was riddled with name calling, kids looking down and laughing at me, making fun of my last name and using it in puns. The lunch hour in the school cafeteria was the worst. I begged my mom to cook me “American” breakfasts so the other kids wouldn’t laugh at the Asian dish she made for me. Looking back, on the days when she actually responded to my request, I didn’t even eat the usual American lunch because I didn’t care.

I remember being embarrassed when inviting my friends over after school, and my grandmother would light incense and pray to our ancestors while offering a fruit platter on the red and gold shrine displayed at every point of entrance to our house. When my friends inquired about the meaning of the ritual, I replied stupidly: “I don’t know, it’s stupid”. I don’t regret the decisions I made in my adult life that got me where I am today. But I live with immense regret and remorse that I did not fully embrace my family’s culture and traditions as a child. I live with anger at myself for succumbing to racism and bullying by trying to be more American.

At the risk of imposing a blanket statement, I say with enough confidence that many Asian Americans have these kinds of stories to share. I hope my experiences inspire you to continue conversations around this issue. My hope is that other Asian Americans can find new connections with each other by sharing stories because I can guarantee you will find someone who feels exactly the same as you. I hope that non-Asian Americans will continue to contact their Asian American friends to check in and ask them how they are feeling. A small gesture like this can really make a big impact.

It was a simple question of “How are you really doing?” Close friends Carolyn Nugent of Poulette Bakeshop and Caroline Glover of Annette who led to Colorado’s birth for AAPI, a fundraiser we launched in May. During the 24 days of AAPI Heritage Month, we raised $ 25,638 in donations from the Colorado community. We have donated the funds to various organizations providing resources to those directly affected by violent attacks, as well as groups with impact at the legislative level, implementing new policies for hate crimes and even reform of the law. education to begin including Asian-American history in school curricula.

I hope when you hear phrases like “Stop the AAPI Hate”, “Anti-Asian Hate” and “Protect Our Aged Asians”, you don’t immediately think of the cause that made the headlines there. a few months ago, because the attacks have not stopped. In fact, one in five Asian Americans and one in five Pacific Islanders in the United States has experienced a hate incident in the past year. It is important to continue to share with others the horrible headlines that we still don’t see in the mainstream media. Awareness has led to an increase in the willingness to report these crimes. Awareness has had a significant impact – and awareness must at least continue through conversation. We have the opportunity to change the experiences of our next generation.

Finally, my hope is that as a collective, we can continue to support the different organizations that are making the change. Groups you can follow and donate to include the Asian American Foundation, Stop AAPI Hate, Send Chinatown Love, and Heart of Dinner, local organizations to support include Asian Pacific Development Center and Colorado Asian Pacific United.

Culturally, asking for help isn’t the Asian way – many of us have grown up believing that we shouldn’t respond, speak, or make a scene. Generationally, I think we’ve had enough of this belief and it’s time to do the exact opposite. I remain hopeful that change can happen. With awareness and with organizations like these in place, Asian Americans can finally have hope, Asian Americans can make a scene, and we can finally ask for help.



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