In light of a rise in anti-Asian crimes across the nation, including an act of vandalism at a local restaurant this past weekend, San Antonio officials came together in front of the Bexar County Courthouse Thursday to denounce hate against Asians.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales called the press conference to publicly condemn the vandalism of San Antonio’s Noodle Tree, a ramen restaurant located near the University of Texas at San Antonio. The windows and outdoor tables at Noodle Tree were found covered in racist graffiti Sunday morning by owner Mike Nguyen.
“I’m here to tell you that if anyone commits a crime that we’ve identified as a hate crime, we will prosecute that individual to the full extent of the law,” Gonzales said. “We will be seeking prison time on that individual or group of individuals. That kind of conduct cannot be tolerated in Bexar County.”
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus called the offender “a bigoted coward,” and said the San Antonio Police Department is working hard to find the vandal.
“Asian hate and anti-semitic hate” has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. Every community has been affected, including San Antonio, he said. He thanked the DA and McManus for seeking justice.
Prior to the vandalism, Nguyen had appeared on CNN on March 10 criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift Texas’ mask mandate. During the interview, Nguyen, who is immunocompromised and actively battling cancer, said by lifting the mandate Abbott put the burden of enforcing masks on businesses, which would lead to conflict between business owners and customers.
“With me being an Asian American, we’ve seen all these attacks on Asian Americans throughout the nation, that kind of concerns me,” he said. “I’ve had people send me nasty messages … placing blame on me, saying go back to China.”
Nguyen’s concerns were validated just days later. The graffiti written all over his restaurant included racial slurs such as “Go back 2 China,” “Kung Flu,” “Ramen noodle flu,” and “hope U Die.”
Nguyen followed up with CNN Monday to say he is concerned both for himself and for other Asian Americans after discovering the vandalism.
“What’s the next step they can do?” he said. “That’s going to be physical harm or even death for me, so the death threats are coming in. There is a lot of concern.”
Noodle Tree was closed Thursday and did not immediately return calls for comment. Nguyen posted on social media Thursday there was a serious active threat against himself and the restaurant, and that Noodle Tree would not be allowing anyone to dine in for the day until the threat was clear.
Several San Antonio residents came to show their support for Nguyen Sunday afternoon by helping him wash the graffiti off his windows and tables. Nguyen was able to open his restaurant shortly after. Others have since left small tokens of support and messages of encouragement such as paper hearts in front of the shop.
Nirenberg took to social media to thank the residents who helped Nguyen clean his storefront Sunday, stating “we must work together to eradicate racism from our city.”
Christina Lew, president of the San Antonio Lodge of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, issued a statement following the incident stating it has “deeply saddened and outraged” the local Asian American community.
“The San Antonio Asian American community stands in unity with our fellow Asian American and supports their right and freedom to express their lawful opinions without fear of retribution,” Lew said in the statement.
Lew called for the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County’s Sheriff’s Department to investigate the vandalism and bring the vandal to justice.
“This ignorant act has not only damaged a business, but it has also dishonored the distinguished reputation of San Antonio,” she said.
The attack on Nguyen’s shop comes amid a wave of racist incidents against Asian Americans across the nation.
Earlier this week, a man was charged with killing eight people at three Atlanta-area massage parlors, six of whom were Asian women. Investigators have said they have not ruled out bias as a motivating factor although the suspect denied race was a motive while in custody, according to the New York Times.
Since the pandemic began last March, the Asian-American community has endured an increase in violence and harassment. Many have attributed the rise in discrimination to the rhetoric of politicians such as former President Donald Trump who often referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” or “China virus.”
Last April, the San Antonio City Council unanimously passed a resolution denouncing the use of hate speech to describe the coronavirus.
To restore order, Nirenberg said Thursday that San Antonians must band together and not tolerate such rhetoric.
“We recognize that the only way to defeat hate is through love and compassion, what San Antonio demonstrates every single day,” Nirenberg said.