Texas’ decision to end its mask mandate was unsurprising, but when an Asian American restaurant owner spoke out about it, his restaurant was vandalized with anti-Asian racist slogans. Mike Nguyen, owner of Noodle Tree in San Antonio, had spoken to CNN about Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the mask mandate. In the interview he expressed that even if restaurants open back up to 100% capacity, that those who are still taking the pandemic seriously will not feel comfortable dining out if many people are not masked.
Nguyen stated, “I’m not going to see the 100% because I’m going to have guests who take this seriously – will come and won’t require masks – and then I’ll have the other guests who will say ‘you know what, I don’t think we need to wear masks, this is silly,’ and they’re not going to dine at my establishment, so we’re back to square 1 where it’s 50/50.”
Nguyen called Gov. Abbott’s decision to drop the mask mandate “selfish and cowardly.” The following day, he arrived at his restaurant to find the outside windows had red spray painted graffiti with phrases like, “Kung Flu,” “commie,” and “Ramen Noodle Flu.” Community members showed their support by helping to wash off the paint and placing large orders to support the business.
Mask mandates have become controversial and, in some instances, support for them has been drawn along party lines. Some on the right believe that requiring people to wear masks is an infringement on their freedom, but many health experts say that a mask is the single biggest factor in slowing the spread of the virus as the nation opens back up. Dr. J. Wes Ulm, MD says of the value of masks, “Masks are a low-tech, non intrusive, but highly effective mechanism to curtail the spread of all manner of viruses, including the one that causes COVID-19, and such precautions are doubly important in the presence of immunocompromised individuals, who have a much smaller margin of safety to shield their bodies from harm in the presence of even low viral loads of this virulent pathogen.” Still, America’s culture of individual freedom and personal responsibility makes it difficult for some to make personal sacrifices for the sake of protecting others en masse, especially for a prolonged period.
The fact that the person criticizing the lifting of the mask mandate was Asian American hit some nerves that much harder, given that the disease is believed to have originated in China. Incidents of hate against Asian Americans have increased exponentially since the coronavirus pandemic began, with Stop AAPI Hate reporting 3,795 incidents between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. Today’s shooting in Atlanta, where 8 women, 6 of them Asian Americans, were killed at massage parlors, may have been racially motivated.
An Asian-Canadian performing artist Ivo Santos says of anti-Asian racism, “I don’t want it to be painted as a “recent” trend because Asians have been experiencing racism in North America far before the COVID pandemic started. As an Asian immigrant reading about the Noodle Tree restaurant incident in San Antonio, it makes me feel unsafe about coming back there.”
The U.S. has begun to get a handle on the virus, with case numbers declining as millions receive vaccinations, but the feelings of resentment against Asian Americans that some have fostered during the crisis may not subside as quickly.