Manitoba

Asian entrepreneurs show solidarity for restaurateur hit by vandalism — despite fears of racism

Restaurateurs say a vandalism in Winnipeg and the shootings in Atlanta have left them uneasy, but they want to talk publicly about racism.

Pad Thai incident heightened worries about anti-Asian racism, which needs to be talked about, they say

Heather Vu owns four Pho Hoang locations in Winnipeg with her husband. Vu says she wants to show support for the owner of Pad Thai Restaurant, who experienced vandalism last week. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

Lourdes Federis decided to install extra security cameras at her restaurant after hearing that Claire Venevongsa, owner of the Pad Thai Restaurant, saw a hateful message scrawled across her car when she stepped outside her Winnipeg eatery last week.

"I'm just being vigilant, more vigilant right now than I used to be," said Federis, owner of Food Trip Kitchen. "It is quite alarming and kind of really scary." 

Venevongsa's vehicle was vandalized on March 17, but it wasn't the first time she was targeted, she said. She has dealt with graffiti on her building before — to the point where her landlord has increased rent — and has received many harassing phone calls, she said. 

"If I'm not a minority, it would not happen to me. You don't know it in my shoes. You don't know that feeling," Venevongsa told CBC's Up to Speed host Faith Fundal last week. 

The incident also followed a shooting rampage at three Atlanta-area massage spas. A gunman killed eight people, six of them Asian women.

The shootings heightened fears of Anti-Asian racism across North America. 

Lourdes Federis owns Food Trip Kitchen in Winnipeg's St. James neighbourhood. She said since hearing about the vandalism Pad Thai Restaurant has experienced, she installed extra security cameras. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Venevongsa posted about her experience on Instagram, saying she wants to bring awareness to racism happening in the city. Her post garnered nearly 8,000 reactions, including a comment from the account of Vietnamese restaurant Pho Hoang, which also posted on its social media to show support.

"We really want to raise awareness and really want to support them," said Heather Vu, owner of Pho Hoang's four locations in Winnipeg, who called the situation "a little bit scary."

"[I'm] a little concerned about the safety of everyone, too, especially with our company that's made up of a majority of Asian staff and people from BIPOC communities also," Vu said. 

Vu said so far, she hasn't done anything differently at her business and she hasn't personally experienced racism herself, but she wanted to encourage Venevongsa to keep speaking out.

Emily Butcher, chef de cuisine at Deer + Almond, believes there needs to be more space for Asian restaurants to be promoted and celebrated in the city. (Submitted by Emily Butcher)

Federis said she can relate to Venevongsa's struggles and wants to encourage her to keep going. 

"I could really feel their frustration, just their despair," Federis said. "Stay firm and be strong. Know that there's a lot of people who support you." 

Venevongsa said she's been overwhelmed by the responses and support from the community and her customers. There were some unkind messages, but many were touching and warm, she said. 

"Always loved the city, the people. I really thank you, for all the people who supported me," she said in an interview on Sunday. "I feel a lot of support." 

Venevongsa said the incident has been a "roller-coaster" but now she wants to focus on moving on.

She left the comments on her Instagram post open to encourage people to openly discuss racism, she said.

"I think it's a good time for all of us to learn equity, diversity and inclusion, because we want to teach our kids better," Venevongsa said. "Create a good community for our children in the future." 

Celebrating Asian restaurants 

Emily Butcher, chef de cuisine at Deer + Almond, said she believes recent events in Winnipeg and Atlanta have brought issues of anti-Asian racism to the forefront. 

"There's a lot of stigma and negative stereotyping that's been going on for years, but I think that events like this really bring it to the surface. There's no denying it," said Butcher, who's half-Chinese. 

One way to mitigate stereotypes is to celebrate Asian restaurants in the city, she said.

"There are so many incredible independently run businesses, and I think a lot of the time they get discounted as being just a cheap Chinese place or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant," she said.

"These are immigrant people who are working so hard and are probably not getting paid what they deserve. I think that needs to change."

Butcher said growing up in an Asian family, she was taught to put her head down, work hard and stay quiet, so it's been difficult for her to learn to put herself out there as her career progressed. 

She wants to see more spaces, such as media or community events, for these restaurants to promote themselves. 

"Having outlets for these business owners to put their names out there, be very proud and show what they're doing," she said. "I think that could be really interesting." 

Speaking out against anti-Asian racism

2 years ago
Duration 2:06
Some Asian-owned businesses in Winnipeg say they're feeling worried and scared. This comes after the owner of Pad Thai Restaurant had a hateful message scrawled across her car last week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peggy Lam

Reporter

Peggy is a reporter for CBC News, based in Vancouver. She's interested in stories about medicine, health care and accountability. She has a master's degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in human geography. You can reach her at peggy.lam@cbc.ca

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