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Vietnamese in US call out blatant racism

By Anh Ngoc   June 11, 2020 | 05:47 pm PT
When a delivery man called him 'corona,' Nam reported to his employer and local police.

"He asked about my name, then mentioned ‘corona’," Hoai Nam, owner of a Vietnamese restaurant in New York, told VnExpress.

Later, the delivery man was sacked. "I did not gloat, but I hope he learnt his lesson," Nam maintained.

Though it was no big deal in the end, the subtle discrimination annoyed him.

A wave of prejudice toward Asians followed in the wake of Covid-19 hitting the U.S., birthing anti-discrimination campaigns like #WashTheHate and #RacismIsAVirus, supported by multiple nationalities.

Besides, the death of George Floyd at the knee of a white policeman who pinned him down by the neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis has reignited the explosive issue of police brutality toward African Americans.

In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated around 48 million African Americans live in the country, making up 14.6 percent of the total American population. This includes those who identify as "black only" or "black in combination with another race".

Research showed the risk of being killed by law enforcement is 3.5 times higher for persons of color compared to white Americans. For every 1,000 African Americans in the U.S., one is killed by police.

Long Le (standing 3rd from right) and is friends in a martial art club. Photo courtesy of Long Le.

Long Le (standing 3rd from right) is surrounded by friends at a martial arts studio. Photo courtesy of Long Le.

"The death of Floyd, the pandemic and unemployment in the last few months have fueled their anger," Nam said while commenting on the protests raging across America. "If African Americans are treated differently, there would be no problem right now."

Long Le, 28, residing in Davenport, Iowa, shares the same view, having formerly dated a woman of color and fallen victim to racial discrimination.

"A group of youngsters shouted at me to 'return to your country', even though I did nothing wrong," Long, residing in the U.S. since the age of five, recalled.

Having a Vietnamese father and European mother, Long has also faced discrimination from Vietnamese.

"Racism is everywhere," he said, adding people of color face the worst situation.

According to Long, whites cocaine dealers never get caught, which is not the case for their African American counterparts, for instance.

"People of color in America usually enjoy fewer opportunities, are used as scapegoats and grow up in poor neighborhoods, surrounded by drug pushers and gangsters instead of doctors and lawyers," Long commented, adding the spiral of narcotics and crime feeds negative prejudice.

According to Tommy Vu Pham, tour organizer, racism is indeed everywhere, but has become particularly problematic in the U.S., which is famous for its cultural diversity, freedom of speech, human rights awareness, and racial equity.

Asians talk softly, for example, while people of color have different cultures and manners, Tommy, who has an African American nephew, said while professing support for the peaceful protests against racialized police aggression in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

According to "Mapping Police Violence," an American research and advocacy group, police killed 1,098 people in the U.S. in 2019. Notably, black people were 24 percent of those killed despite being only 13 percent of the population.

A protestor in Miami on June 7, 2020. Photo by Shutterstock/Tverdokhlib.

A protestor makes his inclusive point clear in Miami on June 7, 2020. Photo by Shutterstock/Tverdokhlib.

Do Hong Nhung, 30, who lives in San Mateo of California, agrees.

"Imagine the frustrations if Asians were one day treated that way, constantly worried they would be caught for simply hitting the streets," she maintained, adding she had never encountered racism as experienced by African Americans before moving to the U.S.

The conduct of former police officer Derek Chauvin, leading to the death of Floyd, encouraged Nhung to speak out as "silence may well mean complicity."

On her 600,000-subscriber YouTube channel, Nhung raised awareness about the plight persons of color face, including those from a low-income neighborhood in Atlanta who visited the seafood restaurant she works at to exchange food vouchers for a free meal.

In time, she realized how a basic lack of education or contraceptives could force entire communities into the illusion of crime or government subsidies, creating dependence at the expense of empowerment.

Before dating her current boyfriend, an African American, Nhung was extremely vexed by racism.

"If my boyfriend was white or Asian, people would pay little attention. Now, many criticize my ‘ideal’ choice, even though it is I who often feel inferior to him."

Nhung stressed he swayed her by his personality and intellect, which she confirms is all she needs.

Discrimination is also a rife in Vietnam, however, where local judgement is often based on origins, accents, living environment, and financial status, she admitted.

"I hope people would grow more tolerant, think before judging others and stop using hurtful words and actions," Nhung said.

Hoai Nam maintained not all black people are evil nor all whites good since everyone shares the same red blood.

Two weeks after the movement started, spreading to 150 cities across the U.S., citizens from across the globe have bravely added their voice to the #blacklivesmatter movement.

Long Le, in turn, has another plan. Equipped with a pair of guns to ward off looters, he hopes to move to Texas, where a myriad of Vietnamese have set up shop.

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