Vietnamese in US caught between two fires

By Long Nguyen   June 3, 2020 | 05:16 am PT
With Covid-19 pandemic threats lingering, civil unrest has affected the lives of many Vietnamese residing in the U.S.

Since the pandemic hit America, Le Thanh Hiep, 31, has gone shopping every two weeks. Last Sunday, his plans to stockpile food got canceled with the Target store near his home in Pennsylvania surrounded by protesters.

"Things were slowly getting back to normal - the protests are like another shot fired into our lives. Now, I cannot go shopping, or even to work," said Hiep, pursuing a Master of Finance degree.

With violent protest escalating across many cities in the U.S. over the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, many Vietnamese find venture out difficult due to limited transportation and curfew restrictions.

George Floyd died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis, reigniting the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans. Protests began in Minneapolis last week and quickly spread to many cities across the U.S.

Demonstrations have turned increasingly violent as police clamp down on protesters, and looters destroyed thousands of stores nationwide.

Hung Nguyen, a photographer in New York, said: "I could not find an Uber or Lyft so I walked the three kilometers home, scared I may violate the law by going at night, or face violence from protestors."

On Tuesday, New York suspended app-based vehicle services operating at night due to the demonstrations rocking the city in the last few days.

A Vietnamese restaurant in Tampa, Florida was destroyed by protestors on the night of May 30. Photo by Twitter/cam.

A Vietnamese restaurant in Tampa, Florida is destroyed by protestors on the night of May 30, 2020. Photo by Twitter/cam.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thu Huong, his housemate, decided to overnight at a convenience store after finishing her evening shift as "it was too risky to go out."

With numerous stores and supermarkets across the country destroyed and looted, students and workers dependent on part-time income are worried their jobs may be in danger.

Huong is waiting for her manager to confirm her request to work during the day instead of at night. "If my request is rejected, I will quit since it is too risky to go out alone after dusk."

In Houston, Luong Minh Ha and her family also opted to stay indoors since Monday after encountering several violent protestors Sunday.

"We were having pizza downtown with our kids when some guys broke the windows, before coming inside and shouting, which freaked us out," Ha recalled, adding she would not visit any stores until "public anger is over."

Some business owners face worse ordeals.

Thuong Tran had reopened her nail salon in Seattle for almost a week, until her windows were broken and front door spray-painted. On Friday night, the 43-year-old and her family took turns to guard the store.

"We have lost so much and only keep losing," Tran said with a sigh, adding they used pieces of wood to cover the storefront because "[protestors] may break the glass windows once more."

Many other stores and restaurants across the U.S. have been looted.

"Haven't we endured enough struggles in the last few months?" Thuong lamented.

Double shot

Since earlier this year, the novel coronavirus has posed numerous difficulties to people in the U.S., including Vietnamese, who have lost their jobs or been stuck in the country where the virus has claimed over 100,000 lives.

Now, protesting crowds pose a greater risk of infection. In California, home of many Vietnamese, some business owners have witnessed their stores or restaurants be destroyed. Over 2.1 million Vietnamese currently live in the U.S., mainly in California.

A man jumps from the window of a damaged store in New York on June 2, 2020 as protests against the death of George Floyd continue. Photo by Reuters/Jeenah Moon.

A man jumps from the window of a damaged store in New York on June 2, 2020 as protests against the death of George Floyd continue. Photo by Reuters/Jeenah Moon.

Jenny Tran, 54, was full of hope in re-opening her hair salon after almost two months of closure. Last weekend, the chaos over George Floyd’s death put her plans on hold.

"I lost thousands of dollars because of the virus, and now public anger could well help spread it even," she lamented, adding her family has prevented her from going out due to the risks over Covid-19.

Tran's husband, Thien Tran, agrees, saying he is sad to see people join the crowds since doing so is a health risk, especially when young people can accidentally become spreaders without any symptoms.

"We are yearning for normalcy, but violent protests can be a huge obstacle. I just want to go out and open our shop to see my patrons and earn," the man said.

Both pandemic and public rage have many Vietnamese considering returning home to be with their loved ones. But with no commercial flights, such plans remain little more than dreams.

Hoang Nguyen, a graduate student in Washington D.C., has been waiting to come home since May, missing two repatriation flights from the U.S. to Vietnam.

"Staying at home during the lockdown was tough - now all I hear is shouting and sirens. I want to go home to get a job and feel safe again," he maintained, adding there will be another repatriation flight next month, though he has no idea if he made the passenger list.

Hoang wants to raise his voice, join the crowd of protestors and proclaim that black lives matter.

"But what is next? More than 100,000 people have died and millions have lost their jobs. After two crises I find myself unable to go home or even go out for food."

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