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'Hopefully our dream is not broken.' Asian American businesses hit especially hard during pandemic

CNN's Amara Walker looks at how Asian Americans are facing not only xenophobia as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, but also historic unemployment in the US.

Posted: Oct 26, 2020 5:41 PM
Updated: Oct 26, 2020 5:41 PM

Cam Vuong laid off 10 of his 15 employees when he was forced to temporarily close his Chinese restaurant in March. When he reopened for exclusive takeout service in mid-April, virtually no one was even willing to order food from his business.

"My god, the business dropped 98%. ...It [was] minimal in the beginning. It did kind of scare us," the Georgia business owner recalls. "How can we survive if it keeps continuing like this?"

And if that wasn't devastating enough, the dim sum restaurant he's owned for 26 years in Canton, a suburban area near Atlanta, was targeted by vandals.

"Our window was broken, with a hammer, without any reason whatsoever," Vuong says. "At the time we really [thought] that's racism because they have a bad feeling about Chinese and they do whatever they do to damage your store."

As many small businesses across the country continue to feel the economic misery stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, Vuong is among the growing number of Asian Americans facing a one-two punch of historic unemployment and discrimination.

As Covid-19 has spread, so has the racism and xenophobia -- some of it which has been fueled by misplaced blame for the coronavirus, according to the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center.

The national coalition of community-based organizations tracks hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and has received more than 2,500 reports of violence and harassment between March and August.

In a recent report, United Nations experts expressed concern over the "alarming level" of racially motivated incidents against Asian Americans and "and the contribution of the President of the United States in seemingly legitimizing these violations."

The UN's report cited public statements and social media posts that refer to the virus as the "'Chinese virus,' 'Wuhan virus,' or the 'Kung Flu,' including by President Donald Trump," as allegedly being linked to the recent surge in racist attacks.

Vuong, 60, is concerned anti-Asian sentiment will further slow his restaurant's sluggish recovery.

He says when he first reopened the restaurant he was concerned customers would stay away because they thought "you can get the virus from the restaurant. And I say that's not true."

It's not true. But Marlene Kim, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, fears that misinformation could exacerbate the financial situation.

"Unfortunately, if people continue to believe these myths that Asians are more likely to have the virus, that they're bringing the virus, certainly Asians will have a more difficult time, especially Asian businesses in Asian areas like Chinatowns I think will continue to suffer," Kim says. "And we've seen a number of businesses already close in Asian areas of the country."

Unemployment among Asian Americans skyrockets

The pandemic has taken a heavy economic toll on Asian Americans, who've experienced unemployment rates spike by more than 450%, from 2.5% in February to 13.8% in June, according to the U.S Department of Labor.

"It's the worst I've seen in decades," Kim says. "Asians typically have among the lowest unemployment rates, and it really shot up during Covid."

Since reopening Canton House for indoor dining in May, Vuong has seen some of his customers gradually return. He was able to rehire most of his employees but business remains down by 50%.

The father of two says he's breaking even but admits he's still struggling. For dinner service recently, he recalls having only three tables the whole night.

Vuong, who came to the US as a refugee escaping communist Vietnam in 1979, says he's saddened to see how the coronavirus has hurt Atlanta's Chinatown, located about a mile away from his restaurant.

In Chamblee, Georgia, the Great Wall Gift Shop will be closing down at the end of October. Another Asian shop owner in the strip mall, who did not want to be identified, admitted that he is also struggling to survive.

Model minority myth overshadows struggles

Despite the hardships burdening Asian Americans, Kim says Asian stereotypes are preventing many from taking notice.

"I think it's definitely been overlooked. I think it's because Asians are the invisible minority. People don't think about problems affecting Asians and that Asians are being disadvantaged. ...Part of the reason is that Asians are seen as the model minority," Kim says. "People think that Asians have made it. They have good jobs, good incomes. ...And the reality is very different."

Because some Asians have higher levels of education than the average worker, and have good incomes, people forget that there's another segment of Asians that are less likely to go to college, Kim says.

"They're more likely to work in very low paid jobs that are very precarious, like in nail salons or as taxi drivers or in retail."

Vuong is concerned about a second wave of Covid-19 hurting business. He's also worried that the outcome of the presidential election could inflame racial tensions.

"I really don't want it to destroy my property or business. That is my [biggest] concern," he says.

Despite the onslaught of challenges he faces, Vuong is emphatically grateful that he has been living his American dream for four decades.

Since moving to the US, Vuong graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in mathematics, became a US citizen in 1985, bought a house 1986, sent two children to college, and built up a popular Chinese restaurant.

"As a first generation coming to America, we have a dream to get a business, to have a house, to have a stable life. Have a family and then raise up kids. But hopefully our dream is not broken because of this Covid-19."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312969

Reported Deaths: 3637
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin661641115
Ramsey27766505
Anoka22149228
Dakota22015190
Washington13999115
Stearns13733116
St. Louis8747112
Scott846255
Wright775843
Olmsted665634
Sherburne587641
Clay498457
Carver474213
Blue Earth414116
Rice412836
Kandiyohi408122
Crow Wing359634
Otter Tail314322
Chisago311611
Nobles308730
Benton299451
Winona276930
Mower261623
Douglas260337
Polk256324
Morrison231629
Lyon218711
Beltrami217117
McLeod212812
Becker205415
Goodhue203228
Steele19497
Isanti190617
Itasca190423
Carlton185816
Todd181214
Nicollet162525
Mille Lacs153631
Freeborn15336
Le Sueur147011
Cass143710
Brown141315
Waseca139211
Pine13658
Meeker12879
Roseau11964
Hubbard114925
Martin113320
Wabasha10561
Redwood94619
Chippewa8877
Cottonwood8664
Renville86527
Dodge8600
Watonwan8544
Wadena8016
Sibley7934
Rock7779
Aitkin76730
Pipestone72518
Fillmore6990
Houston6984
Yellow Medicine64812
Pennington6478
Kanabec61913
Murray5873
Swift5838
Faribault5612
Pope5391
Clearwater5248
Stevens5103
Marshall4979
Unassigned49359
Jackson4881
Lake4226
Koochiching3926
Wilkin3895
Lac qui Parle3773
Lincoln3591
Norman3497
Big Stone3182
Mahnomen2964
Grant2796
Kittson2248
Red Lake2133
Traverse1481
Lake of the Woods1001
Cook720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 227398

Reported Deaths: 2368
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33642336
Linn14352165
Scott1124986
Black Hawk10893135
Woodbury10372126
Johnson955336
Dubuque923291
Story678822
Dallas637257
Pottawattamie631970
Sioux370325
Webster358535
Cerro Gordo357144
Marshall348546
Clinton331344
Buena Vista305414
Des Moines291520
Muscatine289268
Warren281914
Plymouth276042
Wapello255772
Jones232313
Jasper217944
Marion205320
Lee203917
Carroll198422
Bremer195212
Henry18307
Crawford174616
Benton170619
Tama154340
Jackson144613
Delaware144221
Washington141314
Dickinson139210
Boone137011
Mahaska126827
Wright12456
Clay11784
Buchanan117010
Hardin115810
Page11374
Hamilton11199
Clayton11175
Cedar108413
Harrison107729
Kossuth10667
Calhoun10617
Floyd105016
Mills10487
Fayette103910
Lyon10338
Butler10216
Poweshiek99313
Winneshiek97613
Iowa95812
Winnebago93023
Hancock8677
Grundy86311
Louisa86216
Sac8608
Chickasaw8574
Cherokee8484
Allamakee81811
Cass81623
Mitchell7984
Appanoose79312
Humboldt7715
Union7706
Shelby76511
Emmet76424
Guthrie75415
Franklin73921
Jefferson7142
Madison6864
Unassigned6690
Palo Alto6554
Keokuk5997
Howard5599
Pocahontas5584
Greene5250
Osceola5241
Ida48913
Clarke4874
Davis4709
Taylor4653
Montgomery46311
Monroe44412
Adair4418
Monona4352
Worth3630
Fremont3583
Van Buren3585
Lucas3256
Decatur3170
Wayne3007
Audubon2962
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