On Sunday morning, Mike Nguyen received a text message alerting him that his Texas restaurant was spray painted red with racist messages. When he arrived at Noodle Tree in San Antonio, he told CBS News, he felt “hurt.”
“When you see photos is one thing, but when I actually walked to the restaurant, I saw it physically with my own eyes, I was enraged,” Nguyen said Monday. “I was angry.”
Some of the graffiti in the courtyard or outside the windows of the place said: “Come back 2 China”, “Ramen Noodle Flu”, “No masks”, “Kung Flu” and “Hope U Die”. The vandalism occurred days after Nguyen gave an interview in CNN last week where he criticized Texas Governor Gregg Abbott’s decision to .
For him, the risk is personal: He is battling lymphoma and lost a loved one to COVID-19. Nguyen will continue to have customers wear masks inside his restaurant, but they are free not to wear them outside.
“If you were upset about a mask … I don’t understand why you climbed to this point,” he said.
The community joined Nguyen and Noodle Tree, which they have owned for the past two years. Nguyen said the great amount of help and support began when his first customer arrived and waited for his food.
“I had a bucket of soap and water in my hand, and I was going to scrub it off. She comes out, comes out and asks me, ‘Hey, can I help you? I’d love to help you,'” he said. he said, calling that offer the “catalyst.”
“Thirty minutes later, people started arriving, and we had about two dozen people just helping out,” he said. “And they are complete strangers.”
Also, Noodle Tree, which specializes in ramen, was completely sold out on Sunday, according to Nguyen. He also received a call from San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg offering support and said that a local mayoral candidate bought $ 1,000 worth of food for the community.
A recent study based on police department statistics in major US cities found an increase of nearly 150% in hate crimes against Asians in 2020. The figures reflect a growing trend of discrimination andagainst Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Nguyen, who is also Asian-American, said seeing red paint with racist messages hits “close to home in many different ways.”
“The thing is, this restaurant is not just a normal restaurant, it is a community restaurant,” he said.
“I think that’s why everyone was so resistant to stand up to it and show everyone that we are not going to tolerate this ignorance, that we are not going to tolerate this racism, this hatred.”
Nguyen said he doesn’t think whoever vandalized Noodle Tree was his target and specifically hurt him, but “I never know what the landscape is like right now.”
“Physical damage or even death, I hope it doesn’t get to that point,” he said.
A spokesperson for the San Antonio Police Department told CBS News in an email that officers were called to the scene for criminal shenanigans but had no additional details.
Nguyen said he left the city for a few days to “help things cool down” and took some “safety precautions.”
“I hope it doesn’t escalate,” he said. “I am preparing for the worst, but I hope for the best.”