Asian business leaders in New York say assaults against Asian Americans have created fear among their workers and are disrupting how their companies operate. Now, they’re calling on corporate partners to speak out against bigotry.
Jason Wang, the owner of one of the city’s most successful Asian American restaurant chains, said two of his employees are among the most recent victims of anti-Asian attacks.
Both took place in broad daylight, said Wang, who is the CEO of Xi’an Famous Foods.
In one instance, Wang said, a male employee was on the subway commuting to work when he noticed a stranger giving him what he described as dirty looks. The stranger followed the employee off the train “and basically punched him in the face.”
Reports of attacks on Asian Americans have grown over the last year, since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Asian American Federation – a New York-based non-profit that advocates for pan Asian American issues, including mental health, immigration and safety – has estimated at least 500 anti-Asian bias incidents in New York City since the beginning of the pandemic, while other groups say the numbers run into the thousands nationally. The most recent incidents locally include the stabbing of a 36-year-old Asian man last Thursday in Manhattan Chinatown, and this week, an apparently unprovoked assault against a 56-year-old Asian man outside a Lower East Side subway station.
Wang said incidents targeting his employees prompted him to cut back company hours at all its locations. Prior to the pandemic, locations were open seven days a week and either closed at 9:30 or 10:30 pm. Now, all close at 8:30 p.m. and remained closed on Sundays.
“We wanted to limit our hours in order to make sure our employees are not going to be stranded alone somewhere at 11 pm on a platform alone on a subway where no one can help them if something were to happen,” he said.
Wang said he fears for his own safety in public.
“If I hear someone nowadays, if they’re coming up behind me, quickly enough where I can hear them, I try to turn around and take a look,” he said. “Right now it feels like I better have my hands on some keys or something, where if something were to happen I can defend myself.”
The alarm within the Asian American community has prompted calls for corporate America to take a stand.
In a letter sent to dozens of local and national corporations, the New York-based Asian American Business Development Center said it “strongly condemns these incidents, and is reaching out to you as one of our valued corporate partners to be part of the solution.”
The group called on corporate leaders to check in on Asian-American employees and to engage with Asian Employee Resource Groups.
“Consider encouraging your ERGs (Asian, Black, Hispanic) to rally together in support of safety for all minorities, and to mutually assist each other.”
John Wang, the president of the AABDC, said “we wanted to bring the attention of these incidents to the corporate leadership and make them aware that such things are happening and asking them to speak out.”
On Monday, the CEO of PepsiCo Ramon Laguarta tweeted out a message of solidarity with the Asian community, saying “racism and xenophobia have no place in our society.” The company also gave a grant in support of small Asian-run businesses.
Xi’an Famous Foods is among the most high-profile Asian businesses in New York to be directly impacted by the attacks.
Jason Wang (no relation to John Wang) and his father built the company from a single underground eatery in a Flushing mall to a chain of restaurants that stretch across the city. It once operated from a 200-sq-ft basement location in Flushing when it received a visit in 2007 from the late Food Network star Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain praised the restaurant, calling it “unbelievable,” which drew national attention.
“Of all the restaurants in New York City, Xi’an Famous Foods may have benefited the most from an Anthony Bourdain endorsement,” reads an Eater NY tribute to Bourdain, who died unexpectedly in 2018.
The company grew to 14 locations, but Wang said only eight are currently in operation. Some were unable to stay open during the pandemic, due to a drop in revenue. Most of the closures were in midtown Manhattan. Overall, he said, the business is making about 30% of what it did pre-pandemic, and that economic shortfall has been compounded by anti-Asian bias attacks.
“When these things happen,” said Wang, “it makes our employees feel uneasy to go to work. Uneasy to take the train, uneasy to walk outside. And that’s really a problem because people aren’t able to live the way they usually live.”
Arun Venugopal reports for the Gothamist/WNYC Race and Justice Unit.