‘Negativity and lies spread like wildfire.’ Racist Asian stereotypes on the menu in Fresno
Even after the avalanche of angry messages and threats, all caused by an internet rumor that indulges the worst Asian-American stereotypes, David Rasavong would rather not resort to the “r” word.
“I hate the word because my parents never raised me to be a victim,” the Fresno restaurateur said. “They were refugees. They taught me to work hard and keep my head down.” That’s OK. I’ll say it for him. Rasavong, his family and employees are victims of racism in its most bald, blatant form. They’ve been inundated with angry messages and violent threats based on racist stereotypes and false assumptions touched off by a busybody’s irresponsible social media post
Enough for Rasavong to shut down Tasty Thai, a seven-month-old operation on First Street in south central Fresno across from Romain Park. He isn’t certain when — or if — the small takeout restaurant will reopen.
“I still feel like we don’t know,” Rasavong said. “It only takes one angry person that shows up who saw something online. You think the worst-case scenarios.”
Those scenarios ran through Rasavong’s head Friday afternoon when he and his wife returned to Tasty Thai to film a spot for the local TV news.
Is that car slowing down in front of the restaurant because the driver spotted cameras and TV trucks, or for some other reason? And what about that guy across the street with a camera? He’s been parked for more than an hour.
“I’m not saying anyone was there to harm us, but you never know,” Rasavong said. “Even the (TV reporters) were turning around. I’d rather play it safe and see how this all plays out.”
“All this” is a concoction of disgusting ingredients. The worst parts of humanity tossed together to make a foul-tasting tom kha gai.
FALSE ASSUMPTIONS FUEL RACIST STEREOTYPES
It began several days ago when a Fresno woman posted a video on Facebook and Instagram of a dog tied up outside house, without access to water, on a hot sunny day. By complete happenstance, the house in question was next door to Tasty Thai.
With camera in hand, Maria Alvarez Garcia entered the front yard and confronted the house’s Asian occupants about the dog, scolding them loudly and threatening to call the authorities. Except in her zeal to do the right thing, Garcia included in her post a photo of the restaurant.
Animal-rights zealots and garden variety racists took over from there. First by wrongly conflating the owner of the house with the owner of the restaurant. Then by further assuming the dog in the video would soon be on the menu.
None of that contained the slightest kernel of truth. Rasavong said he and the restaurant have “no connection” to the house next door, and I won’t even dignify the rest. But on social media, who cares about truth?
The angry messages and threats soon began pouring in, both locally and from overseas. They filled the restaurant’s voicemail and soiled his online reviews. Some folks went so far as to alert Fresno Humane Animal Services, which Rasavong visited in person to reassure staff that what they were hearing was completely false.
“If it were a white-owned establishment or a black-owned establishment, I don’t think that same narrative would be put out there and stated as fact,” he said.
Rasavong moved to Fresno in 2003, from San Francisco, to work at his parents’ Thai restaurant. Today he’s a small-business owner with deep roots in his adopted hometown.
Like everyone in his ethnic group, Rasavong is fully aware of anti-Asian racism and the spike of hate crimes against Asian Americans since the COVID-19 pandemic. But this was his first direct exposure.
“You hear about that stuff, but I’ve never actually experienced it until now,” Rasavong said. “When you’re experiencing it yourself it’s hard to believe it when it’s happening in real time.”
‘NEGATIVITY AND LIES SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE’
Rasavong did his best to combat the falsehoods with his own social media video. Sharing his story with the local news also helped straighten the narrative. He also filed a police report.
By week’s end, as the whole picture became more clear, many of the incendiary posts began to vanish. But there are still a few out there. Laying in wait to inflame the next person with a predilection for racist stereotypes.
“You can’t get them all,” Rasavong said. “Negativity and lies spread like wildfire on the internet, but the truth takes longer.”
Rasavong is undecided on the next step. I asked if he had received any direct contact or an apology from the individual whose posts caused this mess. Or if he was considering legal action.
“The damage has been done,” he replied.
After initially repeating and amplifying the falsehoods against Tasty Thai, Garcia scrubbed her post and replaced it with one saying the restaurant has no connection with the dog from her video.
Still, the lady doesn’t seem to get it. When contacted by a Bee reporter for comment, Garcia blamed news coverage for angry messages she’s now receiving. Sorry, no. That’s her fault for being a social media performer, no matter how righteous the cause.
The only sympathetic figures in this tale are Rasavong, his family, his employees and, of course, the dog.
“I don’t think people realize how dangerous the internet is,” he said. “One post can destroy a small business owner, literally their entire livelihoods and put people in harm’s way. It’s not right.” Racism never is.