A video showing a man yelling racial slurs at employees in a Saskatoon restaurant left many shocked, but for others, it’s a stark reality.
The incident happened Wednesday evening when employees at Mai’s Kitchen Vietnamese Cuisine asked a group to wear masks indoors.
“They just refused to wear masks,” restaurant manager Quang Pham said, “it just escalated to yelling those racial slurs and those horrible things.”
A man in the video proceeds to accuse employees of bringing “the virus” to Canada and tells them to go back to China.
Brandon Lai is friends with Pham and other employees at the restaurant. Lai was sent the video of the man yelling earlier this week and knew it was important for others to see.
Lai, who himself is of Chinese descent, said his family first came to Canada in 1897. He showed his parents and other family members the video — they said it didn’t come as a surprise to them.
“They said that was normal because back in the day they lived through that,” Lai said.
Lai said the incident is a reminder that discrimination still exists. “In this generation, we shouldn’t even be seeing this. People need to stop racially profiling the Asian community for coronavirus.”
Lai’s Facebook post with the video was seen by thousands and shocked many. Regular customers were in disbelief.
“I was actually shocked and appalled. I’ve been supporting this restaurant for a long time and it’s really good. The staff are excellent and I thought what happened was really unfair and unjust,” one customer said.
While it was a traumatic experience, many have gone out of their way to show support. Even other local restaurant managers encouraged people in Saskatoon to order food from Mai’s to show solidarity with them.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Granada House Restaurant & Lounge urged customers to “Fight COVID Racism,” saying: “We are horrified by this hateful and racist speech that our peers have endured. We know you join us in fully condemning this incident.
“As a sign of solidarity, we encourage anyone who was planning to order from us this evening, to instead order from Mai’s Kitchen.”
The post even went so far as to include contact information for Mai’s Kitchen. It received more than 500 likes and almost 700 shares.
Mayor Clark also took to social media to express his concerns and show support for the local business.
“We need to look out for our neighbors and we need to build relationships. We need to understand that everyone’s going through a stressful time and find a way to support each other, not attack each other,” Clark said.
While the derogatory words can’t be unsaid, Pham and staff have felt encouraged by the community support.
“We’ve just been overwhelmed here. We’ve gotten flowers as gifts and everything.”
“We really want to thank Saskatoon as a community,” Pham said.
Pham has been in contact with Saskatoon police and plans to file an official complaint soon.
As Lai suggested, this isn’t an isolated incident involving racism against the Asian community.
University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers have partnered with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC), working on a project tracking online hate towards the Asian community.
USask linguistics assistant professor Zhi Li said racism has increased over the past year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some blaming Chinese people for spreading the virus.
The team will look at about 80 million tweets.
“We’ll try to look at this data and see what kind of xenophobic behavior we could observe in that data first and then try to see how this xenophobic behavior impacts society, the users and also followers,” Li explained.
With the help of computer scientists, the information will then be used to create an algorithm that can pinpoint offensive speech online. The project is expected to be complete next year.