Asian Americans

CEO of NYC Chinese Restaurant Franchise Opens Up About Attacks on Workers

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As the pandemic took hold, a new crisis emerged: attacks against Asian Americans.

The attacks, many of which were racially motivated, not only affect individual victims but they're also impacting people's mental health, says the CEO of Xi’an Famous Foods -- a family-owned western Chinese food franchise in New York City.

Jason Wang, 33, tells NBC New York that his own employees have been on the receiving ends of the aggressive displays that transpired over the course of a year.

Hate crimes against Asians in the five boroughs soared from three reported cases in 2019 to 29 in 2020, according to the police department. There have been a handful of attacks against Asian American victims in February alone, but some cases weren't investigated as hate crimes.

What the statistics don't tell us is the extra emotional tolls piling on top of other pandemic-related stresses.

"Outside of just individuals being impacted, which is terrible, it's also taking a toll on the mental health of the community as well as small businesses and employees," Wang said.

Wang told the New York Times last week that two of his employees were punched in the face in two separate unprovoked attacks. He says it's something he has never experienced before in all his time living in New York City.

"I reluctantly wanted to bring this to light because I didn't want to traumatize my employees further," Wang said. "While keeping their identities anonymous, but at the same time shedding light to this, I'm hoping that this will paint the picture of what's actually going on."

Xi'an Famous Foods went from expanding its business to 14 locations to closing six of them during the pandemic. Already suffering from dine-in restaurant closures and fewer customers, Wang said the restaurant also made further sacrifices to protect their employees.

"In June, July, when we reopened, we immediately adopted limited hours and one of the biggest reasons for that is to make sure our employees feel safe. They feel that they're not going to have to go home at hours where there're not many people on the platforms of the train or just on the streets," Wang said.

"Our employees is our business. We have to make sure they're taken care of because without employees, we are not a business," he added.

Hundreds of people gathered in lower Manhattan over the weekend to denounce an uptick in attacks on people of Asian descent across the country. Saturday's rally at Foley Square, which was not far from where an Asian man was critically injured Thursday in what police said was an unprovoked stabbing by another man, is one of the things Wang says we need to stop the violence.

Federal, state and local politicians at the rally, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and state Attorney General Letitia James, also condemned violence against men and women of Asian descent.

"As a community, the best thing we can do is come together when someone's in need. If you're not able to provide help to de-escalate the situation, at least you can contact the authorities, provide comfort to victims," Wang said. "Bring awareness to issues within your community that may not be Asian. Making sure to tell the message: this is not just an anti-Asian problem. This is a societal problem. This is a New York City problem."

Across the U.S., Stop AAPI Hate, launched by two advocacy groups to encourage Asian Americans to report such incidents, has documented more than 3,000 attacks to date.

In Thursday's stabbing in New York, police said Salman Muflihi, 23, stabbed a 36-year-old Asian man in a random attack.

Muflihi pleaded not guilty to attempted murder during a court hearing Saturday. He had been charged with hate crimes, but the Manhattan district attorney's office is not prosecuting the case as a hate crime, news outlets reported. A prosecutor said at the hearing that the victim remains in critical condition and may not survive.

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