Fresno Police Department vehicle cropped image via Flicker user Joe Green.
Written by Ravyn Cullor
As the U.S. has seen a significant and visible increase in anti-Asian hate and violence, Fresno’s Asian business community is having to add another serious concern to their pandemic plates.
Research from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism out of California State University, San Bernardino showed anti-Asian hate crimes increased 149% in 2020, while hate crimes overall decreased. After a shooting that left eight dead, six of whom were Asian women, the prevalence of anti-Asian threats and violence has been the subject of vigils, protests and fear.
For some Asian business owners in Fresno, fear of being targeted has caused them to conduct their businesses and lives in different ways, said Blong Xiong, executive director of the Asian Business Institute and Resource Center. For Southeast Asian business owners in particular, these changes can be different from how they usually approach people in general, he said.
“We’re a community that’s very, to a certain point, open in terms of how we treat our customers, how we treat people,” Xiong said. “Our family used to own retail and my father would be at the door to greet people, to talk to them, with a ‘my store is your store’ attitude. My sense, talking to folks, is it’s different now.”
Xiong said one business owner has started locking the front door until clients arrive, and has become more cautious of his surroundings, not only for his own safety, but that of his children and elderly parents. The fear of being the target of threats or violence is an unnecessary strain on business owners, Xiong said.
A number of Asian business owners declined to comment for this article out of fear of being specifically targeted.
The Fresno Police Department released a statement by Chief Paco Balderrama March 18 stating the department would start running welfare checks on various businesses and organizations in the Asian community. FPD Sgt. Jeff LeBlue said a group in Southeast Fresno contacted the department with concerns that elderly people in the community may be targets of attacks.
“Southeast Fresno has a few community centers for the Southeast Asian community, so those are seeing more patrol checks,” LeBlue said. “There’s more visibility in the area of marked patrol cars. We’re not proactively looking for victims, but we are trying to start a conversation with people who, whether through culture or fear, aren’t inclined to contact authorities if they’re having a problem.”
The visibility might be officers writing reports in the parking lots of different cultural centers or businesses, or driving more frequently through a business district while traveling from one non-emergency call to another, LeBlue said.
While Xiong said many business owners are concerned about being targeted, LeBlue said he has been careful not to reveal what businesses and organizations have contacted the department to voice fears and hasn’t disclosed what specific areas are seeing more police presence.
Xiong said it’s important for agencies like the police department to partner with as many organizations in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community as possible so they can give input and communicate with the media and community about what plans are in place. He said he was unaware of FPD’s plans until he was contacted by the media and would have liked his organization to have been involved in developing the strategy.
The specific communication needs of those in the Asian business community are important in communicating available resources as well, Xiong said. A number of API business owners may not speak English fluently or use technology, which puts barriers between them and the many ways agencies communicate on a large scale today, he said.
Xiong said there needs to be collective action at a policy level, both in Fresno and across the Valley, and engagement from not only the API community, but the Central Valley community as a whole to “stand up to this kind of unexceptable behavior that is, for us API, un-American.”
For many Asian business owners, the fear of being targeted on the grounds of ethnicity is a significant additional burden during a pandemic that has already made running a business much more difficult, Xiong said.
“For some folks, we’re already at the end of our shoestring here, thinking of closing our business and other stuff, and now we have to worry about our lives,” Xiong said. “We’re technically worried about our lives already, now we’re worrying about our safety, our children’s safety, and you add that onto what we’re already dealing with, it’s hard to describe.”