An Asian-American chef’s ramen restaurant in Texas was vandalized with racist graffiti over the weekend after he spoke out against the state’s decision to lift a mask mandate put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Graffiti was found at San Antonio’s Noodle Tree on Sunday, the restaurant’s chef and owner, Mike Nguyen, told Insider.
The vandalism included racist messages like “no mask,” “ramen noodle flu,” and “go back to China.”
“When I saw saw it I was very shocked, and then I was angry, and I was hurt,” Nguyen said. “What really got to me was ‘I hope you die.’ For me sharing my opinions and expressing my freedom of speech, you’re doing to wish death upon somebody? Over a mask — a piece of cloth — that’s taking it too far.”
In his interview with Business Insider, Nguyen said he was concerned about confrontations over masks, especially being an Asian-American restaurant as hate crimes against Asian-Americans spike across the United States.
He said in the interview that he still planned to require masks in his restaurant, regardless of what the state decided to do.
In his interview with CNN, he called Abbott “selfish,” and said he believed dropping a mask mandate could put him and other restaurant workers in danger.
Nguyen told Insider on Monday that he expected backlash over his comments, but did not expect vandalism.
He said that alongside the graffiti, he has also received death threats, harassing messages, and his restaurant has been flooded with one-star reviews online.
He said he’s been on “high alert” since giving his interviews last week, and also spoke to his staff to ensure their safety.
Despite the vandalism, he and his staff believed it was important that they opened on Sunday.
“We weren’t going to be deterred. We weren’t going to be intimidated,” Nguyen said. “We thought that if we decided to close down yesterday, that the message says that the people who did this have won.”
A group of strangers outside Nguyen’s restaurant ultimately helped clean up the graffiti on Sunday.
“That was very uplifting. That shows who Texans are and who San Antonians are,” he said. “When a community is in need or when Texas is in need, we’re there for you. We’re going to help each other, no questions asked.”
He said that despite the vandalism, his day ended with “so much support, so much love, and so much positivity.”
“We’re not going to tolerate the racism,” he said. “We’re not going to tolerate ignorance.”
Nguyen also said he called police and wants the case investigated as a hate crime. In a joint statement reported by local news KENS5, the presidents of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance and Asian American Alliance of San Antonio called for local authorities to investigate the incident.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg also released a statement asking for anyone with information about the incident to come forward to authorities, according to the outlet.