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'It's a tough time to be Asian,' demonstrator says at Los Angeles rally to end anti-Asian violence

During a Los Angeles rally in support of Asian Americans, CNN's Paul Vercammen spoke with three Vietnamese American nail salon owners who say they received hateful, racist letters despite their massive PPE contributions.

Posted: Mar 29, 2021 5:31 AM
Updated: Mar 29, 2021 5:31 AM

Tam Nguyen, one of several hundred demonstrators at a Stop Asian Hate rally in Koreatown, shook with rage as he held a racist letter.

Nguyen said the note was sent to several Vietnamese-owed nail salons in California this week, but not his, and is a stark example of the hatred directed toward the Asian community.

"My mom and dad came here to give me and my sister a better life -- and right now it doesn't feel that way," Tam Nguyen told CNN on Saturday.

"It's a tough time to be Asian. I want to read this (letter)," he said, and recited a litany of racist slurs and stereotypes that ended with "go home."

As Tam Nguyen read the letter, Ted Nguyen (no relation) became angry.

The men co-founded Nailing It For America, an all-volunteer group of Orange County professionals they say provided personal protective equipment worth about $30 million to healthcare professionals across the United States during the pandemic.

"Enough is enough," Ted Nguyen said. "That's why we're here in Koreatown -- to unite with our Asian brothers and sisters, and all people. This shall not and will not be tolerated."

The Los Angeles rally is one of many held across the United States since a man in Georgia killed eight people at three Atlanta-area spas, including six Asian women, on March 16.

'We have to protect each other,' Lisa Ling says

Lisa Ling, author and host of her own CNN weekly show, got loud cheers on Saturday when she told the crowd that hate against Asians threatens all Americans.

"We are part of this incredible tapestry with stories and history from every corner of the globe," Ling said. "And if one thread comes loose, we can all fall apart. So we have to protect each other."

The current Los Angeles area resident grew up in the Sacramento area. Ling's mother is a Taiwanese immigrant and her father a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong.

After her speech, Ling told CNN that Asian Americans are taught to keep their heads down, but now is the time to share their stories.

"There are similar threads, we've all gone through similar things, we've all experienced microaggressions and even aggression," Ling said.

"It's so important for other Americans outside of the Asian community to understand that this is part of our lives so that we can be conscious of how to stop perpetrating those kinds of microaggressions."

'Why is your English so good?'

Los Angeles City Councilman John Lee said that non-Asian people have asked him where he was from, and he'd answer "the valley" -- as in LA's sprawling suburban region often celebrated in pop culture. Lee was born in Van Nuys in the heart of the San Fernando Valley.

But Lee, a Korean American, says too often people countered with, "No where are you really from?" and "Why is your English so good?"

"I always felt really American, proud of my country, also proud of my heritage," Lee said. "But just to be accepted, you kind of let it (hurtful questions) go. And for far too long that's happened."

After Lee and others shared their stories, the thunder of traditional Korean drums erupted on the street.

Young performers pounded out the beat to the smash hit "Dynamite" by the Korean Band BTS and a cross section of Asian Americans, along with their supporters from other races, clapped along in unity, a theme of the march.

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