ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – After a racist tirade against the owners of an Orlando Asian-American restaurant went viral a couple of weeks ago, the Central Florida community responded with a wave of support, including from a brand new squad at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office created to give Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders a voice.
An unhappy customer used racial slurs as she was leaving King Cajun Crawfish and manager Kristen Nguyen recorded it on her cell phone.
It was far from the first time someone had used racist language toward her and her family.
“As an Asian American growing up, it’s not the first time you hear ‘ching chong.’ I’ve heard it many times in my life,” Nguyen said. “But to come into someone’s establishment and say that, that’s something else.”
Nguyen said at her family’s restaurant occasional hate is just part of doing business.
“Even crimes like being spat on, they never reported it,” Nguyen said. “I think part of it is growing up when you hear things like that for Asian Americans our perspective is we are just going to brush it off.”
Nguyen said since she posted video she recorded on social media, she’s been flooded with positive comments and crowds at her restaurant.
“I think the reason why it went viral is Asians don’t really speak out about things that happen to them and now we’re trying to change the narrative, especially because crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed,” Nguyen said.
Nationwide, crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased, especially during the COVID pandemic.
But in Orange County, none have been reported - crimes against Asians, that is. But there have been hate incidents, like the one Nguyen experienced.
And now, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is responding to them with its newly-formed Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) liaisons.
Deputy Tom Lin, the lead liaison, is one of 10.
“The majority of our deputies are going to be Vietnamese or Chinese, we have one who is Indian, we have one who is a reserve with a Korean background,” Lin said. “My father and family came from Kowloon, Hong Kong.”
Lin said a lack of reported hate crimes against the AAPI community doesn’t tell the full story.
“I believe there is more out there,” Lin said. “And again, it just hasn’t been reported. A lot of times in the older generation, I can even say for my own father and others, sometimes they’re kind of quiet and private individuals. A lot of times they don’t like to put the problems out there.”
Nguyen is grateful and even relieved there is now an entire team at the sheriff’s office who literally speaks her language, for her, her family and the entire AAPI population in Central Florida - 6% of the nearly 2 million people here, according to Lin.
Nguyen expects the most recent hate incident will not be the last.
“We have gotten a lot of messages from the Asian community, they didn’t even know this existed,” Nguyen said. “They don’t know how to report and they know now there is a liaison within the sheriff’s office that they can talk to.”
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