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After Koreatown shooting, DFW Asian businesses say block party celebrates community and awareness

Organizers of the AAPI Block Party pose for a photo.
Elizabeth Myong
/
KERA News
Vu Ly, Connie Cheng, Kimberly Le, and Dan Bui, among others, helped organize the AAPI Block Party on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

On a blazing hot Saturday afternoon in the Bishop Arts District, thousands of people came out to the inaugural AAPI Block Party to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. A DJ played music that echoed across the intersection of Zang and 7th and local singer JONAVI performed.

Amid the celebratory atmosphere of the block party, some business owners said they’re grateful that the event provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the rise in Asian hate during the pandemic. Days before the event, a Koreatown shooting on Royal Lane left three Korean women injured. Dallas Police now say the shooting could be a hate crime linked to two other shootings at local Asian-owned businesses.

Singer JONAVI performs at the AAPI Block Party.
Elizabeth Myong
/
KERA News
Dallas-based singer JONAVI performs at the AAPI Block Party in the Bishop Arts District on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Last year there was a 339% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2020, which already had record numbers, and most of the victims were women.

One of the organizers of the event Vu Ly, owner of Ampersand Coffee in Fort Worth, said it was hard to hear about the Koreatown shooting.

“My heart broke because we don't really hear about that stuff here in Dallas,” Ly said. “We always hear like in other states. So, when it happened I was like, ‘Oh, why does it keep happening to Asians in general?’ — due to COVID, everyone's xenophobia and whatnot.” 

A day after the Koreatown shooting, Ly and other organizers called up the Dallas Police to double event security from three to six officers. Dan Bui, the co-owner of the Asian Cajun restaurant Krio Dallas, offered up the space around his business for the block party. He said organizers wanted to be extra careful after they heard about the shooting.

“When something like that happens before you have a huge gathering of Asian Americans, of course your fear kicks in and just the safety of everyone is of utmost importance,” Bui said. He estimates about 3,000 people attended the event.

Someone barbecues meat on a grill with a long line of people behind them.
Elizabeth Myong
/
KERA News
A long line formed in front of the Fat Ni BBQ tent where lamb, beef and pork belly skewers were being served at the AAPI Block Party in the Bishop Arts District on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Over 20 Asian-owned businesses participated in the event, which was organized by Bui, Ly and administrators of the Facebook group Asian Grub in DFDUB. The group now has almost 50,000 members and was created at the start of the pandemic to support Asian-owned businesses amid the rise in xenophobia and hate against Asians.

Asian Grub in DFDUB has been a win for Asian food lovers and North Texas business owners alike. It’s a way for local foodies to keep up with the best Asian food spots in the metroplex and a number of Asian business owners say the page has helped bring customers to their restaurants.

It’s also a virtual space that seeks to lift up the Asian community and local restaurants; and it has a strict policy against hate. To join the private group, you have to answer three questions and agree you’ll respect the page’s policies.

Scoop n’ Buns co-owner Zoya Elsisura is a member of the Facebook group. Like others in the Asian community, she said she’s feeling increased anxiety after the shooting. For the most part, she feels supported by the community in Garland where her store is located. But she’s reminded of some of the backlash her business has faced as one of the few Filipino restaurants in the area.

I've heard sometimes when they hear like it's Filipino-owned or like it's Filipino and Mexican-owned, they would immediately be like, ‘oh no, I'm not going there’ type of thing,” she said.

Owners of Scoop n' Buns store Zoya Elsisura and husband Gerardo Hernandez pose for a photo.
Elizabeth Myong
/
KERA News
Owners of Scoop n' Buns Zoya Elsisura and husband Gerardo Hernandez sold halo-halo, a Filipino shaved ice dessert, and donut-ice cream sandwiches in the ube and mango-coconut flavors.

Kevin Tran, who co-owns ShareTea and Beard Papa’s stores, was another Asian business owner at the event. He said his team almost sold out of 1,000 boba tea drinks and over 200 Japanese cream puffs in two hours.

For Tran, the shooting is part of the ongoing surge of Asian hate during the pandemic and emphasizes the need for events like the block party that bring awareness to the #StopAsianHate movement.

To be honest, it just feels like another thing because it's been happening,” he said. “We're just trying to keep an eye on it and just trying to create a safe space for people like us to come out and hang out and have a good time.”

With his shops in Grand Prairie and north Fort Worth, the entrepreneur said he’s working to keep his team safe with the right to refuse service and encouraging his employees to reach out to a manager if they’re being harassed.

For friends Kim Tran and Annisaa Hasibuan who attended the block party, news of the Koreatown shooting was shocking.

“I was really scared because I don’t tend to think about those things but then once I see stuff like that happen near me, I get hit with reality that there are still bad people out there,” said Hasibuan, who’s Indonesian.

But while the shooting looms in the back of their minds, they say it’s a reminder of why it’s so important to spend time with loved ones. It’s that balance of celebration and sadness that this AAPI Heritage Month seems to embody for many Asian Americans.

“When I hear stuff like that [the Koreatown shooting], I tend to be more in touch with my friends because you never know when it’s going to be your last day or theirs,” Hasibuan said.

A hotdog, loaded fries and sandwich.
Elizabeth Myong
/
KERA News
Arlington residents Kim Tran and Annisaa Hasibuan enjoyed a Hottodoggu from Okaeri Cafe, ham and egg sando from sandoitchi and loaded karage fries at the AAPI Block Party on May 14, 2022.

The two friends drove all the way from Arlington to the block party in Bishop Arts. Hasibuan and Tran, who follow the Asian Grub in DFDUB page, said eating is their way of bonding. So they did just that, passing a Sharetea boba back-and-forth while laughing over a Hottodoggu from Okaeri Cafe, ham and egg sando from sandoitchi and loaded karage fries.

Art vendors also made an appearance at the event. Christina “Tiny” Nguyen sold special prints from her online shop Tiny Taste Maker that are based on puns that reference Asian food and hip-hop, like ASAP Pocky and Biggie Rice Balls. Nguyen, who also works full-time as a UX designer, said she’s part of a diversity and inclusion group where she works at Fidelity.

Christina Nguyen.
Elizabeth Myong
/
KERA News
Tiny Taste Maker owner Christina "Tiny" Nguyen holds up one of her creations, a print called "ASAP Pocky" at the AAPI Block Party in the Bishop Arts District on May 14, 2022.

She said the Koreatown shooting is “overwhelmingly sad” and the entrepreneur said she feels grateful for the block party, which brings awareness to the #StopAsianHate movement.

“As an Asian-American, I want to do my best to support my community,” she said. “So whether it's really getting the word out there about Asian businesses or like showing support in any way I can, whether it's through donations or community service, I'm willing to do that.”

Ultimately, organizer Vu Ly says the event exceeded his expectations — especially given the intense heat. A number of vendors had sold out by about 4 p.m., two hours before the event was scheduled to end.

While he fears for the safety of his friends, family and elders in the Asian community, he said life has to go on.

“I always tell my friends, just keep your head on a swivel and be careful,” he said. “We can't we can't stop our lives either in fear, you know? So we just have to keep living, but also be aware of everything.”

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Got a tip? Email Elizabeth Myong at Emyong@KERA.org. You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter @Elizabeth_Myong.