SAN ANTONIO — The doors at Noodle Tree did not open for business Monday morning, but the community's hearts opened for the restaurant that found itself the victim of a hate crime over the weekend. Vandals spray-painted racist and anti-mask messages on the windows and tables outside the UTSA-area business late Saturday night.
By Sunday afternoon, messages including “Go back 2 China” and “No masks” were in the process of being washed away with the help of friends of the business owner, Mike Nguyen, and strangers alike.
Nguyen told KENS 5 the vitriol is something he’s had to deal with his whole life.
"The funny thing is, I’m not even Chinese, I’m half Vietnamese, half French,” Nguyen said outside his restaurant Sunday.
Earlier in the pandemic, a GoFundMe was set up to help the restaurant pay bills as Nguyen underwent treatment for lymphoma. In an update this week, they said that the fund is still accepting donations and any help is appreciated.
Messages of support were left on the doors of the business Monday, with neighbors saying they stand in solidarity against hate. City officials plan to hold a press conference Monday afternoon to address the incident.
The vandalism came after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded the statewide mask mandate that had been in place for nearly a year. Nguyen, an outspoken critic of Abbott, said the vandalism will not deter him from enforcing a mask policy at his business.
During an interview with CNN earlier this week, Nguyen expressed his opinions about the lifting of state coronavirus restrictions.
The presidents of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance and Asian American Alliance of San Antonio offered a joint statement following the incident:
“The San Antonio Asian American community stand in unity with our fellow Asian American and support their right and freedom to express their lawful opinions without fear of retribution.
This ugly display of hate and ignorance that was perpetrated on the Noodle Tree Restaurant has no place in San Antonio where the diversity of our community is embraced by our residents. We ask that all San Antonians support a fellow American’s right to free speech.
We call for the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department investigate this hate crime and bring the criminal(s) to face justice. This ignorant act had not only damaged a business, but it also dishonored the distinguished reputation of San Antonio.”
The Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce also released a statement:
"The Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce (AAACC) is standing behind various Asian-American ethnic groups, together with the Asian-American Alliance of San Antonio (AAASA), in denouncing hate crimes and bigotry towards Asian-Americans. The vandalism that occurred at the Noodle Tree Restaurant on Sunday, March 14, 2021, is unacceptable. The incident was clearly derogatory against Chinese-Americans. It speaks volumes of the continued fueling of hate crimes in the City of San Antonio, particularly within the Asian population since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resounding theme of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” respects individuals from all walks of life regardless of skin color and race, to exercise certain freedoms of expression and be entitled to their own views without threat to others. The Noodle Tree Restaurant is a privately-owned entity whose decision was to protect the staff and customers by following suggested CDC guidelines despite the Texas statewide loosened restrictions on face coverings.
AAACC calls for city leaders to urge all branches of government including the San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s office to conduct a full investigation and provide accountability to the perpetrators of the crime.
In the past year, AAACC has also been involved in working with Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council in the unanimous approved resolution denouncing hate and bigotry for Asians and Jewish Americans. The resolution must resonate within the community for continued peace and harmony within the citizens of San Antonio."
The Anti-Defamation League also released a statement condemning the incident from Mark B. Toubin, ADL Southwest Regional Director.
"We are disgusted and concerned that members of the community would respond with racist slurs to an interview where Mr. Nguyen was expressing concerns for public health and safety. A city as diverse and welcoming as San Antonio should not tolerate such expressions of hate. In fact, the city partnered with ADL to pass a resolution last May denouncing anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate and all other forms of bigotry. We applaud city officials for unanimously passing this resolution and thank San Antonio residents who came together to help Mr. Nguyen remove the graffiti from his restaurant. We trust law enforcement officials will investigate this matter fully."
SAPD has responded to the crime, with Police Chief William McManus saying that the investigation is fully active and detectives are trying to gather as much information as possible. He said that while Anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise across the country during the pandemic, he hasn't seen a trend here.
"It's not a frequent occurrence in San Antonio, I can remember two within the past year," he said. "Those crimes are not all that prevalent here."
"I try not to display my anger when I say things like this, but that's nothing but a bigoted, cowardly move to do something like that, it's not San Antonio by any means," McManus said.
He said that SAPD isn't working with the FBI on the case as of yet.
At the onset of the pandemic, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the rest of city council unanimously passed a resolution condemning COVID-19 hate speech. Some of the jargon in the resolution was tagged on Nguyen’s business. Nirenberg in May explained that the resolution was necessary as the country saw a rise in hate crimes against Asians and Jews.
Nirenberg issued a statement Monday, saying hate has "no place" in the city. The mayor's office has confirmed it is being treated as a hate crime, and Nirenberg wants it to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"We cannot turn our backs on the hate speech that was displayed yesterday by the disgusting graffiti painted at the Noodle Tree restaurant. I applaud the customers and neighbors who demonstrated the compassion of our community by immediately stepping in to help the restaurant. If you have any information about this crime please contact the San Antonio Police Department. We must work together to eradicate racism in our city whenever it rears its head."
Councilman Manny Pelaez, who represents District 8 where the crime happened, also released a statement:
“This past weekend, a District 8 restaurant was the target of a hateful attack by small-minded bigots. Noodle Tree -- a small, minority-owned business admired and appreciated by many -- was defaced by anti-Asian racist graffiti. I can’t think of a less Texan thing to do to a neighbor.
These people acted to divide our community and silence our Asian family, but within hours of this obscene attack we saw an outpouring of support from compassionate San Antonians who understand the value of community and the spirit of kindness.
Remember -- business owners have the right to determine the health and safety requirements of their establishments, including mask mandates. Just as we must respect the differences that make us unique, we must also respect the rights of all business owners to choose how they wish to protect their patrons and employees. Let’s continue to stand up for one another when we see acts of malice and remain resolved to building an inclusive San Antonio.”
Mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse posted to Facebook on Sunday saying he had dropped off money to the business to fund meals. He encouraged people to give the business service to let the vandals and Nguyen know that the hateful messages were not the spirit of the city.
The FBI issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying they are "prepared to investigate" :
“We are aware of the incident at a local restaurant in San Antonio, Texas and are in regular contact with San Antonio Police Department. If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate.”
“We would encourage anyone who believes they are a victim of a crime to contact law enforcement.”