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Fear Heightened In Las Vegas Asian Community After Violence In Atlanta

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(AP Photo/Ben Gray)

People hold signs while participating in a "stop Asian hate" rally outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, March 20, 2021.

A week ago, a gunman targeted three Atlanta-area spas and killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent. 

 

It was a stark reminder of the violence that Asian communities have suffered during the pandemic. 

 

At the same time, the fastest-growing population in Southern Nevada is Asian Americans. And Nevada is home to the third-highest number of Asians in the country, behind California and Hawaii. 

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So what’s been the experience of Asian Americans in Southern Nevada over the last year; even the last week after that horrific shooting?

Sonny Vinuya is the president of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce. He said the community was saddened by the events in Atlanta.

“As soon as the sadness fades, of course, there was heightened security and worry that it might happen here,” he said.

Vinuya said people in his community are fearful and angry at the accused shooter.

On the night of the shooting, Vinuya called the Las Vegas Metro Police captain who oversees the Spring Valley Area Command, which includes the area most people refer to as Chinatown. 

Vinuya said he didn't even have to explain his concerns. The captain immediately reassured him that he had beefed patrols in the area. Metro also met with community leaders and held a news conference about the issue. Vinuya said the captain, "wanted to make sure that people knew that Las Vegas Metro will not stand for violence against Asians."

The FBI, local, state and federal leaders also reached out to see if the Asian community needed anything, Vinuya said.

Vinuya said since the coronavirus pandemic hit he has heard more instances of verbal harassment against Asians. A friend of his was spat on and told to go home by a group of men on the Las Vegas Strip, he said. She wasn't Chinese but that is not the point.

“It doesn’t matter. Nobody should ever be subjected to that kind of treatment,” he said.

Since the pandemic started, some people, most notably former President Donald Trump, have referred to the virus as the 'China flu' or the 'Chinese virus.' 

“When people in power are using that term or saying that and their followers, of course, some of them will laugh at it, some of them will just brush it aside, but there are some that would take that as an okay to be violent or hurtful to Asians,” Vinuya said.

He said people in power should work to calm things down, not incite violence or hatred.

When the pandemic first started, Asian businesses were hurt first and particularly hard. Vinuya said that has changed and many business owners in his chamber are reporting doing much better than a year ago.

“I’m very encouraged. The ones that are hurting are still the ones that depend on the conventions the most,” he said.

Some restaurants are contracted to host tours and convention visitors and those businesses are the most in need of help, he said.

Vinuya said moving forward he would like to see more Asian American people run for office, particularly young people.

“We need more Asian representation so more people can understand our culture,” he said.

He said many lawmakers are supportive and understanding of his community but not in the same way someone who is from that culture would be.

Vinuya also pointed out that the Asian community is far from a monolith. There are 48 Asian countries according to the United Nations, and Las Vegas has residents from all of those countries.

Those 48 countries have different languages, customs, and religions, Vinuya said. There are also historical conflicts between those different countries and cultures.

“We’re still learning to get along with each other as well," he said, "And the one thing we really need to do is to build a cultural unity here. Now that we’re all living in one place, different descents, we need to build our own culture together”

Vinuya said that is still the biggest challenge for the Asian community in Las Vegas. 

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Sonny Vinuya, President, Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce

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