Early Sunday, vandals spray-painted racist graffiti on San Antonio chef Mike Nguyen's Noodle Tree restaurant. Phrases such as “kung flu,” “hope u die” and “go back 2 China” were splashed in red paint across the storefront and seating area, visible from UTSA Boulevard.
The defacement followed an appearance by Nguyen on CNN last week to speak out against Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate. The restaurant owner told the Current that he'd endured days of hateful online messages and death threats following the interview.
“When the maintenance men sent me the pictures, at first, of course, I was livid,” Nguyen said. “But when I physically arrived at the shop, and stood in front of all of it, I could feel the hate. It was palpable.”
Photos of the damage initially appeared on Reddit and were then shared via social media by local influencer S.A. Foodie. The community immediately rallied around Nguyen's business, ordering ramen, bao buns and silken tofu in so much quantity his restaurant sold out for the day.
"Hate has no place in San Antonio, and we cannot turn our backs on the hate speech that has been displayed yesterday by the disgusting graffiti painted at the Noodle Tree restaurant," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the Current in an emailed statement. "I applaud the customers and neighbors who demonstrated the compassion of our community by immediately stepping in to help the restaurant."
The mayor asked San Antonians to contact the SAPD if they have any information about the incident, saying, "We must work together to eradicate racism in our city whenever it rears its head."
Nguyen said the outpouring of community support helped him heal from the hurtful incident. One patron donated her time to help him clean up Noodle Tree's recently installed patio tables while she waited for her food.
“Her name was Leslie, and she’d dropped by just to support after seeing that we’d gotten some backlash from the CNN segment,” he said. “I was outside with a bucket and sponge scrubbing the table, so she could have a place to sit if she wanted, and she asked me if I had another sponge. She said, ‘I’m waiting for my food, anyway, please let me help.’ I was so grateful for that.”
Nguyen says he knew this sort of retaliation was a possibility when he stepped up to speak out against Abbott’s decision. But he added that there's been a silver lining. Friends and small business owners showed up Sunday to help him clean up his storefront. Elbow grease and emotional support ultimately rid the property of the hateful graffiti.
“Racists’ spray paint must be cheaper than the other stuff, because we were able to clean it all up in one afternoon,” Nguyen said. “That shit came right off.”
Nguyen drew worldwide support for refusing to open his restaurant dining room last May, despite Abbott's order to lift the state's stay-at-home order. The chef is fighting his second bout with lymphoma, a cancer that begins in infection-fighting cells of the immune system.
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