I’ve been wishing all my friends a happy Easter through text. I don’t celebrate, but I’ll take any excuse to wish happiness on anyone for any reason right now. Well, almost everyone.
My dad’s phone rings in the living room. From my bedroom, I listen as he picks up and bellows excitedly, “Hey! What’s up, old friend?!”
To those not familiar with Cantonese, he sounds angry and aggressive. But to me, my mother tongue is soothing; it’s the sound of a safe space, of people with whom I share a cultural understanding. Safe is away from the people who place blame on us, who chose to hate us, who could choose to hurt us.
“…Ah, nothing. My family’s the same, bored out of our minds. Just waiting this out, how about you? It’s been a while, how’s business?” he asks his friend.
My dad sounds overjoyed to receive a call from a friend, especially one who understands his struggles of being an Asian business owner during these times.
I jump. “WHAT?!” was filled with rage, followed by a string of multilingual expletives. Frozen, I strain to hear the person on the other side of the line. I can’t make anything out.
“Be careful,” my dad warns. “Better safe than sorry. You’ve closed down now?… Good, good… What did the police say?… They don’t know?… There’s nothing we can do… Okay, stay safe, talk to you next time.” By the time he hangs up, the rage is gone; he sounds resigned. I know this tone: one I’ve heard too much these days.
The friend had gotten a call that morning from someone threatening to shoot up their restaurant. He wanted to kill all their employees for being part of some Chinese communist plot against America and intentionally “poisoning the public by serving bats.” He threatened to “exterminate the Chinese so we can eradicate the virus.”
They’d called the police who couldn’t trace the call but recommended they immediately shut down business. It was most likely an empty threat, made to disrupt business. But with a national culture of hate crimes and mass shootings, why bother risking it?
Our restaurant was vandalized last month, so who’s to say we won’t receive a call like that even though we’re already closed? Or worse, what if we don’t receive a call at all, and they just show up when one of us is there, alone?
My family makes an unspoken agreement that from today on, no one will be going to the restaurant alone.
My phone rings; someone is FaceTiming me. I feel the telltale tightness in my throat, and the burning sensation behind my eyes. I try to stuff the despair down my throat, force a smile, and answer, “Hey! What’s up?”
“Heyyy! I just wanted to check in and say happy Easter!”
“Yeah, you too… Happy Easter.”