There are many words one could use to describe the abundance of attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since the beginning of 2020. Unfortunately, none of them genuinely characterize the emotions felt among the AAPI community. As an Asian American, it's been challenging to explain the fear and concern for family, friends, and the outstanding Asian American businesses that many of us have frequented for years.
Las Vegas AAPI Businesses
Around the country, AAPI owned and operated businesses have suffered the backlash of xenophobia for well over a year. I had the opportunity to talk with several business owners about the uplifting residents in Las Vegas, the city's allure, and ways to support the AAPI community and businesses. (Special thank you to Philip Tzeng and Ayumi Koga for their assistance and translations!)
Why Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is home to a broad and diverse variety of Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures- all with their own unique customs and, of course, foods. I asked several restaurant owners what drew them to open their businesses in Las Vegas.
"In this most world-famous city, we are serving customers traveled all corners of the world. Our goal is to provide a product that is handcrafted, fresh, and healthy without sacrificing flavor." Explains Suki Li, owner of Shàng Miàn. TK Kim, the owner of 8OZ Korean Steak House & Bar, also credits the diversity of travelers and residents with his locale choice, "Most Korean BBQ in the US are All You Can Eat places using low-grade meats. We wanted to introduce upgraded authentic quality food to Las Vegas locals and visitors. Las Vegas is the center of travel mega-city welcoming over 42 Million visitors (before pandemic) every year from all over the world. We want to share our quality food with people from all over the world."
Delia Thayer, the owner of Sasa Sushi, enjoys the variety of neighborhoods Las Vegas offers and the opportunities to serve customers off the Strip, "Many people think of the Strip when they think of Las Vegas, but there's actually a whole lot of community and neighborhood surrounding the strip where all of the Vegas' locals live, and these people need to go eat out without having to drive all the way to the Strip and/or paying the high prices like on the Strip, so it has been a great pleasure to be able to serve many locals in my neighborhood."
Chef Kaoru Azeuchi, the owner of Kaiseki Yuzu, delights in sharing his cuisine with the city, "I had restaurant experience as a chef in Japan for over 20 years, and I wanted to convey the culture of my country through authentic Japanese cuisine in the US. When I started the restaurant, nobody knew what Kaiseki cuisine was. I am immensely proud to open the first Kaiseki restaurant in Las Vegas, and my dream is to make Kaiseki known by everyone like omakase."
The same goal is echoed by Xiahui Ma, owner of China Mama, "As young Chinese generation living in Las Vegas, I see this place is a very energetic city that has vast variety cuisines; Chinese food definitely is one of the most popular cuisines, I want to promote Chinese traditional food culture in Las Vegas, and also bring some new element for our local Chinese food industry."
The AAPI Community in Las Vegas
While the variety of cultures in the AAPI community of Las Vegas is quite diverse, it has always been a tight-knit community. I asked business owners what they love about the AAPI community in Las Vegas and the city itself.
Ma credits the unity of the community as one thing she loves about Las Vegas, "The Asian community in Las Vegas is very united, especially during this pandemic Asian community, and has been very supportive of local Asian-owned restaurants, which has minimized the effect of this pandemic. Asian chamber also offered financial aid for Asian owned businesses." Salome Pilas, the owner of Oming's Kitchen, also feels the solidarity of the community, "I lived in Washington DC for over 20 years and didn't have much interaction with other Asians. Vegas is different. The Asian community is bigger here, so it exposes me to more Asian foods and culture. I love it! Everyone here that I have met is genuinely nice and polite."
Li voiced enthusiasm for the growth of the community and opportunities for businesses. "Las Vegas Asian community and the entire Las Vegas are in the stage of fast development. We can see a lot of opportunities here to grow the AAPI community in Las Vegas, and we're thrilled to see more population is joining in the Las Vegas community."
"I like that there is actually a lot of support for the Asian Community in this town, especially for small business owners. Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is one of the prominent organizations in town that helps AAPI-owned businesses educate and connect with other businesses and community leaders. Furthermore, the organization is not only helpful for business owners, but it's a great resource for AAPI individuals as well. The Las Vegas community as a whole has also been great. My team and I definitely felt an abundance of support from our LV community, especially during the pandemic, and we wouldn't have survived it without them." Thayer said of the city.
"I just opened my business for about five months, but the love and support that our Asian--especially the Filipino community--has been outpouring and encouraging. Many of them have come in and said they saw us on TikTok, Instagram, and even Facebook and came to support us. It's been very heartwarming, and my team and I have been very thankful for all of them." Joanna Gamet, the owner of Jo's Malasadas Cafe & Bakery, told me.
Ways to Support the AAPI Community
There are several easy ways to support the local community. David Zhao, a founding partner of The X-Pot, Chubby Cattle, and Meet Fresh, outlined his three easiest ways of support, "Being a customer, sharing businesses on social media, and buying gift cards for family/friends."
Li would love to see a more educational support aspect, "Language is one of the biggest challenges for AAPI. Increasing Asian language-speaking staff at essential departments can help the AAPI community and business owners succeed in their business. Also, adding diverse Asian cultural content in school lets our kids learn about the real Asian culture." Thayer echoed a similar hope for more education, "Volunteer or donate to local non-profit AAPI organizations, amplify on social media our local AAPI businesses, chefs, artist, etc. Perhaps we can also educate ourselves to have a better understanding of how racism and xenophobia have played out in this country and how, together, we can eradicate racism, discrimination, and hate crimes."
Some owners also made a call to action for more support online. "Digital marketing support, various promotion activities to support local restaurants to attract visitors from the Strip. Articles like "where to eat when you visit Las Vegas". Kim says. Azeuchi shared a likewise sentiment, "Financial support and advertising, especially social media."
Gamet hopes for safer group opportunities in the future, "I think that hopefully when it's safer, I'd like to see an event/swap meet/food truck gathering featuring our locally-owned AAPI businesses. There are many who do at-home businesses, and it would be wonderful to see all their products, what they offer, and support them as fellow business owners."
The Las Vegas Difference- Size Matters
What separates the AAPI community of Las Vegas apart from those in other cities? A sentiment expressed by nearly all the owners I spoke with was simple- the city's size.
"The Asian community in Las Vegas is relatively newer than that of other cities, but it grows much faster than any other Asian communities," Li told me. Pilas feels the same, "I think the Asian community here is more united and gets along. The Asian community is big, but not too big. Various groups don't seem pitted against each other, unlike in bigger cities."
Thayer appreciates the size of the community because it allows for a closer connection, "The Asian community here is not as big as in other cities such as Los Angeles or San Francisco, so it feels more closely acquainted, which I prefer." Gamet agrees, "I really don't have much experience to compare it with other cities, but what I notice is that Asian communities are all about family and community first. And as a small business owner, I thank the Asian community for the continued support and the warm welcome."