Nestled between Pembroke Pines and Hiatus Road, Kimchi Mart is one of many Korean markets in South Florida. Upon arrival, shoppers enter a quaint area filled with a diverse selection of food, beverages and utensils. There are, of course, kimchi, Japanese golden curry and strawberry-flavored Kit Kat bars.
But Kimchi, like other Asian-owned businesses in South Florida, has seen a rise in microaggressions against the Asian community in the wake of the novel coronavirus.
Kimchi Mart cashier, Jailine Ruiz, recalls a brief interaction with a non-Asian customer that quickly turned. “It started as a casual conversation until he started mentioning the coronavirus,” said Ruiz, who is Korean American.
“He said I needed to be careful working here because someone could come from Korea and you never know.”
She thought the statement stereotyped Asians, but didn’t know how to handle it. Ruiz said that in spite of feeling very uncomfortable with the remark, she did her best to direct the conversation elsewhere.
The panic surrounding the coronavirus in past months has caused many to take steps toward safe interactions with others. Safety measures such as hand-washing, minimal physical touch and limited interactions with suspected carriers have been encouraged. But what started out as healthy precautions quickly turned into unfair biases and discrimination against Asians.
“Since the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China, late last year, Chinese communities and Asians across the world have been the target of a sudden rise in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. There have been innumerable reports of physical and verbal attacks against Asians as well as misinformation and harmful imagery online that play into stereotypes.”
In Kendall, fear and panic have been reflected in a decrease in customer traffic at Asian businesses. This was true even before coronavirus cases were reported in Miami-Dade.
Confucio Express, a Chinese food restaurant, saw a drop in traffic despite not actually having Chinese workers or owners.
“The impact is [huge]. It is a matter of name and association,” said Niurka Almirall, the restaurant’s bookkeeper, who emigrated from Cuba five years ago. “The virus comes from China and people believe that the food we buy here comes directly from China too, that the Chinese handled it and that we are all contaminated.”
Almirall said that the restaurant has been serving the Miami public for two years, and workers have never seen its customers so panicked.
“I keep the daily sales record and we have regular people that always come and have not wanted to come now,” she said. “They do not want to be here since we sell Chinese food.”
She tries to take measures to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. She had a little cough for a few days and worked from home so that customers did not think she had the coronavirus. “I didn’t want anyone to see me coughing in a Chinese restaurant.”
Meanwhile, other residents from Kendall do not feel that the Asian community is a danger.
Gypsy Paredes, a Cuban American paralegal, was having a manicure recently at Nail Spa, a Vietnamese-owned nail salon in Kendall. She believes that ignorance can be very dangerous.
Paredes loves Asian food and has not thought about avoiding Asian restaurants. “I figured whatever is here in America is here, we should take precautions,” she said. “But it is not like they are bringing my food directly from China.”