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Las Vegas Asian Chamber Of Commerce President Speaks Out About Increase In Anti-Asian Sentiments

A group of 11 people, all wearing masks, pose together for a group photo.
Courtesy of Sonny Vinuya
Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce President Sonny Vinuya (middle row, second from left) meeting with other organization leaders to discuss how to collaborate better at Chang’s Hong Kong Cuisine in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 4, 2021.";

About 3,800 hate incidents against people of Asian descent have been reported nationwide over the past year.

In Southern Nevada, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group, according to reporting by the Associated Press in 2019.

To understand how Nevada’s Asian community has fared over the last year, KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck sat down with Sonny Vinuya, president of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Lucia Starbuck: The Asian community is quite diverse. Can you tell me about the community you work with?

Sonny Vinuya: It’s very diverse, which is one of our biggest challenges. There are so many countries around that Asian designation, 48, I believe, and that’s not even counting the islands. So, what that really means, it’s a lot of different backgrounds, religions, languages. That’s what makes it harder. Getting all of that to mesh and work as one unit is very challenging.

Starbuck: Even before the tragedy in Atlanta, the last year has been so tough for all businesses, especially during the shutdowns. How has it affected Asian American-owned businesses in particular, especially with the divisive rhetoric about the pandemic originating in China, and some of that stemming from former President Donald Trump?

Vinuya: To answer your question: Yes, it hurt us, especially in the beginning. Our restaurants were suffering a bigger decline, and I am so grateful for some of our leaders that have stepped up at that time and said, “You know what Sonny, I can see what’s going on, why don’t you meet me at an Asian restaurant? So I can show people that I’m not afraid to go to an Asian restaurant.”

Starbuck: What have you been hearing from Asian American restaurant owners? What are they telling you?

Vinuya: Well, right now, as far as the restaurant owners, before the shooting happened in Atlanta, things were getting better. Things were getting busier. They were even doing more than just breaking even. There are a few restaurants that are directly tied to convention-goers, those are still hurting, but the ones that cater to the community here [are] doing pretty good. It also helps that a lot of these restaurants actually are very popular for California tourists. So, you know, with the Californians coming here on the weekends, they’re patronizing our restaurants. It’s gotten better. Now, after the shooting, a lot of our Asian businesses are in heightened alert. They’re scared of copycats.

Starbuck: How does it make you feel hearing these things?

Vinuya: Well, sad. Very sad, of course, especially if you think about the Asian community here, you know, we’re very good contributors to the community. The population here is past 10 percent. They are in the front lines of fighting this pandemic. There are over 21,000 Asian-owned businesses in Nevada. What does that mean? We’re employers and we contribute heavily to the revenue of the state. We try to be good citizens. Now, if that doesn’t tell you that we’re here because we belong, and we’re good, I don’t know what else to say.

Starbuck: In your conversations with Asian Americans and the Asian community, what kinds of things are you telling them during this time?

Vinuya: Well, right now, the first one is truly “let’s be united.” Let’s spread the word of “we will not tolerate Asian hate crimes” together. So that’s number one and foremost. We have to watch out with one another. We need to build a cultural unity.

Starbuck: Do you want the Asian community to become more involved with policies, lawmakers and things like that?

Vinuya: A hundred percent, a hundred percent. We have Rochelle Nguyen and Glen Leavitt as our main representatives in legislation right now. Other than that, nothing in the legislation, state senate, county or city. We need to change that because it’s very important for a lawmaker to understand our culture. We have great advocates, don’t get me wrong. They’re great friends of ours right now and they always watch out for us. But it’s different when you have somebody there that looks like you, knows your culture and understands what’s going on in the community.

Starbuck: And what can people outside of the Asian community do better?

Vinuya: Well, the one thing that I would ask right now is, of course, stand with us. That would be great. But if they hear anything, if they see a behavior that they don’t like, tell them that it’s not okay. Be vocal. Stand up for us, just tell them, “Hey, that’s not cool,” you know, “You shouldn’t be doing that.” And that’s not only for Asians, that should go with any, any hatred towards anybody else. All of us should be doing the same. And I promise I’ll do my part.

Sonny Vinuya is the president of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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