HomeCommunityHeritage Month campaign stops hate by spreading love

Heritage Month campaign stops hate by spreading love

By Kathy Ou

The coalition that operates the largest reporting center tracking hate against Asian American and Pacific Islander is spreading love four years after its founding through its Heritage Month campaign, Spread AAPI Love.  

“It’s a storytelling campaign that amplifies the voices, the diverse voices, of our communities through stories of resilience, celebration, solidarity and resistance,” said Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action.

The campaign, a multimedia project of Stop AAPI Hate that crowdsources and features stories from members identifying as AAPI, celebrates the diverse cultural heritage and forms of strength within the AAPI community. 

David Rasavong was the child of two Lao immigrants who came to the US as refugees in the early 1980s and owner of former restaurant Tasty Thai in Fresno. In May 2023, rumors that Rasavong’s restaurant served dog meat began to spiral online, followed by a deluge of bad reviews, aggressive phone calls and death threats. 

“There were some calls I still can’t forget to this day,” Rasavong said recently via a Zoom call. 

Rasavong eventually closed the restaurant, but has since opened another one.

Meanwhile, he kept many incidents private until now, including the time — two weeks after the rumor transpired — when a dead cat was found at the center of his parents’ house’s front yard, or when someone seemed to intentionally turn off the water of the new restaurant, Love & Thai, just before its opening in fall 2023. 

“The reason we didn’t mention it in public was because we didn’t want to turn it into almost like it’s almost like a battle… We feel like we would give it power,” Rasavong said. “We had to have a long hard conversation regarding reopening.”

Rasavong closed Tasty Thai permanently when he took over the lease from his friend and former owner of Pacific Fried Chicken who was leaving the business. Support from the AAPI community poured in from across the nation and the globe in the following months as Rasavong and his parents worked on finalizing the lease and furnishing the place for reopening. In November, Love & Thai had its grand opening. Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez who was present proclaimed November 3, 2023 “Love & Thai Day” in the city.  

“The internet is a very funny instrument. It can be used for so much hate, or so much love. And I’ve received both,” Rasavong said. “Being a part of the campaign really reminds me to hold on to the hope that deep in our core, I believe, we all are a lot more similar than we realize.”

The resilience that turns tragedies into new opportunities is also manifest in Sunayana  Dumala’s story. 

In 2017, a 51-year-old Kansas man and US Navy veteran named Adam Purinton fatally shot two Indian immigrants after shouting racial slurs and telling them to “get out of my country.” Dumala’s husband Srinivas Kuchibhotla was one of them. 

“He was my everything. My only family [in the US],” Dumala said, who first came to the US in 2007 to pursue higher education. 

While her initial thought was to return to the rest of her family in India, she changed her mind after finding a new purpose. 

“It hit me that if I’m leaving this country, then I let the shooter win. And I cannot let that happen,” Dumala said. “It started hitting me to think about what led to his death, what is it they could do to change that narrative, and how can we bring more awareness about immigrants and that they are human beings first?”

With encouragement from AAPI community members across the country and support from mentors and volunteers, Dumala launched the Facebook page Forever Welcome in 2018 as a grassroots platform for sharing immigrant stories and investigating dominant narratives about immigrants in the US.  In 2019, Dumala officially registered for nonprofit status and founded Forever Welcome Foundation, supporting immigrants and fostering more inclusive communities through awareness-raising, advocacy and action, such as hosting workshops and directly donating electronics to refugee children. 

“Whatever I’m trying to do with Forever Welcome Foundation is the way I’m honoring him every day and creating a legacy for him,” Dumala said. 

According to a newly published survey published by Stop AAPI Hate and conducted in collaboration with NORC at the University of Chicago, positive factors such as hope for the future, cultural pride and solidarity are more likely to motivate AAPIs in mobilizing for racial justice. 

“Of course, anti-Asian hate is still ongoing. It’s a serious issue and we will not stop being vigilant about that, but we are also more than just victims of hate,” Choi said. “I want people to see me also experiencing joy and pride about the ways in which our community is speaking out and taking action…it’s about flipping the script.” 

Both Rasavong and Dumala said that participating in the campaign was a “no-brainer.” Both related to the campaign’s message of building bridges between communities and combatting hate with love.

“Hate plus hate equals more hate,” Rasavong said. “The only way to move forward is to move forward with love and compassion for each other.”

Choi affirmed it. 

“It’s a love letter to our community,” Choi said. 

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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