Uptick In Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans Hits Close To Home For N.H. Woman | New Hampshire Public Radio

Uptick In Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans Hits Close To Home For N.H. Woman

Mar 15, 2021

Stratham's Cindy Khoury
Credit Courtesy

Last week, in his first prime time address, President Joe Biden condemned "vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated."

Reports of such attacks have become more common since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which former President Trump often blamed on China.

Cindy Khoury of Stratham, New Hampshire, is Korean American and wrote about an incident she experienced here in New Hampshire for the online publication Seacoast Moms. She spoke to NHPR's All Things Considered host Peter Biello.

Listen to the interview:

Editor's note: The following transcript is machine-generated, and has been edited for clarity.

Peter Biello:
I want to start off for people who maybe haven't read your piece. Can you just describe the experience in the grocery store that you wrote about and why that moment was so pivotal for you?

Cindy Khoury:
It was a pivotal moment because it was a very emotional moment. I was in the grocery store about four months after the pandemic started and one of the store clerks was giving me very long, you know, lingering stares and they weren't friendly. I finished my shopping and I noticed every time I come up the aisle, she's standing at the opening of her lane, her checkout lane. And I am almost done. And I realize I forgot my daughter's request of buying a powder and I had been looking for it. But then I kind of forgot. So I just said, oh, you know what? I'm just going to ask her.

Cindy Khoury:
I said, "Excuse me, do you know where the Acai powder is?" And as I was talking, she was backing away from me. So I sort of stepped forward thinking she can't hear me. And keep in mind, we were still distanced. But as I stepped forward, she backed away again. And I'm talking and I said, "Usually, you know, it's near the flaxseed. Do you folks carry it here?"

Cindy Khoury:
And then that's when she put her hands up and completely back into the aisle, far, far away from me and turned around and started to leave. And as she left, she looked over her shoulder halfway and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about, but the tofu is over there." And then raised her arm in her hand and pointed to the left side of the store and walked away from me.

Peter Biello:
And how would you describe what you felt in that moment?

Cindy Khoury:
In that moment? I felt stunned in the moment that she left. And I was still standing there by myself. I actually first I said, did I ask for tofu? You know, I didn't ask for tofu. And then I realized that it was a racial insult, it was a racial comment to me. And that because she had her hands up, her body language and her facial expressions and her voice was essentially saying to me that I'm a threat to her. And I realized then that she was doing that to me because I'm Asian, I'm Korean, and, you know, because we were just right in the very thick of the fear of the coronavirus. And she perceived me as a threat.

Peter Biello:
I guess if you encountered another incident of racism like the one you experienced in the grocery store, how do you think he would respond now?

Cindy Khoury:
I know exactly how I would respond. I would speak from my heart and I would ask a question and I would say, what's happening here? What's going on here? Or, you know, depending on the situation, if I go back and I think if I had had these tools of communication when I was younger, I would say, what does that mean? What do you mean by that? You know, and I would just ask for some dialog.

Peter Biello:
You'ra a mother. So how how do you talk to your kids about race and racial identity?

Cindy Khoury:
We have lived in diverse places where when we talked about race, we talked about our race. You know, we would talk about, you know, my Korean background or, you know, my husband lived in Japan about, you know, the Japanese culture. You know, after this food store incident happened, I sat on it. You know, I tend to do that in moments of pain. I kind of keep things to myself until I can process them and then talk about them. And that may not be the right way, but it's, you know, it's my way. And so a couple of days later, I talked to my family about it. And it was in that moment that they too revealed that they had also experienced racial comments to them at school. And it broke my heart towards the end.

Peter Biello:
You write about how this whole experience pushed you or inspired you, rather, to to reach out to your black friends and hear more about their lived experiences. What was that like?

Peter Biello:
It was really some of the first conversations that I've had directly about race. I was saying to someone earlier that, you know, I would never pick up the phone and call you a BIPOC friend of mine, a black friend of mine, who, you know, and say out of the blue, "OK, let's talk about race."

Cindy Khoury:
It just sometimes just doesn't happen. You know, Peter, it's like you're just want to be friends and you want to enjoy the moment together and you don't want to talk about these heavy things.

Cindy Khoury:
But, you know, when the country changed and we were exposed to that horrible death of George Floyd, it really just provided - although it was very painful - it provided the opportunity to really go there and say, I've never talked to you about this. You know, we've had great, great experiences in our relationship as friends. But this is something that I never said. How does your heart feel? What has it been like for you?

Cindy Khoury:
And that's when I get stories that are very similar to mine and worse than that. And I think that's something that I really have to call out, is that what happened to me in the food store is so small.

Cindy Khoury:
It's such a small thing compared to what people of color and people in the BIPOC community have had to deal with. And it really just allowed me to open my heart, to be able to hear my friends and their experiences.

Peter Biello:
Well, Cindy, thank you very much for speaking with me and sharing your perspective. I really appreciate it.

Cindy Khoury:
It was my pleasure. Peter, thanks so much.