New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Thursday encouraged the city’s residents and visitors to support Asian American businesses, declaring one of the city’s major Chinese neighborhoods “open for business” to counter racist fear-mongering about the new coronavirus that business owners say have caused a precipitous decline in sales.
“In hard times, New Yorkers know to stand by their neighbors,” he said while visiting Flushing in Queens, home to one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Asia. “We’re in Flushing today to embrace Asian American owned small businesses and say to all New Yorkers: New York City’s Chinatowns are open for business.”
Business owners in the city’s three major Chinatowns — Flushing in Queens, Chinatown on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Sunset Park in Brooklyn — have experienced as much as a 40% drop in business in the weeks since the virus began to spread, according to city officials.
The virus, called COVID-19, originated over 7,000 miles away, in Wuhan, China. As of Thursday, 15 cases have been reported in the U.S., the majority of those involving people who recently traveled to Wuhan. So far, there have been no confirmed cases in New York.
Yet fears and misinformation about the outbreak have spread, often involving racist tropes about Chinese people as eaters of “weird” food and as filthy disease carriers. These xenophobic attacks have persisted since the 19th century, when Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were labeled as harbingers of the “yellow peril.”
In recent weeks, Chinese-owned businesses, especially restaurants, have reported precipitous declines in sales and patronage across the country — including in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu — and worldwide, such as in London and Paris.
Racist fears have kept visitors away from Chinatowns and, in late January, marred celebrations of the Lunar New Year in major U.S. cities.
“Attendance was depressed because of concern about coronavirus,” California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who represents parts of San Francisco, told HuffPost, before pointing out that the seasonal flu “is more of a threat than coronavirus.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far more Americans are regularly affected by the flu. So far this winter, at least 22 million people have had the flu, 210,000 have been hospitalized and 12,000 have died from its complications.
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman contributed reporting.