Last updated 3 days ago
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The invisible struggle of the Asian American small-business owner

Roy Kim knew back in December that something had changed. The operating manager of Dong Il Jang, the 41-year-old restaurant in Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood and one of the city’s longest-running Korean restaurants, was noticing declining clientele, beginning with their Chinese regulars.

The profits he’d expected the business to make during the Christmas rush never materialized, and the loss set the tenor for what was to come. As news of the coronavirus began to radiate out from China and dominate the news cycle, fear of its spread in the US followed.

Koreatown’s small businesses, like in other Asian enclaves across the country, began to feel the economic fallout at least a month before shutdown orders began in March, as associations between Asians and contagion began to foment. Alongside media outlets singling out Asians as the “face” of the coronavirus in early coverage, the use of racist termslike “China virus” has also grown, further linking the virus to anything and anyone with Chinese identity — and, by extension, anyone who can be mistaken for Chinese.

After the city closed dining rooms twice, first in March and again in July, Kim and his parents — who founded the restaurant in 1979 — made the decision to close the business for good in August. It joins a steadily growing list of longtime and celebrated Koreatown restaurants that have shuttered due to the pandemic.

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