How to Support the Asian-American Community in DC
From AAPI nonprofits and restaurants to artists and small businesses.
On Tuesday, a mass shooting at two massage parlors in Atlanta claimed eight lives, six of which were Asian women. This violence serves as a tragic apex of anti-Asian sentiment that has been coaxed along in recent months with notions of the “Chinese” COVID-19 virus, and in centuries past with legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Racially or identity-based discrimination, much less violence, is never acceptable, but not uncommon. For some members of the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community, however, it is also a part of doing business.
“These events are nothing new,” says James Beard nominated Chef Erik Bruner-Yang. “Maketto was broken into three times in the last calendar year, and our financials suffered gravely when the virus was first becoming known and it was very much branded as an Asian problem.”
Lucky Danger chef and co-owners Andrew Chiou also acknowledges that anti-Asian sentiment is not just a recent development, and something he experienced plenty being born and raised in Texas with immigrants parents from Taiwan.
“As a first-generation Asian American, I have experienced racist comments and stereotypes my entire life,” he says. “But I also benefit from access to a broader worldview and an appreciation for certain things that others might take for granted. At minimum, the murders in Atlanta remind us that words have consequences—often costly ones.”
Resilience, however, is endemic to many Asian cultures, and continues to serve as a driving force behind many AAPI businesses. “Violence against Asian Americans is racism, period,” says Sharon Cao, co-founder of virtual party kit company Happied. “As a company that is Black- and Asian-owned, we couldn’t just sit on the sidelines. We wanted to make a difference in the best way we know how: providing a safe space for folks to have conversations about racism. Connecting over food and drink is a shared experience in Asian culture and this happy hour reflects that.”
And while recent events may have catalyzed a renewed conversation around how folks can support AAPI businesses in DC and beyond, Bruner-Yang reminds us that the work needed to eradicate racism does not have an ending point. “In the moments right after tragedy, I tend to get a lot of questions from folks about what they can do to help—but look at what’s been going on for the last several years,” Bruner-Yang says. “We’ve been asking people to read the materials, check their biases, to do the work that you have to do to examine your own life for as long as I can remember. This can’t be a conversation that only flairs up when the headlines deem it important.”
As the nation continues to grapple with its codified commitment of justice and equality for all, we as individuals can support DC’s AAPI community. “Right now, it is important that we listen and learn,” Chiou concludes. “We need to listen to the victims’ families as they remember and honor their loved ones. We need to learn more about the social, historical, and systemic root causes that led us to this moment.”
Luckily, in one of the more diverse cities of the United States, there are plenty of opportunities to support AAPI-owned and operated restaurants, businesses, and nonprofits right in Washington DC. We’ve rounded up a list of the places and ways that you might be able to make a difference.
Donate your time and money to a local nonprofit or advocacy group
You can find a wide range of nonprofits and organizations in DC and across the United States that seek to advance equality and progress among the AAPI community. Asian Women in Business has rounded up a particularly solid list, though there are many others.
Support the missions of Asian American Government Executives Network (AAGEN)—which is to promote and expand Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ leadership in government—and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which tackles issues of importance including anti-Asian violence prevention/race relations, census, immigration, language access, television diversity, and voting rights.
Other groups that seek to increase representation include the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, a non-partisan, nonprofit educational corporation with the goal of increasing the participation of Asian Pacific Americans in public policy on a national level. Plus, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is the first and only national organization of Asian Pacific American Union members that organizes and works with workers, many of them immigrants, to build the labor movement and address exploitative conditions in the garment, electronics, hotel and restaurant, food processing, and healthcare industries.
If you’re interested in meeting like-minded professionals in this space, look into the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL), which conducts monthly forums and workshops on issues of interest and concern to the APA community or the DC chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, a nonprofit that cultivates, supports, and promotes Asian American leaders.
To learn from one of the longest-standing nonprofits in this space, look into the DC-based Organization of Chinese Americans, founded in 1973, that includes more than 50 chapters and affiliates around the country to empower the next generation of AAPI leaders.
Stop AAPI Hate offers resources in 11 languages to help you report incidents of Asian hate or violence you may bear witness to. The nonprofit uses the community reporting tool to aggregate the data needed to ensure better protection, education, and policies. Asian Americans Advancing Justice also hosts a virtual training that reviews the five strategies for intervention and how to ensure your own safety while taking action on behalf of others.
Support these AAPI-owned restaurants
Renowned Burmese restaurant Thamee is a family affair, run by mother and daughter team Jocelyn Law-Yone and Simone Jacobson. Chef Tim Ma is no stranger to opening successful restaurants, but Lucky Danger (whose recent success has catalyzed a second location in Arlington) is a bit different. Ma sought to elevate the concept of Chinese takeaway food, and has done so by combining his classical training with traditional Chinese dishes. Ma is also behind concepts like Laoban Dumplings and American Son, the restaurant in the Eaton hotel.
The team behind Daikaya Group (Katsuya Fukushima, Daisuke Utagawa, and Yama Jewayni) has created a veritable restaurant empire in the DC area. Any of the restaurants will satisfy even the most pressing of ramen cravings, and at Daikaya’s mini mart, you can find a wide range of Asian grocery items.
For additional Japanese options, look no further than the renowned Sushi Taro in Logan Circle and Roll’d Sushi in Arlington, both the product of Michelin-starred chef Nobu Yamazaki. Another incredible option is Santouka, which opened its first restaurant nearly four decades ago in Sapporo, Japan and just opened a new location in Tyson's Boro, delighting diners with with Hokkaido-style ramen and Japanese karaage-style fried chicken.
Whether you’re looking for fast-casual Korean food or trying to recreate Korean barbecue at home, Seoulspice in Noma has you covered. Or check out Mandu in Mt. Vernon Triangle, which specializes in homestyle Koreans cooking and the brunch menu is a must-try.
For some award-winning food, head to Rooster & Owl in Shaw where husband and wife team Yuan Tang (the chef) and Carey Tang (the general manager) bring elevated American cuisine into a beautiful space without feeling pretentious. Of course, Erik Bruner-Yang is well known for
Maketto, a combination restaurant, cafe, and shopping experience all in one airy, multi-level space. For another contemporary experience, head to Moon Rabbit at The Wharf, where Kevin Tien is dishing out innovative Vietnamese food that reflects his upbringing.
Another family-inspired spot is Mama Chang in Fairfax, which celebrates the women from Peter Chang’s family and features Hunan, Szechuan, Hubei, and home-style Chinese cooking and recipes. Of course, there are plenty of Asian-owned businesses in Chinatown, but Reren Lamen & Bar stands out from the crowd, where ramen is the main draw. Chris Zhu is the powerful force behind not one, but two Chinese mainstays in the DC area, including Han Palace in Tysons and China Garden in Rockville.
For Thai food, look for Soi 38 in the West End, where Dia Khanthongthip creates street food and creative cocktails, and Baan Siam in Mt. Vernon Triangle, where Chef Jeeraporn “P' Boom” Poksupthong brings traditional Thai recipes from her mother and grandmother to her kitchen in DC. For Laotian food, Thip Kao in Columbia Heights has introduced diners to crispy pig ears and fish sauce caramel from chef Seng Luangrath.
Patronize these other small businesses
Shopkeepers on H Street is a one-stop shop created by Seda Nek, offering a retail experience, cafe, and grocery store all in one setting.
If you’re looking to support local dessert bakers, head to one of the several locations of Ice Cream Jubilee, a passion project that was born when Victoria Lai started making ice cream in her kitchen over a decade ago. Today, she’s sending pints of ice cream to people’s homes across the country and DC residents of course, can actually visit a location in-person, checking out flavors like Thai Iced Tea, Citrus Sichuan Peppercorn, Matcha Green Tea, Red Bean Almond Cookie, and Roasted Barley Tea.
Sharon Cao and April Johnson are the two powerhouses behind Happied, a COVID-born concept that creates virtual social experiences via a kit that gets mailed to you and your friends. The events in a box are food and beverage-centric, and Happied also hosts Race, Equity and Inclusion Social Hours, which helps participants facilitate change in their organizations through guided communal conversations.