Farmington area residents see COVID-19 related bias

Wen Benko
Wen Benko has been active in the community through the Farmington Area Jaycees. (Contributed)

Farmington Hills resident Wen Benko works two jobs to make ends meet, one of them at Thai Princess, a Royal Oak restaurant that was affected by Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) even before Michigan’s state-wide dining room closure.

“We noticed a slowdown when the coronavirus was just exiting Thailand,” she said, estimating the restaurant lost about 70 percent of its business. “I feel like people are staying away because its Thai food.”

Benko said people may think that the restaurant ships in food from Thailand, but Thai Princess sources produce and other groceries locally. “We cook food fresh and make it from scratch.”

She believes the restaurant will be okay. Thai Princess has very low overhead and a small staff. Yesterday, the restaurant began offering only carry-out service.

In downtown Farmington, the bias was more personal.

A Fresh Thyme Farmers Market cashier who is Asian American and a local graduate recently found herself on the receiving end of accusations from an angry customer. Farmington Mayor Sara Bowman related the incident at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Bowman said the customer, who was in line at a register, accused the cashier of being the reason COVID-19 is in the U.S. and the root cause of the illness, along with other slurs.

“That isn’t so much the part that upsets me,” Bowman said. “I understand there are people who have ignorant ideas. What bothered me from that story were the other customers in line who heard this happening, and no one said anything.”

Bowman recalled that many changes came about because of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including “If you see something, say something.” Today, she said, that motto should be, “If you hear something, say something.”

“I think we really need to be there for each other,” she said. “We need to put prejudices aside, this is so much bigger than all of that.”

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