Opinion: A cloud of smoke—Dialogue must continue for API leaders, hookah bar owners to clear the air

Frank Irigon August 19, 2015 0
Frank Irigon (right) speaks at a rally outside senior home Legacy House, and across the street from a hookah bar, on July 31, 2015. • Photo by Isaac Liu

Frank Irigon (right) speaks at a rally outside senior home Legacy House, and across the street from a hookah bar, on July 31, 2015. • Photo by Isaac Liu

Closing down the hookah bars is not going to close down crime in the Chinatown-International District. This neighborhood has been under siege for decades by crime. From prostitution to pick pockets, gambling and gangs, rapes and robbers, mayhem and murders, this litany can go on and on. And the City’s response has been tepid and does not tackle the root causes for these crimes and criminal activities and thus continues to keep this neighborhood’s residents, businesses, and visitors vulnerable. This neighborhood deserves better from the City, and we’d rather see their efforts in solving the murders of Benito Enriquez, who was fatally beaten to death near 5th Ave. and South Weller Street on June 29, 2015, after leaving a Kenny Chesney concert at Century Link Field, and the murder of Donnie Chin.

The mayor’s decision to close all hookah bars is lamentable, especially when Donnie’s death was used as one reason for doing it and consequently, it appears Asian Americans are against their East African owners. One race pitted against another. For this reason of racism, Cindy Domingo and I with the help of Nebil Mohammed, a hookah bar owner, organized a meeting between Asian American community leaders and activists and hookah bar owners and their supporters. We met on Thursday, August 13, at IDEA Space. Present were eight hookah bar owners and co-owners with their supporters, and there were 10 from our community.

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After the meeting one API community leader said:

“It was important to sit with the Hookah bar owners and to have a dialogue—outside of the City Council chambers. As many people pointed out, the conversation today is something that City policy makers should have done before the Mayor’s proposal—not as a result of it.

“After seeing the sign-on letter from the mayor’s office for the East African community leaders, I, too, am saddened to see how the issue is dividing communities, creating ‘sides’ with too many people who have already sacrificed and lost too much.”

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Another API community leader said: “I got a chance to hear their frustrations with getting SPD to address their public safety needs, not unlike what we have been experiencing. It is too bad that such a meeting was not able to take place within the East African communities as well.

“I think this meeting was also important for the hookah owners to know that, for whatever reasons these hookah lounges are attracting the less desirable elements around their establishments, they do need to do something about it. Not just the other East African communities, but also members of our communities have had enough.”

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I can honestly say that this is not about race but about being a responsible business owner, of taking responsibility for the bad behavior of his patrons outside his business and happening in front of Legacy House where our low-income, limited English speaking Asian seniors lived. Where they should be able to sleep in peace, live without fear, and enjoy the morning air. Instead our seniors are subjected to danger, are deprived of sleep, and cannot enjoy the morning’s blessings. And I can assure you that closing down the hookah bar is not a clashing of cultures, but about the criminal behaviors of some of the business’s clientele. We all should be good citizens and be civil towards one another. And our hope is that the good relations we have with the East African community does not disappear in a cloud of smoke.

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Developing: Investigation of Donnie Chin murder continues, community looks forward

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