Deacon Paul Pham works on inventory and bookkeeping at his downtown restaurant, Hawaiian Express. “What’s been happening is really sad,” he said of the harassment and violence against the Asian American community. (Courtesy Deacon Paul Pham)
Deacon Paul Pham works on inventory and bookkeeping at his downtown restaurant, Hawaiian Express. “What’s been happening is really sad,” he said of the harassment and violence against the Asian American community. (Courtesy Deacon Paul Pham)
A couple weeks ago the windows were broken at Deacon Paul Pham’s downtown restaurant.

A friend’s store also saw its windows smashed.

“I assume it was because we are Asian,” said Deacon Pham, who serves the Vietnamese community at Immaculate Heart Parish in North Portland.

He was resolved not to give way to resentment, and instead continued to pray. “I remember Jesus’ suffering,” he said.

Then came the March 16 murders of eight people in Atlanta, with six Asian women among the victims.

Deacon Pham said it’s difficult to know how to reassure his community.

“What’s been happening is really sad. It’s not Christian teaching,” he said. “But we have to continue to strive to do our best.”

Father Ansgar Pham, pastor of Our Lady of La Vang in Happy Valley, the archdiocese’s largest parish, said his parishioners are worried. “Please pray for us,” he said.

The group Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Hate has documented incidents. They report that 1 in 4 young Asian American adults had been bullied or harassed since the pandemic began. Another survey found that 40% of Americans blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic, and a Pew study from last July found that 58% of Asian Americans say it has become more common for people to express racist views against Asians since the beginning of the pandemic. A significant percentage of the physical violence has targeted Asian Americans 60 and older.

Asian American Catholics — Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Zomi and others — are an important part of the Archdiocese of Portland, and Archbishop Alexander Sample issued a statement March 19.

“We have a lot of healing to do in our country and it begins with rejecting violence here in our community and seeking justice, peace and unity together in Christ,” he wrote.

His statement ended by saying, “Our hearts go out to all our Asian neighbors in our communities who have seen an upsurge in violence directed against them in this past year. We must learn to respect and defend the dignity of every human person, each created in the image and likeness of God.”

Catholic Charities of Oregon issued a statement March 18. “The growing anti-Asian sentiment and violence in our country continues to concern and sadden us. At Catholic Charities of Oregon we envision a society in which all people thrive — one where diversity is celebrated and the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life is recognized and protected,” it read in part.

On March 20, about 200 people gathered along downtown Portland’s waterfront for a candlelight vigil honoring the Atlanta victims and to show solidarity. Liying Zheng, president of the Vancouver Chinese Association, told the Oregonian, “We are here just to show our unity and to tell the world that we are part of America, we are not a target to be discriminated against.”

On March 21, there was a rally in Eugene, also to speak out against the rise in hate crimes over the last year.

Deacon Pham said he is grateful for the community’s support. He offered three good reasons Americans should all live in harmony. First, when we die, we all look the same to God. “If we understand that, why should we discriminate?” he asked.

Second, the violence against Asians — and other immigrants and refugees — goes against Christian teaching. “Jesus, Joseph and Mary were refugees in Egypt,” he said. “This goes against what we are living and learning and teaching as Christians.”

Third, other than Native Americans, everyone in the United States is an immigrant or refugee. “We are the melting pot, with so many flavors of so many races,” he said. “If we think of that, we see we’re all in the same boat.”

His restaurant, Hawaiian Express on Fourth Avenue in downtown Portland, serves Asian and Hawaiian food and has devoted customers.

“The couple who runs this place are my absolute favorite,” reads one typical review. “They are always so kind, generous, and welcoming. Second, their food comes fast, hot and delicious every time.”

That customer loyalty — and take-out orders — probably helped the restaurant survive the pandemic. The restaurant also emerged undamaged from the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

“So this was disappointing,” said Deacon Pham. “But we cannot pay back these people with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That hurts us.”