A New Beginning

A New Beginning
David Rasavong and his wife, Anna Nguyen, cut the ribbon opening their new restaurant, Love & Thai. On the left is Pao Yang, president and CEO of the Fresno Center, and on the right is Fresno City Council Member Luis Chavez. Photo by Peter Maiden

In early 2023, a Fresno restaurant was forced to shut down when it was bombarded by baseless racist accusations. Several months later and after much heartache, it reopened with a new name and a new outlook.

Love & Thai, formerly known as Tasty Thai, is a family-run Fresno business that blew up on social media in May of last year. After being open only a few months, it was forced to shut down when Maria Garcia, via TikTok, falsely accused the restaurant of using dog meat. Although the accusation was quickly proven wrong, the damage had already been done; it seems that racists don’t really care about facts.

The Tasty Thai family received a seemingly endless wave of hate and death threats from people who blindly believed bigoted slander. For the family’s safety, the restaurant was forced to close. David Rasavong had to watch the dream of his immigrant parents collapse.

Although some were quick to attack Rasavong and his family, other members of the community offered their support. Organizations such as the Fresno Center and the LACF (Laotian Community of Fresno) reached out to Rasavong and helped him connect with local law enforcement and take steps to recover.

On Nov. 3, the community joined Rasavong and his family at the grand opening of their new location. This location sports a different name, Love & Thai, and a fortified mindset of unity and culture for a family restaurant in Fresno. The name is meant to emphasize the love Rasavong’s family puts into the food and the love received from the community.

People gathered at the ribbon cutting for Love & Thai on that warm fall morning to celebrate with the family and remind them that they are an appreciated part of the Fresno community. Leaders including Pao Yang, president of the Fresno Center; Diane Phakonekham, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California; Efrain Botello-Cisneros from the State Attorney General’s Office; and Khampha Thephavong, executive director of the LACF, spoke in support of the Rasavong family. They touched on the hate incident and how painful and damaging it was to the family, as well as to the people of Fresno.

Fresno City Council Member Luis Chavez called the reopening a “story about resilience” following a “vile and hateful” incident.

Rasavong also shared his perspective. “It’s a time that when I look back, it doesn’t feel real. When you have people that have such disgust for you and have such disgusting accusations, it is hard to get out of that feeling…it’s not something I would wish for anyone.”

It was a dark time for Rasavong and his family, having to shut down his parents’ dream while also facing such hatred over false and racist claims. It was unimaginable.

Rasavong stressed how incredible and world changing the local support was. “Once the word got out, once people started to realize what actually happened—the amount of love and kindness we received, that is something I wish for everyone.”

He went on to thank his wife, the community, local organizations, the Fresno Police Department, Council Member Chavez and the Mayor’s Office for connecting with him and offering reinforcement and kindness. He also thanked the local media for allowing his family to “spread the love” and share their story.

The new name, Love & Thai, is all about that—spreading love in our community.”Today marks the end of a chapter filled with hate and the beginning of a new one that’s filled with love,” said Rasavong.

Hate, love and strength in community. At its core, that is what this story is about. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia and hate will always exist in some form. Sometimes the call comes from inside the house.

Being part of a community comes with responsibility. We watch out for each other. We lend support when possible. We connect with one another.

The Central Valley, just like this country, is incredibly diverse. We must be willing to learn about other cultures, connect over similarities and respect our differences. We can fight harmful stereotypes and stand together.

If you have the ability to help someone when they are being a victim of a hate crime or incident, speak up: Every voice makes a difference.

*****

Paulina Cruz is a former fellow with the Community Alliance newspaper. She is a Mexican immigrant currently attending Fresno State, working on an anthropology major with a minor in psychology. She spends her free time writing poetry or painting.

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