An international writer visiting to speak at an Auckland Writers Festival event about anti-Asian racism has been left shocked and upset at racial harassment leveled at her in a local restaurant.
Australian-based journalist Louisa Lim, who has had work published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian shared details of the incident while on a panel at the Auckland Writers Festival named Seeing Yellow earlier today.
The panel looked to explore the “yellow peril” narrative and the resurgence of xenophobia and anti-Asian rhetoric since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lim told the Herald the incident happened on Saturday night at a Chinese noodle shop close to Aotea Square, where the writers’ festival is being held. She did not wish to disclose the name of the restaurant.
“It must have been 7.30pm, and I was just eating noodles, and these two guys came in and they were quite loud,” Lim told the Herald.
“And one of them said really loudly, ‘A good Asian is a contradiction in terms’.”
Lim said she didn’t just want the comment to “just go by”.
“I thought it was really offensive, so I said - and I was quite polite - ‘Do you realise that’s a really offensive thing to say’?”
Lim said the man simply tried to laugh off the comment, brushing it aside as if it were merely a joke. He attempted to claim that “no one here is offended” and questioned why she was so “serious” about it.
She replied that she was half-Chinese and that she was offended, which spurred a back-and-forth argument that quickly started to escalate.
“And at a certain point, I said to him, ‘I hear that you’re not - I hear that you’re not apologising to me, and I hear that you understand that it was racist and you’re not sorry’,” Lim said.
“And that was when he started saying, ‘F*** off’.”
At this point, Lim said an intoxicated woman completely separate from the pair chimed in, asking the journalist where she was from.
“And I said, ‘Well, I live in Australia’, and she started shouting at me, ‘F*** off, go back to Australia’, and I, you know, I was shocked,” Lim said.
“I think I said something like, ‘I’ve been in New Zealand three days, and I really, you know, I don’t feel welcome here when people are shouting at me to f*** off’.”
The woman’s partner bundled her out of the restaurant as she started to become more and more irate.
“It was an incredibly unpleasant, aggressive atmosphere,” Lim described.
She was shocked no one in the restaurant said or did anything.
Lim said it had been decades since she had people shouting at her to go home, and she hadn’t had the experience in Australia before.
“After the panel, a number of the audience members came up to me and people were really nice, and people kept coming up and [apologising], saying how sorry they were, but [I] also had a number of people who came up to me who said ‘that happened to me a lot’, which shocked me,” Lim said
“You know, I was asking the other panel members if it’s just something that some people [experience] a lot and don’t talk about, or they just got really unlucky. It was a really unpleasant experience, and it was very upsetting.”
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon - who was also on the panel at today’s festival - said Lim was “very brave” to confront the person making racist comments and he “admired her strength”.
“It’s unfortunate no one stood with her. It was a surprise to us, especially since this happened in a Chinese restaurant,” Foon said.
“I don’t condone this awful racist behaviour - it says we still have a lot to do.”
Panel curator Chris Tse agreed, explaining the entire reason the Seeing Yellow panel was put together was to “have robust discussions about things that affect the Asian diaspora in Aotearoa, New Zealand, including racism”.
“This is an example of why we have to continue having these conversations,” Tse said.
Kathleen Drumm, chief executive of the Auckland Writers Festival, said the programme aimed to provide a platform for discussions like these to help gain a “more nuanced understanding of the world”.
“We are greatly saddened to hear about Louisa’s experience,” Drumm said.