Illinois Realtor says she was told to 'go back to your country' at Springfield hardware store
While many honored the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and called for racial healing on Monday, one Springfield woman said she endured a shopping experience that puts a spotlight on anti-Asian racism.
Xuna Hu, a 31-year-old realtor and Chinese immigrant, said as she was shopping at Lowe's on Wabash Avenue and picked up two fire pits with the intent to buy them. Realizing they were too heavy, she put them down and stood by while calling her father to help her load them in a cart, but while waiting, said she was harassed.
“A lady came over with her daughter, a Lowe's employee, while pointing to the fire pits and said to me ‘Hey I want one of those,’" Hu recounted. “I said, 'Ma’am, I'm taking both, I'm just waiting for my dad to come over so he can help me load my cart and pay for it.' She then said ‘Well, have you already paid?’ I said ‘No, not yet,’ so she said ‘Well, I'm taking one from you.'"
At that point, Hu said, she decided to offer the woman one of the fire pits.
“I was like all right, I’ll just give you one then," Hu said, but the woman responded that since Hu hadn't paid for the fire pits, she could take one because "this is how it works here."
After more words, Hu said the woman, who was not identified, yelled "'go back to your country.'"
Hu said she took out her cellphone and began recording after the exchange. In the video posted to Tik Tok and Facebook that has since gone viral, Hu confronts the woman at a register and asks for an apology for which the woman declined.
An unidentified Lowe's employee became involved when he saw that Hu was recording and asked her to delete the video. Hu refused.
“In this situation, if I say something with my mouth it’s not gonna be stronger evidence than having a video. No matter how much I say, they don’t have to believe me but if I have proof through the video, they can’t deny it at all,” Hu said.
As the conversation between Hu and the Lowe's worker continued, the woman who shouted at Hu left the store. Hu said the worker then demanded she move on and not make the situation bigger than necessary,
“They said ‘Hey she left, there’s no point in talking to us about it anymore, just pay your money and leave,'" Hu said. During that moment she said she felt helpless.
“I thought the staff came toward me to help me with the situation but ... I didn’t get any help. It was pretty sad.”
According to Hu, State Rep Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, saw the viral video and started a petition on Change.org that urged Lowe's to issue an apology to Hu and require racial sensitivity training for employees. As of Saturday, Mah’s petition had over 8,000 signatures.
In a statement two days after the incident, Lowe’s spokesperson Steve Salazar said the company was "appalled to hear about this experience. At Lowe’s, discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. We spoke to Ms. Hu and apologized, letting her know we are taking swift action to address the matter. Our intent is to always ensure customers feel valued, respected and welcome. We are committed to creating a safe and open environment for all customers.”
The Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network also helped to circulate the petition.
“We were saddened to hear that this had happened because we know how damaging racism and xenophobia is, and we know how these incidents impact whole communities,” a network statement said. “Unfortunately, we were not surprised. Incidents of hate, and particularly anti-Asian hate, have been on the rise across the country and we have seen other anti-immigrant sentiments here already.”
Veronica Espina, the network's founder, said it was Hu's right to record the situation. Instead of putting the victim of the attack on trial, employees should have stood up for her.
“It has become necessary for persons of color and the targets of this kind of treatment to have a record of what happens to them, to protect themselves. The reality is that without some record, reports of their experiences are often discounted or ignored, and It results in further marginalization and victimization.”
Hu said before the incident she had never experienced racism so bluntly.
“When she said that to me, I thought, ‘Oh my God, the things I see on the news are actually happening to me right now. What do I do?’ I thought ‘I can’t just let this go because if I keep my mouth shut that means I’m giving her permission to say that to me and if she said it to me, she will say it to my kids and anyone else who looks like me.'”
Hu said her family and friends were not surprised by what happened and told her they frequently experienced similar treatment but often couldn't respond because of the language barrier.
"That made me really sad to hear because due to the language barrier we have to deal with racism this way. So when this happened to me, I was standing up not only for myself but for the people who can’t fight back because they don’t know how,” she said.
Espina said Hu’s video brought attention to a problem faced by communities of color and should serve as a teaching moment.
“All of us in the community have a role in opposing and preventing these kinds of incidents," Espina said, "and videos like this are instructive to understand the kind of treatment she and others have too often received, and the responses they get when they try to stand up for themselves.”
Espina said the incident highlights the necessity of SIAN.
“Springfield, unfortunately, was identified a few years ago as one of the most segregated cities in America. Incidents like this serve as important reminders for why SIAN and many others worked to pass a Welcoming City resolution for the city of Springfield - a resolution that simply states that immigrants are both welcome and already an important part of our community,” she said. “This would be an important time for the Springfield City Council to pass the resolution and send a message of goodwill.”
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Illinois woman told to 'go back to your country' at Lowe's, she says