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A Side of Chips

It’s been a hard couple of months. None of us are quite sure what to do, what to say, or, really, what to think at this point. I live in a nice, quiet neighborhood to the west of Minneapolis, and am a proud father of three daughters. I currently own a small diner near the Walker Art Center. The diner itself is nothing grand, but it’s doing well enough to keep us all warm and comfortable. It’s been here for ten years, ever since I came to the States, and started building my life here.

I haven’t been to work for three months. I’ve been trying to keep the family afloat with running occasional delivery services but the savings I’ve held onto for so long have substantially dwindled. I get a few calls from regular customers once in a while, asking for their normal fried fish with a side of chips, but those come few in between. I can’t afford the ingredients, either, my normal orders from the local markets were cancelled and have stopped coming in due to the pandemic and the lack of imports. Buying and selling retail is just a suicide game, and I can’t lose the diner. I can’t afford to.

It was a good day when Mayor Frey gave permission for small businesses to return. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I do remember calling up my wife, and packing all my three girls into the minivan, and driving straight to the diner. We didn’t have any customers that day, of course, but it was nice to be able to work again, to come back and make sure that everything was still standing, and to mend anything that wasn’t. We officially reopened the next day. There were no normal rush hours, and the most we had was three customers at a time, but it was something and I was glad for it. We were slowly returning back to normal. It was nice, you know, to have the safety of normalcy.

And then the protests started. I closed the diner that day. My wife, Charlene, and I both joined in on the two early protests on Chicago Avenue and before the Police Department, and brought our kids with us. We both felt that the kids should be able to understand the reality of the situation, instead of being shielded from the nastier things in life, and know that there are so many good people in the world who would fight for what’s right. We were taking precautions too, making sure we were wearing masks, and bringing some of the ones we picked up in Costco for anyone who needs one marching outside. Yeah, it definitely complicated the entire COVID-19 situation, but it was a necessary movement, a much awaited one that I felt responsible to take part in.

On Thursday, May 28, our diner was looted. Looted is a light word. Our windows were smashed in, the neon signs were ripped down, some of our tiles inside were somehow cracked, and most of the dry supply we had inside were gone. I didn’t know what to do. Charlene was crying. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to think.

I’m a brown person living in a white person’s world. I’m not black, and I can’t pretend I understand everything they go through. But as an immigrant, and as a person of color, I try my hardest to empathize. I understand the movement needed spark, it needed something big enough to get enough attention for what it’s worth. But last week, I had to file for unemployment, something I haven't done in my 20 years here.


Written by: Cam Nguyen

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