Asian business group helps members weather crime

By Aldo Jurado and Juan Baeza / New Mexico News Port

“It’s been a tough past few weeks,” says Dipo Alam, an Indonesian American who owns three different restaurant concepts with locations all over New Mexico. One of his restaurants near Cottonwood Mall was burgled in February. Earlier this year, a location in Santa Fe was robbed by a man wielding an AR-style semi-automatic rifle. 

“He took like 60 bucks,” Alam says about the small amount of cash the thief got away with—most customers pay with cards or mobile payment systems.

Asian American business owners interviewed say they’re unsettled by crime in New Mexico at the same time as Asian-American hate incidents are on the rise country-wide. 

“The Asian community felt like they had to constantly respond to break-ins and murders,” says Kristelle Siarza, the volunteer executive director of the Asian Business Collaborative

Hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 339% last year, a dramatic spike that advocates and activists say are linked to political rhetoric blaming Asians for the spread of COVID-19.  More than 6,000 incidents were reported in 2021, according to a report by Stop AAIP Hate

The crime rate in Albuquerque is often about twice the national average, frustrating residents and business owners. 

“We call 911 but it tends to be too late by the time they get there,” Alam says. He says having more police officers on the street would help everyone, not just the Asian American businesses.

But there have been problems within the police force. In 2021 a new recruit said she was forced to resign because of persistent discrimination—including being called “Cadet COVID.” She is suing the department, which has denied the accusations.

Trust is an issue between the police and the community, Siarza says, and that’s something the Asian Business Collaborative is working on. The group was formed to help local businesses cope with the stresses brought on by the pandemic.

Community outreach and enhancing trust is one of the goals of the city’s new Community Safety department, which was designed in part to improve interactions with law enforcement.

Part of the process is assuring business owners that it’s okay to call the police if they don’t feel safe at home or at their business, Siarza says. But sometimes it’s hard to make connections.

First-generation Asian Americans are particularly vulnerable because they are less likely to trust people outside of their close family and friend network, Siarza says.

“ABC gives them a representative that speaks the same language as them. Giving them a cultural connection to rely on,” Siarza says. 

Community members can help, too, by taking steps to understand other cultures.

“Learn just a word or two in their language,” Siarza says. 

And she recommends just being a good neighbor. “Treat them with kindness and ask if you can help in any way you can.”

Aldo Jurado and Juan Baeza are reporters for New Mexico News Port and can be reached at nmnewsport@gmail.com.