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‘Am I safe?’: Palm Desert restaurant owner confronts anti-Asian verbal attack

Stella Kim came to the United States from South Korea more than four decades ago.

She's the longtime owner of two Palm Desert restaurants, including Musashi on Highway 111. That's where she said a group of women customers Monday night became disgruntled, then racist and hateful.

"She picked on my English," Kim said. "They were trying to imitate something – I said, 'Wow, this is unbelievable.'"

Server Nathan Lee was waiting on the group's table that night. He said the three ladies stayed 30 minutes past closing time.

"When we finally asked them to leave, that triggered them to start yelling and threatening us," Lee said. "They started targeting our owner here, saying racial slurs, mimicking her language."

The incident seriously shook Kim, who her family describes as incredible strong. "That night I was thinking, 'Do I really belong to this country?'" Kim said. "'Am I safe?'"

As instances of racist hate and xenophobic harassment against Asian Americans spike nationwide, including six Asian women killed last week at spas in Atlanta, and countless other violent crimes, Lee said this pales in comparison.

"I've seen other people have it way worse than me," he said. "I've seen killings; I've seen beatings. We got off easy, to be honest."

But Kim's daughter and Musashi hostess Rose Lee said no act of hate is too small to speak up about. "Verbal harassment and verbal attacks are just as hurtful and they really traumatize people," she said.

She said has a message for the group of racist customers: "If they could please not dehumanize us and see us as individuals who are contributing to the community – my mom has this restaurant and she is serving the people of this town," Lee said.

Kim is asking for respect, and demanding the the Asian hate stop.

"We are all the same people," Kim said. "Well, we look different, but we are all the same citizens of this country."

Similar to many other anti-Asian incidents, Kim said she contemplated not speaking up. She hopes there won't be any retaliation.

News Channel 3 reached one of the customers involved – she did not want to make a statement.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

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