Since emergency anti-coronavirus measures went into place, Vietnamese shops across the Czech Republic have been offering refreshments to health and rescue service workers. Hundreds of cornershop and restaurant owners have put up signs featuring red hearts to signal they are taking part in this act of solidarity.
“As of 18 March 2020, we are giving our customers sewn face masks! One per person! Coffee, beverages and instant noodle soup for healthcare workers, police officers, firefighters. FREE OF CHARGE. THANK YOU. Together we will win the battle against Coronavirus!”
So reads a sign typical of those posted nationwide by Vietnamese-owned retailers looking to do their part to both curb the spread of the coronavirus and thank those working on the frontlines.
The Vietnamese are among the largest and most visible ethnic minority groups in the largely homogenous Czech Republic. Many arrived here in the 1970s or 1980s, when Vietnam was looking to bolster its skilled workforce by sending thousands of students and guest workers abroad to “friendly Socialist countries”.
When the Iron Curtain disappeared, many stayed rather than return to Vietnam, which remains communist. While their Czech-born offspring now work in all manner of fields, the majority of cornershops and greengrocers throughout the country are Vietnamese-run.
In recent years, there has also been a mushrooming of Vietnamese noodle shops in Prague and other big cities, serving up hot bowls of Pho. Czech Radio spoke to Tuan Anh Nguyen, the son of a restaurateur in Náchod, central Bohemia, who is giving away meals to first responders and others.
“We are doing this event as a thank-you to first responders. They can choose a meal from our menu online and we will prepare it for them. Or they can come to restaurant as usual to order, and we will make it for them.”
Even before Vietnamese cornershops began offering free refreshments to Integrated Emergency Services workers, volunteer seamstresses from the community set up a coordinated effort to give out facemasks, via a Facebook group of young mothers called “Làm cha mẹ CZ”, or “parenting CZ”.
Czech Radio spoke to another young Vietnamese man as he handed out homemade facemasks at his family’s cornershop.
“My mum has been giving them out mainly to older people, for example grannies, who don’t have their own. … ”
While Vietnamese-run grocers are offering facemasks to customers and passersby, Làm cha mẹ CZ has delivered thousands to hospitals and clinics, sewn by about 200 members of the group.
Sadly, Czech media have reported that since the coronavirus outbreak ethnic Asians have encountered hostility in public settings – an unfortunate phenomenon that is hardly unique to this country. Perhaps the obvious goodwill of the Vietnamese community will help in the fight against racism as well as the coronavirus.