‘A scary time for Asian-Americans right now’ — Rep. Rui Xu recounts harassment at sports bar in western Kansas

Rep. Rui Xu, the only Asian-American in the Kansas House of Representatives, was accosted on March 19 at a Russell, Kansas sports bar. This comes just days after the Atlanta-area spa shootings that resulted in eight people killed, six of whom were of Asian descent. File photo.

Rui Xu, a state rep whose district covers several smaller cities in northeast Johnson County, says he was accosted at a sports bar in Russell, Kan., Friday.

Xu, the only Asian-American in Kansas’ House of Representatives, went out for drinks and a bite to eat with a host from Smoky Hills PBS — a public television channel which broadcasts to the western half of Kansas — after being on one of the station’s shows earlier that evening.

The two-term Democrat from Westwood recounted the incident in a Twitter thread Friday night.

In it, Xu said a man already at the bar yelled at him almost immediately after Xu walked in and threatened to become violent.

Although Xu briefly acknowledged the man, Xu told the Shawnee Mission Post that he and his companion, the PBS host, found a booth at the back of the bar.

The pair ignored the man’s continued yelling, which included frequent profanities. Xu said the man attempted to find Xu in the bar and threatened to beat him up.

“He loses interest and leaves the bar I guess, but for a few minutes there I was really getting ready to fight or flight outta there. Especially with the Georgia story in the news, I didn’t know how this was going to go down,” Xu tweeted as part of his thread.

Bigger context

The incident comes as many Asian-Americans are on high alert following the deadly shootings in the Atlanta area March 16, which left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent.

Demonstrations nationwide over the weekend aimed to raise awareness of the increase in violence, threats and hate speech many Asian-Americans say they have experienced, especially in the past year as some politicians — most notably, former President Donald Trump — have blamed China for the global spread of COVID-19.

Xu said while hate crimes in general are down in the United States, hate crimes against Asian-Americans are up 150% — and while Asian-Americans across the U.S., including Xu, are acting cautiously, he said his constituents and other Johnson Countians should be aware of the issue.

“Just be aware that it’s happening, and it’s something that’s on our minds,” Xu said. “We’re trying not to let it affect our behavior or affect our activities that much, but you know when you’re driving around in areas that aren’t familiar to you, it’s something that we have to be extra cautious about.”

Xu said that on Friday the man appeared to begin harassing him because Xu was wearing a mask. Xu noted that he was one of the only people in the bar in Russell with a mask on that night.

But Xu also said he believes race played a role.

Despite the incident, Xu said others in the bar and locals he interacted with in Russell during his trip were “wonderful.”

The man eventually left the bar, and Xu said the waitresses apologized “profusely,” and some other customers apologized as well and said the man was not from the area.

“I just want to emphasize that the guy wasn’t for the area, and everybody who was from the area was amazing and kind and wonderful,” Xu said. “I certainly didn’t want to make it seem like I had anything against the town, which some people have given me that feedback.”