A Washington state man claims his wife and 8-year-old son were told to “get away” while they were browsing a food sample stand at Costco, over fears of the new Wuhan coronavirus.
Devin Cabanilla told Insider that he and his family were out for lunch and decided to stop by for some groceries. His son was wearing a face mask when his wife and son went to the sample stand.
The woman at the sample station, who was not a Costco employee, asked if they were from China before telling them to go away because she was afraid of being infected, he said.
Cabanilla said he reported the incident to a nearby supervisor and also reached out to Costco’s CEO about the incident. He also posted about the experience on Twitter.
“Ugh @Costco food sample lady told kid to get away because he may be ‘from China’ and was worrying about getting infected” by Wuhan coronavirus, he tweeted.
“Sad my boy has to receive racial stereotyping,” he continued in the tweet. “Ironically mask makes him safer to be around Told a store supe, he was cool to hear us.”
Cabanilla’s son had asked to wear the mask after learning about the virus and seeing other kids at school wear them, he explained to Insider.
Devin Cabanilla’s son.
Photo Courtesy of Devin Cabanilla
And while Cabanilla said he wasn’t particularly concerned about the virus, he was worried that an outbreak like this will cause people to be suspicious of Asian Americans.
“One thing that is in the back of my mind is that someone Asian is being judged in public right now,” he said. “In general, people are going to have assumptions or be casually careful around Asian people.”
He said this is the first incident his son experienced where he was judged for his perceived race. “What was interesting was his response was just so focused on how he looked,” Cabanilla said.
The father explained that he now has to “undo” the idea that the way his son looks may make other people uncomfortable.
“His two responses that I remember him saying were: did they really think I’m from China? Is it because of the way mom looks?” Cabanilla said.
Cabanillas wife is Korean-American and Cabanilla is a mix of several different ethnic backgrounds including Filipino, Mexican, Chinese, Native and white.
Patrick Callans, Executive Vice President of Administration for Costco told Insider that company executives spoke with Cabanilla’s family and that they have been very understanding.
“We are very sorry this incident occurred in our location,” Callans said. “The comments to the boy were made not by a Costco employee but by an employee of an independent demo company. The demo company is taking appropriate measures with its employees.”
According to King 5 News the woman was employed by Club Demonstration Services. The employer issued a statement on Wednesday apologizing for the incident.
The company said they would be providing employees with additional training “to ensure that we treat everyone with the sensitivity and respect they deserve, and will further educate our staff on the coronavirus to alleviate any fears or misperceptions,” according to King 5 News.
Cabanilla lives in Bellevue, Washington, where a third of the population is Asian-American. He said the school district has sent him alerts about the virus everyday. However, he said friends in other districts have not gotten those alerts.
Washington state had the first confirmed case of the virus in Snohomish County on January 21. According to Insider, the man in his 30s had travelled to Wuhan, China where the virus originated. There are only five confirmed cases across the country.
The novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV has spread to 17 countries, has killed 170 people and infected around 7,700 according to Insider.