CHICAGO (CBS) — Controversy over a sign sparked a protest in Wheaton Saturday, with organizers saying racism is not welcome in their community.
And CBS 2’s Sandra Torres reports that dozens are fighting back to sternly show that “Wheaton welcomes all.”
The protest was in response to recent reports that several signs welcoming immigrants to the community have been stolen from people’s front yards.
“There has been a nerve that’s been touched this week,” said Angela D’onofrio, the protest’s organizer. “We don’t agree. That’s not what Wheaton is about, and we want a diverse community.”
Some point to a sign placed inside a former Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Wheaton as a further example. Although someone tried to cover it up, the sign reads, “We went back to Vietnam.”
“To the naked eye, it looks like the owners of the restaurant put it up there, and they did not put that up there,” Jessica Prewitt said, another one of the protest’s organizers.
The restaurant owners relocated across the street. Their former landlord, Robert Sandberg, says he posted the sign because the owners owed him money and lied to him about moving to Vietnam.
“People were coming in here — ‘where did the Vietnamese restaurant go?’ I said, ‘they want to Vietnam’ — that’s what we told them, and that’s what I put on the sign,” Sandberg said.
Protesters lined the intersection of Main and Front St., holding signs that read “Diversity is Our Strength” and “Love the Skin Your Neighbor’s In.”
Community members stressed the protest was more than just a landlord dispute. “Although we were initially sparked to organize based on troubling expressions of hate by one man, [the] event is about much more. We as a community reject racism, discrimination, bigotry, and hate in our community,” the protest’s official statement said.
Sandberg says people are telling him he’s making it look as if Wheaton “hates Asians.” Something he says is completely untrue.
Prewitt said she wants Sandberg to remove the sign and issue an apology. And if the sign is not removed, community members say they will continue to organize.
The owners of the restaurant did not participate in the protest, but issued a statement that said, in part:
“On behalf of the Luong-Loi Family, I want to thank Jessica and everyone here for their support and concern on this matter. Thank you to all our customers, the City of Wheaton, and the entire community for your continued support of our family and business.
“As for Mr. Sandburg and the “We went back to Vietnam” sign: We want to thank Mr. Sandburg for allowing Luong-Loi to lease his property for the past twenty-five plus years. We have no other obligations to Mr. Sandburg. In early of 2014 we saw that the building across the street was for sale by the City of Wheaton. We decided to invest in the community and purchased the building so that we could build out a new and nicer facility for our customers. Wheaton has always been a good home for us and we’re excited to have a great customer base! My parents, Vien & Hong, and the entire Luong-Loi staff went to Vietnam with no tentative return date while I worked through renovations of the new building at 111 Main Street. Since we re-opened, our customers have given us a lot of positive feedback about our new building.”