Cat cafe founder defies anti-Asian racist bullying to help animals

Ha’s story can seem like an unbridled success. But while pursuing her passion to help cats, Ha — who was born in the U.S. and identifies as Korean American — has had to contend with racist comments and bullying both online and in person.“At Meow Parlour, a lot of people will ask me, ‘Oh, I see that you’re an immigrant. Did you bring (the cat cafe concept) from your home country?’ she said. “I’m like, ‘My home country is New Jersey.’”

It gets even worse.

“I’ve had people who asked me if we opened up near Chinatown so that people could take home the cats to eat them,” she said. “At the end of the day, you can't pay me enough money for us to tolerate degrading things. If that's how you want to treat people, you don't belong here.”During the pandemic, Ha has been posting Instagram stories involving her family. Her parents, who are immigrants from South Korea, have been helping her foster cats and make products like face masks and cat beds to help support her businesses, which she’s highlighted online.

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“They’ve been doing this for the past year, which has been incredible,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have parents like that, but people will comment, ‘Oh, your dad probably eats the cats. He’s excited because you brought home dinner.’ It truly sucks.”