A small business owner in Toronto says she was banned from participating in a popular flea market, after she asked the organizer to spell her Vietnamese name correctly.
Using the hashtag #StopAsianHate, Aimi Tran recently shared a 14-minute video on her Instagram page detailing experiences of alleged bullying, abusive language and what she calls unfair treatment from the market organizer, back in 2019.
“I was sick to my stomach for months,” says Tran. “Debating for so long if I should stand up for myself publicly.”
In her video, Tran chose not to identify the market, but local artisans who allege they have similar experiences have since identified it as the Trinity Bellwoods Flea Market, and the organizer as Felicia Laplume.
Tran confirmed to CityNews that Trinity Bellwoods Flea Market is the organization she was talking about.
“I was silenced and kicked out of a local market because this person couldn’t fix one little typo,” says Tran. “If I had a more normal or more generic spelling name… would I have been treated differently?”
Tran is the owner of @inkbymi, a small paper card and calligraphy business she started in August 2019. At the time, she applied to participate in a number of markets in Toronto. She says she was thrilled when she was accepted into the Trinity Bellwoods 2019 holiday market.
When the market started promoting her business in September 2019, Tran says the business name was spelled incorrectly: “inkbyami” – instead of “inkbymi.” Mi is her Vietnamese name. Tran sent the market a message to let them know, but never received a response. A week before the market was set to take place, Tran says the market again misidentified her business.
In a second message Tran says she sent to organizers, which she shows in her social media video, she again points out the error. She writes in part, “I would greatly appreciate it if you would change this,” thanking the organizers and adding that she was excited to attend the market.
Tran says in response she received an e-transfer refunding her vendors’ deposit. She was also told by the market in a message and email that the manner in which she asked for the correction was condescending and rude.
“I was heartbroken. I bawled my eyes out,” she says. “I had no idea what I did wrong. I felt like a failure.”
After the market revoked her spot, Tran received a message to give Laplume a call to further discuss the situation.
“She lashed out at me,” says Tran. “In the first minute, I apologized for any misunderstanding and reiterated that my message wasn’t meant to be disrespectful.”
“I was speechless, I’ve never been spoken to in that tone.”
Tran says the organizer informed her that her team was not responsible for any autocorrect or spelling errors, “just because of the obscurity of your name.”
“When I asked over the phone how my name was spelled obscure, she replied, the name Mi was unusual and obscure,” Tran says.
“So I replied saying: ‘This is my Vietnamese name, and I’m not trying to be picky, I just want it to be spelled correctly so it can be accessible to prospective customers’.”
After the phone call, Tran says she received the following message from the organizer: “This will absolutely, 100 per cent, affect your opportunities as a small business owner in anything related to my market and local markets and events moving forward.”
“That’s a threat to my livelihood,” Tran says. “I stayed up multiple nights wondering what she could be saying to other organizers.”
CityNews has reached out to Trinity Bellwoods Flea Market for comment. In a statement, Laplume calls Tran’s accusations baseless.
“It is with deep regret we recently learned of the false allegations of descrimination [sic.] made by Aimi Tran. We confirm, for the record. That Ms [sic] Tran’s allegations are patently false and have no basis in fact,” Laplume wrote to CityNews.
“The Trinity Bellwoods Flea is a community market that is seriously committed to diversity and inclusion. If required, we are more than prepared to defend our organization against the baseless allegations being made by Ms Tran. We deeply regret that this individual has resorted to attacking a beloved local market that is known for its unwavering support of small business and the community. We look forward to resolving this matter in the best interest of all the small businesses we serve and our loyal dedicated community.”
CityNews also asked Laplume for an interview but has not received a response to that request.
The statement has also since been posted to the flea market’s Instagram.
Tran says she is surprised to have been directly named by the group when she made an effort to shield their identities in her own social media post. She also refutes Laplume’s assertion that her claims are baseless.
“It’s definitely untrue because in my video I do show what actually happened,” says Tran. “Ever since I saw that, I definitely feel more confident that I did the right thing.”
Tran’s close friend Angela Lam encouraged her to share her experience as an Asian woman running a small business to spotlight what she and others are facing.
“The Asian community is prone to micro-aggressions against our names, the way we look, how we talk,” explains Lam. “Because this is involving her Vietnamese name, I take this personally too. Because her Vietnamese name includes her heritage, her culture, and it was disrespected. Disrespecting her Vietnamese name is also disrespecting the Asian community.”