With his hat, big belt buckle and cowboy boots, Ly looks the part of a Texan and even speaks with a twang. He's served in the US Navy but on Saturday, he was doing battle on a different front -- against a proposed law that would bar Chinese citizens from owning property in Texas.
About 300 protesters marched through Houston's Chinatown on Saturday, shouting "Stop Chinese hate" and "Texas is our home." Demonstrators wearing a Chinese dragon costume marched alongside, and others pounded and clanged drums and cymbals.
Their ire is aimed at a proposal by Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst that would bar Chinese, Russian, North Korean and Iranian citizens or businesses from purchasing property in the state.
"I'm a veteran of the United States Navy. I feel that there are many patriots in the military... Some of them probably have the same last name as me. And they cannot... buy any house or land or property in Texas (under this bill). That doesn't make any sense," said Ly, 23, who declined to give his full name.
He said he had just obtained US citizenship a few days earlier.
"This law here is discrimination against one people simply because where (they are) from. We are all created equal," said Nancy Zhao, a 50-year-old accountant.
The distress of people like Zhao and Ly comes as tensions mount between the US and China over a host of issues, including the status of Taiwan and the intrusion earlier this month of a Chinese balloon into US airspace.
After the balloon drifted across the country, President Joe Biden ordered the military to shoot it down, and it fell into the Atlantic Ocean off South Carolina on February 4. The Pentagon called it a surveillance airship.
Proponents of the Texas bill say it is needed for national security, and Kolkhorst says it will not affect legal residents, or green card holders.
But ironclad legal protections are not written clearly into the bill as it stands now, experts say, and issues such as how it would affect dual nationals (those who are citizens of the United States and another country, like China) are either not addressed or ambiguous, leading immigrants to fear the worst.
"I worked eight years," said Frank Win, a 31-year-old scientist. "I paid my tax. You know, I'm working hard. And we just had a little boy last July. So we're thinking about buying a new house for him."
"But now this bill came out, it's suddenly like, all my American dreams have been smashed."
'Used as a scapegoat'
In the stores of Houston's Chinatown, English mixes with Mandarin. Stores, including gun shops, have signs in both languages. In Texas, most people over age 21 can carry handguns openly.
Of the state's 28.8 million inhabitants, 1.4 million self-identify as Asian and 223,500 consider themselves to be of Chinese origin, according to official data.
While Chinese migrants made up the bulk of the protesters, others in the march said they feel they may be affected as well, such as Nikki Hafizi, a member of the US-Iranian community in Houston.
"They do this to remind us that we shouldn't have the same rights everyone else does," Hafizi said.
"I'm a dual citizen so if I can ever afford a home I guess this would apply to me," she said, noting that she remains an Iranian citizen even after obtaining a US passport and citizenship.
"For a long time, our community has been used as a scapegoat for the rest of the world," said Gene Wu, a state lawmaker. "So during Covid-19 people blamed Asian Americans... We are not responsible for anything that goes on in the rest of the world."
"And we're here to say no, no more."
In addition to Kolkhorst's bill, called SB 147, another one on the agenda, sponsored by Republicans Donna Campbell and Tan Parker, would prevent "hostile foreign governments" from buying or leasing farmland in Texas.
It would expand an existing 2021 law that bars citizens and companies from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from connecting to critical infrastructure, like the energy grid.
Among those who came to support the protest was Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who brought several Asian children on stage.
"No to SB 147, because the Statue of Liberty has not fallen, and the American flag is still standing," Jackson Lee said. "Stop the Asian hate, stand for the American flag."
© Agence France-Presse