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CORONAVIRUS: CHINATOWN STORIES


“These old restaurants are our last connection to immigrant cooking from a certain era… it’s irreplaceable”


Beard award for her book Wok Therapist. She reached out to the James Beard Foundation in September 2020 to suggest the #SaveChinatownRestaurants campaign on Instagram. They immediately got on board, building momentum for this campaign. In January 2021, Young started the Support Chinatown Fund. “Initially, the idea was to raise funds for people dealing with food insecurity mostly seniors, but so many people had lost work. A huge percentage of people in Chinatown live below the poverty line. The idea was to provide meals and to support four of the legacy restaurants. I was so worried seeing so many of the old restaurants go I wanted the money to go to four really old restaurants: Wo Hop (downstairs) from 1938, Hop Kee from 1967, Hop Lee and Wo Hop (upstairs) both almost 50 years old.” The goal was to raise $20,000. They have now raised over $40,000, allowing them to give the money to other Chinatown restaurants needing assistance. “These really old restaurants are our


Clockwise from top left: Chinatown streets were deserted; Wo Hop, one of the restaurants facing closure; workers in Chinatown have feared for their safety since the pandemic


last connection to immigrant cooking from a certain era,” Young says. “When we lose these chefs, it’s irreplaceable. When they disappear into the light, we can’t find them again.” Things look different at time of writing, during the summer months, with more people vaccinated, 75-100% dining permitted, courts and jury duty back open. “Now, when you go to Chinatown during the daytime on a sunny day, there is a vibrancy that we did not have during the winter,” says Young. “There are a lot more people and there’s a feeling


For more go to fcsi.org


like, wow, Chinatown is coming back. I was there last Monday, it’s wonderful seeing the streets busy. But two hours later, a woman was punched in the face. That was a real gut punch to many people in Chinatown.” The rise in anti-Asian hate crime in the


past few months has led many to fear for their safety in going to Chinatown. Many stores now close by 5:30pm, so shop owners can let their employees go home earlier. Some restaurant owners have seen no customers in the evenings. Young has partnered with Asian Americans for Equality to raise funds for the personal safety devices for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In 2019 pre-Covid, Manhattan had 66.5 million tourists. In 2020 there was nowhere near that number. “Chinatowns in Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston are extremely dependent on tourism,” Young explains. “That’s a huge customer base to suddenly lose. We lost 300,000 lower Manhattan workers last year. They were working from home. Chinatown has lost tourist, jury duty, court workers, lower Manhattan workers, and of course, university students.” Being an advocate for Chinatown feels like a culmination of Young’s lifework. “Apparently, America had 50 Chinatowns. Philadelphia’s Chinatown is a shadow of what it was. We had one in Washington, DC, it has gone. The LA Chinatown is struggling. The Pullman Chinatown in Oregon is no longer there,” she says. “This country once had so many Chinatowns. Now, we are down to just a handful. I guess it’s the same quality that makes me want to preserve family recipes and the wok that makes me realize somebody has to speak up for Chinatown.”


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THE AMERICAS


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