Restaurants all across New York City have responded to the coronavirus pandemic in their own unique ways. While most restaurants have shifted to delivery as their main course, others like Cafe du Soleil in the Upper West Side have gone viral with their “space bubble” solutions. While the Upper West Side’s spacious streets may allow for a cluster of dining bubbles, though, other restaurants in more crowded neighborhoods have not had this luxury. One such neighborhood is Chinatown, an ethnic neighborhood clustered between the Lower East Side and Little Italy. Chinatown is a bustling, densely populated neighborhood full of small eateries along narrow streets. Many Chinatown restaurants are small mom-and-pop shops that lack adequate inside space to social distance and curb space to set up significant outdoor dining. This means that, while dining is limited by such measures, Chinatown restaurants mostly have to rely on takeout and delivery services.
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, Chinatown has been hit by a wave of racism and xenophobia. From the branding of the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” or “Chinese Virus” to attacks on Asian citizens, racism against Asian-Americans has spiked since January. This xenophobia has manifested in many different forms from avoiding Chinatown to publicly humiliating and blaming citizens who appear to be Asian, Chinese or not.
In addition to all this, Chinatown also lacks government support. In a now-viral clip, Governor Cuomo is seen turning his back on 46 Mott St. baker Patrick Mock as Mock voices the community’s struggles and asks for support and encouragement. Despite posting pictures of his Chinatown visit on social media, Cuomo did not listen to the community when given the chance. Mock has since then become the face of Chinatown on social media and his bakery at 46 Mott. St. has been preparing daily meals for elderly members of the community since the onset of the pandemic.
As a result of all these persisting problems, Chinatown staples from Fay Da Bakery to 88 Lan Zhou are closing at an alarming rate. Chinatown eateries that are still operating also missed out on one of the busiest times of the year, Chinese New Year. Below is a graph from the Wall Street Journal displaying the drop in revenues for a season that would usually be very successful.
While, as students, we are scattered around the globe, how can we step up and help the Chinatown community? Here are several ways:
Check out Welcome to Chinatown
Welcome to Chinatown is a movement that sprung out of Chinatown, NYC’s crisis along with several other organizations in other cities like Saving Chinatowns in San Francisco. For those of us who aren’t in the city, supporting Welcome to Chinatown’s initiatives are a great way to help keep the neighborhood afloat. Besides partnering with local businesses, Welcome to Chinatown has two main initiatives that you can support from anywhere. First is their Longevity Fund, a GoFundMe “that aims to fundraise $200,000 for the distribution of grants to Manhattan Chinatown’s small businesses” (Welcome to Chinatown). Second, is their Made in Chinatown merchandise. Welcome to Chinatown has partnered with several iconic Chinatown businesses such as Jing Fong, Sun’s Organic Garden Chinatown, Soft Swerve, and Wing on Wo & Co, to create custom merchandise featuring each restaurant. In September, they also partnered with Asian CineVision to create a Movie Theatre Snack Box featuring several classic Asian snacks. Proceeds from this collaboration will go into Welcome to Chinatown’s Longevity Fund.
For those of us who are in the city, Welcome to Chinatown has hosted several events to boost Chinatown traffic. One of their most successful events, In the Mood for Food (a play on 2000’s Hong Kong movie In the Mood for Love), saw the closure of several streets around Chinatown as businesses set up a self-guided food crawl with custom menus and plenty of outdoor seating. In the Mood for Food 2.0 is coming to Chinatown on November 8th from 1:00 - 6:00 PM. The lineup includes Jing Fong, Thailicious, YiFang, Soft Swerve, and more. Tickets are available at https://www.welcometochinatown.com/in-the-mood-for-food. Stay on the lookout for future similar events through Welcome to Chinatown’s Instagram at @welcome.to.chinatown!
Support Unique Delivery Solutions
For students located in New York City and have the funds, one way to help these eateries is to simply support them directly with our cash. Many restaurants in the neighborhood have been solely dependent on these revenues to stay alive and have developed unique delivery options for their customers. Taiyaki NYC and The Dough Club, two Asian dessert eateries, have partnered to create an Asian grocery delivery service called konveny.com with options from standard Asian grocery stores as well as take home options developed by Chinatown restaurants. Other restaurants have come up with creative delivery options with DIY-components that allow their customers to create the restaurant’s food at home.
Talk to To People in Your Community
Despite the pandemic, xenophobia, and lack of support from the Governor, several people like Mock are coming together to rally for the community. Yuh-Line Niou, the state assemblywoman for the 65th District has been working with Mock and other community leaders to advocate for Chinatown in the legal environment. Movements like “Welcome to Chinatown” and “Saving Chinatowns” have sprung up all around the country. Protests under the #TheyCan’tBurnUsAll movement have broken out on both coasts, led by China Mac and William Lex Ham. On the legislative end, House Resolution 908, a resolution written to condemn racism against Asian-Americans by Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), went through the House of Representatives. The premise of the bill is simple: to recognize racially-motivated crimes against the Asian-American community as hate crimes and investigate them properly. By supporting and sharing about these movements and this piece of legislation, we can help remediate the racism that Asian-Americans are facing which will help Chinatown recover and bring business back to the area.