How I became “The accidental voice of Chinatown”
Since January 2020, my beloved Chinatown here in New York has been under siege. Due to the ongoing pandemic, a multitude of restaurants and businesses have closed permanently, while others struggle to remain open. Most eateries and shops that have survived have still not returned to pre-COVID business, and this is not sustainable. Over the last two years, as I watched this tragedy unfold, I realized Chinatown (actually Chinatowns everywhere) was in dire need of someone to speak for this treasured ethnic community wavering on the brink of extinction. It needed an advocate, a dedicated voice to rally the press and public to this crisis. I became one of those voices, along with many others who have since responded to the need. I am humbled and honored to be singled out by the James Beard Foundation to receive this year’s Humanitarian of the Year Award in recognition of the work I’ve been doing to save Chinatowns. This comes at a heart wrenching time for the AAPI community with far too many senseless anti-Asian hate crimes. I only wish I could make a bigger difference. My thanks to all of you who have stood with the AAPI community and shown your support.
At the beginning of 2021, New York magazine’s Grub Street blog christened me“the accidental voice of Chinatown.” Thankfully, a broad range of national media and food-related organizations (see below) have heard the call to save Chinatown and AAPI mom-and-pop restaurants all across the country: Washington Post, Smithsonian, Vogue, Food & Wine, Huffington Post, and Today.com. have run interviews and stories about my work as have Splendid Table, Thrillist, and Serious Eats Special Sauce podcasts. Every mention helps because right now the one thing that’s needed is to get word out that our steady patronage is vital to the survival of Chinatowns and AAPI businesses across the country. I was also honored to be on Good Morning America’s Inspiration List for Who’s Making AAPI History in 2021.
I invite you to join me, going forward, in supporting any and all efforts to save Chinatowns and AAPI mom and pop businesses. After the success of our #SaveChineseRestaurants campaign, I am partnering once again with the James Beard Foundation and Poster House museum on a #LoveAAPI Instagram campaign. With the continued violence against Asian American Pacific Islander communities nationwide we need to expand our efforts. Businesses are suffering because people are afraid to come to work, shop, or dine at restaurants for fear of attack. The NYPD announced that hate crime incidents against Asians have spiked 367% since last year. This past summer, community leaders in Oakland’s Chinatown asked Governor Newsom to declare a state of emergency because of the dramatic increase in hate crimes. Without our support, we could lose historic Chinatowns and other AAPI enclaves around the country. To participate in our #LoveAAPI Instagram campaign post a short video or photo of your favorite AAPI owned restaurant or mom and pop store and say why you love this business. Please use the hashtag #LoveAAPI and encourage your followers to do the same. This campaign is ongoing and I urge everyone who loves Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Japantown, Little Saigon and AAPI mom-and-pop businesses as I do, to add their posts. The best way to fight hate is to show love for the AAPI community.
If you would like to help NYC’s Chinatown I urge you to make a contribution to the Chinatown Community Fridge gofundme. The fridge was founded in December 2021 by Marilyn Shi, a junior from Stuyvesant High School, to support Chinatown’s working class immigrant population, many who live below the poverty line and face food insecurity everyday.
At the start of 2021, I launched my own Support Chinatown Fund, in partnership with the grass-roots organization Welcome to Chinatown. We raised over $40,000 which meant we were able to provide more than 4,000 hot meals for low-income, food-insecure, and at-risk senior residents in NYC! The meals were purchased from Chinatown legacy restaurants (Hop Lee, Hop Kee, Wo Hop upstairs and downstairs) and distributed by community partners that serve neighbors in need. In April 1 2021, I partnered with Asian Americans For Equality for the Safe With Sound campaign to raise money for personal security alarms. We raised over $24,000 and were able to distribute over 7,000 personal security alarms to seniors and workers in Chinatown! Heartfelt thanks for supporting both of these important campaigns.
Right now New York City’s historic Chinatown needs your help! The City plans to demolish the Manhattan Detention Center, in order to build a new 40 story mega jail. Construction is projected to last until 2027. The environmental impact on Chinatown residents and small mom and pop businesses will be devastating. The quality of life for the community will dramatically diminish because construction is across from Columbus Park where seniors and residents go to practice tai chi, listen to music, exercise and socialize. Most heartbreaking of all Chung Pak LDC which houses Chinatown seniors, many between the ages of 85 and 100, is located next door to the proposed demolition and construction site. The noise and dust will create an inhumane environment for our elders. After two tough years of dealing with COVID and the impact of anti-Asian hate crimes, Chinatown is already fighting for its life and does NOT need this jail. I urge you to please write Mayor Adams and voice your opposition. Your messages are counted by City Hall. Legislation has been altered or delayed based on a huge response so please send your message asap and ask your friends and family to do the same.
I ask you to please keep showing up to your local AAPI eateries, markets and shops, especially now as Chinatowns and AAPI enclaves around the country continue to face the challenges of anti-Asian hate crimes. For those of us who love Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Japantowns, Little Saigons wherever they may be, this is our time to step up. Here are some articles if you want to learn more about the work that I’m doing.
- A year after the Atlanta shootings, Asian women live in fear: How are we going to stay safe?
- James Beard Foundation Just Named It’s 2022 Humanitarian of the Year
- Chinatowns are struggling to survive. Grace Young is reminding Americans why they matter. Washington Post.
- Saving Chinatown with Grace Young (Splendid Table)
- Grace Young on Saving Chinatowns from Extinction During the Pandemic Special Sauce podcast Ed Levine
- New York City’s Chinatown Looks Ahead to the Future: Condé Nast Traveler
- Culinary Expert Grace Young Is Documenting the Toll of the Pandemic and anti-Asian Hate on NYC’s Chinatown (Smithsonian Magazine)
- Chinatowns are suffering: (NYT)
- Das “China virus” und wachsende Asienfeindlichkeit in den USA, Swiss National Public Radio
- Grace Young is on a Mission to Save America’s Historic Chinatowns (Vogue)
- Grace Young: Most People Have No Idea of How Much Chinatowns Are Hurting (HuffPost)
- Grace Young, la mujer que alza su voz para salvar Chinatown: Condé Nast Traveler Spain
- Good Morning America’s Who’s Making AAPI History in 2021?
- Take a Dumpling Crawl Through New York City’s Chinatown: Vogue
- The Mothers and Daughters Fighting to Keep Chinatown Alive: Vogue
- New York City’s Chinatown is Suffering–Here’s What This Activist Is Doing to Save the Community: Self
- Exploring Chinatown in 2021: All of It with Alison Stewart
- 10 Great Holiday Gifts from New York’s Chinatown: thekitchn
- Grace Continues to Advocate for the Chinatown Community (Thrillist)
- The Accidental Voice for Chinatown (Grub Street)
- Why Grace is fighting to Save Chinese restaurants (Today.com)
- Campaign Is a Love Letter to Chinese Restaurants (Food&Wine)
- Grace Discusses NYC’s Chinatown on 1 Year Anniversary of COVID (TheWorld)
- Boston’s Chinatown Struggles to Survive (Boston Globe)
- 3 Chinatown Businesses Impacted by COVID (BuzzFeedNews)
- Grace in Chinatown for Lunar New Year (CBS NewYork)
- Losing Legacy Chinese Restaurants and Stores in New York City: KCRW
- ‘Jewish Chistmas’ Gives Eaters a Chance to Support Chinese Owned Restaurants Hit By Covid: The Post and Courier
- Support Independent Restaurants: New York Times
- 10 things That We Loved in the Food World in September: America’s Test Kitchen
- Help Your Local Chinatown Wherever It May Be: theKitchn
- 9 Things That You Can Do Right Now to Help Save Your Local Chinatown: Eating Well
- How the pandemic has transformed New York’s Chinatown: All Things Considered
- Chinatown Stories Featured in Smithsonian Food History Weekend (National Museum of American History)
- A Tour of a Transformed Chinatown, Where Vital Restaurants and Grocery Stores Soldier On: Eater
- Documenting the toll of coronavirus on New York City’s Chinatown: The World PRI
- This is the Critical Moment- Inside new efforts to save chinatown’s imperiled businesses: Grubstreet
- Grace on ABC Localish America’s Immigrant communities resilient in the face of COVID19 (abc)
- Grace on The BBC (Interview begins 24:10)
- 5 Women Doing Strong and Lasting Work to Improve Our World (theKitchn)
- Chinatown SOS: Brian Lehrer
I’d also like to thank Dan Souza of America’s Test Kitchen for giving the AAPI community so much support. He and his colleague Liz Bomze came up with the idea of our #SaveChineseRestaurants social media campaign. Dan also just made a special trip with his team to New York City’s Chinatown to feature some of our mom and pop businesses for his What’s Eating Dan series on youtube. I was extremely honored to bring Dan to Fong On for a special episode: How to Eat (and Make!) Tofu Feat, a visit with Alice Liu of Grand Tea & Imports for How to Brew and Taste Pu-erh Tea, and also to meet owner Ken Li at KK Discount for a Tik Tok post on where to shop for woks, cleavers and cool Chinese culinary gadgets!